Tottenham overcome nervy start to pad top-four lead over chasing Chelsea
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts from Tottenham's 2-0 win over Watford at Wembley Stadium, sealed by goals from Harry Kane and Dele Alli.
1. Spurs strengthen grip on fourth place
Champions League-chasing Tottenham moved five points clear of Chelsea with an entertaining but unconvincing win against Watford at Wembley. England internationals Kane and Alli responded to recent criticism -- which has surprised their manager Mauricio Pochettino -- with goals either side of half-time, as Spurs strengthened their grip on fourth place with three matches to play.
Watford remain on 38 points, likely enough for another season in the top flight -- but too close for comfort.
After a week in which Spurs have faced questions about their ability to match the elite clubs and win silverware, they actually did what top clubs often do: win without playing well. Despite Chelsea moving to within two points of Spurs at the weekend, the hosts were sluggish and disjointed throughout.
The opening exchanges were littered with mistakes from both sides, so it was fitting that Tottenham's breakthrough came from a glaring error. Kieran Trippier's cross looked comfortable for Osteris Karnezis but at the last moment Christian Kabasele darted in front of the goalkeeper, who spilled the ball at the feet of Christian Eriksen. The Dane had to think quickly, nimbly nicking the ball away from Karnezis with a dancer's touch and squaring for Alli to sweep into an unguarded net.
The goal did little to restore Spurs' rhythm and another sloppy mistake gifted Watford the chance to equalise. Eric Dier's misplaced pass was seized on by former Spur Etienne Capoue, making his 100th Watford appearance, who released Andre Gray. The forward's low shot was kept out by under-pressure goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
It was the first in a string of vital contributions from the Spurs captain, who also saved from Abdoulaye Doucoure and Richarlison before the half was over, and raced a full 30 yards from goal to tackle to tackle the Frenchman as Watford finished the first half firmly in the ascendency.
Whatever Mauricio Pochettino said at half-time worked and it took just two minutes of the second half for Spurs to double their lead. Kane slipped over as Son Heung-Min's cross came into the box but he picked himself and expertly turned home a low ball from Trippier, who always saves his best performances for this fixture.
Javi Gracia responded by introducing Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu, and both made an impact, the former winning a crucial back-post header, only for Richarlison to blaze over the bar from close range, and the latter rounding Lloris to score, only to be flagged offside.
At the other end, Kane somehow miscued inches from the goal line after Jan Vertonghen's fine header had hit the post and then he had a goal ruled out for going a moment too soon from the Belgian's pass. There was still time for substitute Moussa Sissoko to fire over from a good position but by that time the fight had gone from Watford, who will feel they deserved more from an enterprising performance.
Both clubs, though, have probably done enough now: Spurs for another season in the Champions League and Watford for another season in the Premier League.
2. Kane and Lloris bounce back
April has not been an easy month for Tottenham's captain or vice-captain. Lloris has come under intense pressure after mistakes leading to goals in three consecutive matches against Chelsea, Stoke and Manchester City, and he was left out of the team for the FA Cup semifinal defeat to Manchester United.
Kane, meanwhile, was left "very sad," according to Pochettino, after being mocked by the FA Cup Twitter account following a subdued performance against United, having faced weeks of jibes from fans and players for claiming Spurs' second goal in the win at Stoke.
Both players responded against the Hornets. Lloris kept Spurs ahead with a string of saves before half-time, turning away efforts from Gray, Doucoure and, most impressively, Richarlison. Just moments after his one-handed stop denied the Brazilian, he raced a full 30 yards out of his area to slide tackle Doucoure, who was charging through after Spurs defence had been opened up again. It was a brave piece of goalkeeping, particularly considering he conceded a penalty in a similar challenge with Raheem Sterling against City.
At the other end, Kane answered his critics by doing what he does best: scoring. It is often said that strikers have to "pick themselves up" after the disappointment of missing a chance and that's literally what the England forward did. After slipping on the edge of the six-yard box, he sprung back to his feet in time to convert Trippier's low cross for his 27th goal of the season.
Once again, Kane did not look at his sharpest but once again he scored, moving four behind Mo Salah in the race for the Golden Boot.
3. Hughes shines as Watford's dismal away form continues
Watford's winter of discontent on the road continued with yet another failure to win away. They have now taken just one point from their last 11 away matches and they visit Manchester United on the final day of the season. To be fair to Gracia and his players, the club's dismal record at Spurs now stretched back eight matches to 1985, when Graham Taylor masterminded a 5-1 win at White Hart Lane.
The Hornets have probably already done just about enough to avoid the drop and they were hit with further injury problems against Spurs, with Stefano Okaka and Roberto Pereyra the latest players on the sidelines.
But they have not won away since November, scoring just once in that time and taking just one point in a 0-0 draw at Stoke. It is not good enough and should be Gracia's top priority if they remain in the Premier League -- and he remains in a job.
On the plus side, Will Hughes' performance at the national stadium was impressive. The 23-year-old undid Spurs with some clever reverse passing in the first half and his brilliant flick set up a chance for Doucoure. Hughes will not make England's World Cup squad this summer but he has the talent to be a future England international, particularly given the lack of technical midfield players available to Gareth Southgate.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.