It was a goal to make history and to achieve the seemingly impossible – something to thrill both sides of the north London divide. Harry Kane got it early on and, in doing so, he became Tottenham’s all-time record scorer, moving to 267 – one clear of the legendary Jimmy Greaves.
Spurs had been desperate for something to spark their season, a first victory over a member of the so-called big six after so many frustrations and they would get it, deservedly so, against a curiously off-colour Manchester City. How it would be celebrated down the road at Arsenal, whose lead at the top of the Premier League table has not been damaged by their surprise defeat at Everton on Saturday.
Spurs had Cristian Romero sent off towards the end for a second bookable offence – a trip on Jack Grealish – and there were the inevitable nerves during five minutes of stoppage time. And yet the goal that City needed to bail them out never looked on.
Pep Guardiola’s players had roared back from 2-0 down to beat Spurs 4-2 at the Etihad on 19 January – an evening when the manager called City a “happy flowers team,” questioning their hunger. He could make a more legitimate case for the description here. Something is missing in the defending champions, whose misery at this stadium goes on. It is now five matches and five defeats, with no goals scored.
Kane’s goal took him to 200 in the Premier League – only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney have reached the landmark – and there would be the highly unusual spectacle of him being interviewed on the pitch after full time, his team-mates looking on, the home fans serenading him. Kane said “surreal” on more than one occasion.
Spurs had played an almost perfect first half at City a few weeks previously – the less said about their second half the better – and they got themselves out in front again with a goal to send a fuzzy feeling around most of the ground. “Congratulations, Harry,” read the message on the big screen – in gold capitals and what an achievement it was because, as anybody above a certain age will tell you, Greaves truly was the best.
It was a terrible concession from the City point of view. Rodri – pressed by Rodrigo Bentancur – tried to flip a pass around the corner to Rico Lewis as he faced his own penalty area and it was never on. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg read it, he intercepted and he did well to make up a bit of ground under pressure from Lewis before going right to Kane, who unloaded first time and with lethal accuracy.
City were stunned while Spurs glugged down the tonic. The aggression rushed into their game, although Romero went too far with a wild, sliding lunge into Erling Haaland for which he was booked. That was in the 26th minute. He was on the edge thereafter. With Kane dropping off and Son Heung-min in the mood to lengthen his stride, Spurs looked dangerous on the quick transitions. They could eye spaces in behind the visitors’ defence.
Cristian Romero saw yellow, then red, for this tackle on Jack Grealish but Spurs held on with 10 men for the last few minutes. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images
Guardiola wanted Lewis to step up and across into midfield from left-back when his team had the ball, which allowed Bernardo Silva to push closer to Haaland and Julian Alvarez. Call it the Cancelo role – before Guardiola cancelled him. The responsibility on Lewis, just 18, was incredible.
There had been no Antonio Conte in the Spurs dugout, as expected. The Spurs manager actively embraces suffering but it was always going to be too much for him to be here so soon after surgery to remove his gallbladder. What was not expected was Kevin De Bruyne’s omission from the City starting XI. Then again, second-guessing a Guardiola line-up has long been a fool’s errand.
City had flickered at 0-0 but Guardiola’s agitation for much of the first half told its own story, his team failing to prise Spurs apart. They created only one clear opening and it was just before the interval, Jack Grealish crossing from the left and Ben Davies half-clearing with his head. Riyad Mahrez controlled nicely before whipping a shot over Hugo Lloris. He was denied by the crossbar.
Moments earlier, Rodri had shot low at Lloris while Grealish curled wide of the far, top corner. At the other end, City emerged following a scramble in which Kane and Dejan Kulusevski saw shots blocked.
Spurs had lost their previous two home games in the league – against Aston Villa and Arsenal – and they could not countenance three in a row for the first time since 2008. They knew what they needed to do in the second half; maintain their defensive shape and win the duels. Could they even nick a second goal, because the counterattack continued to look on for them?
Kane had a sighting on the volley only to miscue and Davies glanced over from a corner. Then there were the moments when Spurs tore forward only to miss at the decisive moment. Højbjerg’s final pass for Emerson Royal allowed Nathan Aké to make a saving tackle; Ivan Perisic’s cross was just too far in front of Kane after a Son burst.
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By then, Guardiola had introduced De Bruyne. The midfielder pulled back a low free-kick from the left that Alvarez crashed narrowly over, via the thigh of Eric Dier. And De Bruyne also went close with a low shot of his own.
And yet this was not a game in which City knocked too loudly on the door for the equaliser. It was Spurs who came to look the likelier scorers of the next goal, with Ederson saving one v one from Kane and also pushing away a Son shot from distance. - Guardian