Crystal Palace kick-start campaign with FA Cup win over Tottenham
LONDON -- Three thoughts from Crystal Palace's 1-0 victory over Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup fifth round on Sunday.
1. Spurs can now focus on the task at hand
It's been a quarter of a century since Paul Gascoigne's tears at Wembley, too long for a club of Tottenham's size, particularly one with such a rich history in cup competitions, to go without winning football's oldest trophy. But if this defeat -- Tottenham's first in all competitions since Jan. 13 -- goes some way to helping Spurs end an even longer wait for a league title, the supporters, players and even Mauricio Pochettino are unlikely to complain too loudly.
The manager made seven changes to his lineup from the side that drew in Florence, resting key men Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen, a further indication that he is prioritising winning a first league title since 1961. While Spurs players and the manager were dejected at the final whistle, they have other irons in the fire and can now focus on the task at hand: the Premier League title.
Pochettino is unlikely to be concerned about the manner of this defeat. Palace were impressive, particularly in their physicality and work rate, but this was an old-fashioned smash and grab. Spurs had the lion's share of the possession and the best chances, but the ball wouldn't go in. Dele Alli hit both posts with one shot in the first half, Kane saw three efforts deflect just wide of Wayne Hennessey's goal as Palace put their bodies on the line defensively and Joshua Onomah twice failed to connect from yards out.
When Palace's goal came, it was a true sucker-punch. Wilfied Zaha was patient and composed on the edge of the Spurs box in first-half stoppage time, eventually feeding the overlapping right-back Martin Kelly, who took a touch and finished emphatically past Michel Vorm.
2. Palace kick-start season
"We're going there to win," declared Alan Pardew before kickoff, and the Crystal Palace's boss distaste for a replay was reflected in his team selection, with Emmanuel Adebayor and Connor Wickham paired up front in an aggressive 4-4-2 formation. History was not on Pardew's side; Tottenham and Crystal Palace have played five games in the FA Cup and the away team has never scored a goal, while Spurs have already done the league double over the Eagles this season.
But this was a free hit for the visitors, and their manager's bravery paid off.
As his team's woes in the league continue, the FA Cup is fast becoming a refuge for Pardew. He admitted this week he is concerned about his side's slump and his only three wins in the past 12 matches have come in this competition. He will feel Palace have the players and the momentum to win it.
While Palace appear in no great danger of relegation, the cup is now undoubtedly their best route into Europe. Pardew will hope this latest victory, in a fiery London derby, can kick-start his side's flagging season.
3. Adebayor fails to pop on return
It had to happen. Adebayor's return to Tottenham was never likely to be a non-event, but while the Togo forward snapped and crackled, he never quite popped in front of a White Hart Lane crowd whose boos were more panto than vitriolic.
Adebayor embodied the visitors' committed, fiercely physical approach. In the first half he alternated with Wickham as the last man, switching his individual tussles between centre-back Eric Dier and Spurs' deep-lying midfield duo of Nabil Bentaleb and Mousa Dembele. He was a handful, and his impressive opening 45 minutes were reflected when Dembele was replaced by Christian Eriksen at half-time. The Belgian has been among Spurs' best performers this season, but he struggled here, losing the ball too many times and committing too many fouls for Pochettino's liking.
For all his bustle and bluster, however, Adebayor's match was best summed up by a moment on the hour mark, when he twice turned Kyle Walker in the far corner, only for the Spurs defender to pinch the ball and leave Adebayor on his knees, looking rather forlorn as the Spurs fans pointed and jeered.
The 32-year-old's only two chances were both one-on-ones, the first after 30 minutes when Wickham hurdled three challenges on the counter and fed his strike partner, who was left with just Dier in the way. Adebayor snapped at his shot and it struck the defender, suggesting he was a little too eager to impress on his return to the club where he made 113 appearances, scoring 42 goals. In the second half, he was again presented with a one-on-one against Kevin Wimmer but tried to outpace the Austrian with a kick-and-run and Vorm easily cleaned up.
Adebayor's issue with Tottenham doesn't appear to be Pochettino -- he described his relationship with the Argentine as "beautiful" this week -- or the fans, who he has criticised in the past, but this victory is still likely to be sweeter than most for the striker, who was completely frozen out in his final nine months in North London.