There was a moment in first-half stoppage time when this threatened to become the latest case of history repeating itself for Tottenham.
Christian Benteke equalised at the end of a 45-minute period Spurs had initially dominated but then grown a touch comfortable in, losing the intensity which enabled them to establish an early advantage through Gareth Bale‘s 25th-minute opener. The reverse fixture at Selhurst Park in December was one of many warnings from their recent past of the damage that can be done in relinquishing the initiative. They drew that game 1-1 after taking the lead at a similar time, failing to hold on for a win that would have taken them clear at the top of the Premier League table.
Bale was absent that day, missing with an illness that sits in a catalogue of fitness problems which have compromised the impact he could make upon returning to North London after seven years at Real Madrid. Here, the Welshman was able to help Tottenham rediscover their attacking purpose, scoring the eventual winning goal of a 4-1 victory just four minutes after the interval, with the sort of committed header which is only ever the product of a team wanting to push their opponent back at all costs.
Perhaps Benteke’s goal inadvertently came at the perfect time. With a top-four place suddenly in reach, largely to Liverpool‘s ongoing capitulation, a victory was essential here to keep Spurs in the hunt and there could therefore be no equivocation or caution in Jose Mourinho’s team-talk.
Palace introduced Wilfried Zaha at the break in an attempt to capitalise on any uncertainty in a Spurs team that has dropped 10 points from winning positions this season, conceding eight goals between 75 and 90 minutes in matches. Yet, Tottenham went on the front foot in a manner that could take them a long way towards a top-four finish if they can replicate the second-half ruthlessness which was reminiscent of Spurs in their best moments during the early stages of the season.
Bale’s renaissance is an obvious plus. There was consternation in some quarters that Mourinho was restricting Bale’s minutes for reasons unseen by the naked eye. Whatever difficulties he has had in getting in requisite physical shape to play regularly, the argument to hold him back no longer has any merit.
This was an excellent all-round performance from the Welshman, the best of his second coming on his fifth Premier League start, and the 31-year-old has now scored six goals in his last six Spurs matches — as many as he managed in his last 35 games for Real Madrid.
“We are a team with a lot of talent in these areas but this Gareth is an extra for us, a plus for us,” said Mourinho afterwards. This Gareth didn’t start that season. This Gareth is playing this way for a couple of months and of course the quality is amazing. He is a fantastic player.”
Harry Kane was visibly enthused. The England captain’s 52nd-minute strike was a sublime effort, hitting Matt Doherty‘s short cut-back with a controlled but fearsome swing of his right boot which sent a shot curling unerringly into the far corner past Palace goalkeeper Vicente Guaita. He then added a fourth from Son Heung-Min‘s beautiful cross four minutes before being substituted, the 14th time the pair have combined for a goal this season, breaking the Premier League record.
Bale was already back on the bench by that point but these changes were no way Mourinho returning to his inherent conservatism, but rather him taking a chance to get two key attacking players a breather ahead of another tough week which includes a Europa League last-16 first-leg against Dinamo Zagreb and Sunday’s North London derby at Arsenal.
Things change quickly in this fast-paced season. After a spell of intense scrutiny for Mourinho, Spurs can now wonder how far an in-form Bale, Kane, and Son — with Dele Alli also showing recent signs of life — could take them.
They climbed above champions Liverpool with this win and sit only two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Next month’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City also has a different complexion after Sunday’s results. They can approach the run-in with fresh enthusiasm drawn from this prime example of how much fortune can favour the brave, certainly, those who press with conviction.
Spurs’ opening goal came from excellent pressure applied by Lucas Moura to rob Luka Milivojevic and feed Kane, who put a goal on a plate for Bale inside the six-yard box. Every time they pressed with that ferocity, a Palace side perhaps fatigued by another long shift without the ball against Manchester United in midweek, struggled to cope. Plenty more will do the same.
“I’m not really thinking about it. I cannot control the results of other teams,” said Mourinho.
“I cannot control what is going to happen in West Ham v Leeds and Chelsea v Everton tomorrow. We just have to try to get the best number of points. The most number of points that we can, try to win the most matches we can. If possible, playing well, scoring goals, not conceding many and try to see what can happen.
“I don’t forget the Europa League. I refuse just to say ‘Thursday is not important’ because for me it is. The Cup Final is there, waiting for us. We have just to work, to stick together, to go through the difficult moments like we did already and try to enjoy the good moments.”
Spurs reached 100 goals in all competitions this season with Kane’s second of the evening and Mourinho could not resist closing by referencing that achievement in the context of how his brand of football is generally viewed
“Today we can be happy after three victories in the same week and if the stats I was given are correct, 100 goals scored in the season which for a very defensive team, for a very negative team is not bad,” he said.