Photo: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian
His goal was to make history and achieve the impossible – something that would have delighted both sides of the north London divide. Harry Kane soon found him and, in doing so, became Tottenham’s all-time record goalscorer, moving to 267 – one clear of the legendary Jimmy Greaves.
Spurs were desperate for something to boost their season, the first win over a member of the so-called big six after so much frustration and they would get it, deservedly so, against a strangely off-colour Manchester City. How to celebrate down the road at Arsenal, whose lead at the top of the Premier League table has not been damaged by their shock win at Everton on Saturday.
Spurs sent Cristian Romero off at the end to book a second surprise – a trip to Jack Grealish – and the nerves were inevitable during five minutes of stoppage time. And yet it didn’t look like the goal City needed to knock them out.
Pep Guardiola’s players roared back from 2-0 down to beat Spurs 4-2 at the Etihad on January 19 – an evening when the manager called City a “happy flower team”, questioning their hungry. It could make a more legitimate case for the description here. Something is missing in the defending champions, who continue their misery at the stadium. It’s now five games and five wins, with no goals scored.
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Kane’s goal took him to 200 in the Premier League – only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney have achieved the landmark – and it would be a very unusual sight for him to be interviewed on the pitch after being full-time, his teammates watching him, the home fans improvising. him. Kane said “surreal” more than once.
Spurs played a near-perfect first half at City a few weeks earlier – the less said about the second half the better – and managed to find themselves back in front with a goal to put a fuzzy feeling around the most of the land. “Congratulations, Harry,” read the message on the big screen – in gold capitals and it was the achievement because, as anyone over a certain age will tell you, Greaves was the best.
It was a terrible concession on the part of the City. Rodri – pressed by Rodrigo Bentancur – tried to flick a pass around the corner to Rico Lewis as he faced his own penalty area and it was never done. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg read it, intercepted and did well to make up some ground under pressure from Lewis before going right to Kane, who unloaded first time and with deadly accuracy.
The city was surprised and Spurs glugged down the tonic. The attack entered their game, although Romero went too far with a wild lunge, sliding into Erling Haaland for whom it was reserved. That was in the 26thth minute. He was on edge after that. With Kane collapsing and Son Heung-min in a mood to increase his progress, Spurs looked dangerous on the quick transitions. They could look for spaces behind the defense of the visitors.
Guardiola wanted Lewis to go up and across from the back of the left field when his team had the ball, allowing Bernardo Silva to push closer to Haaland and Julian Alvarez. Call him Cancelo’s role – before Guardiola fired him. The responsibility on Lewis, only 18, was incredible.
There was no Antonio Conte in the Spurs dugout, as expected. The Spurs manager actively accepts the suffering but it was always too much for him to be here so soon after an operation to remove his gallbladder. What was not expected was the omission of Kevin De Bruyne from City’s starting XI. Then again, guessing Guardiola’s team is fools for a long time.
City won 0-0 but Guardiola’s disarray for much of the first half told its own story, and his team failed to put Spurs away. They created just one clear opening and it was just before the interval, Jack Grealish crossing from the left and Ben Davies half-clearing with his header. Riyad Mahrez controlled nicely before whipping a shot over Hugo Lloris. The cross denied it.
Moments earlier, Lloris had Rodri’s shot low and Grealish curled wide of the far, top corner. At the other end, City came forward after a scramble that saw Kane and Dejan Kulusevski have shots blocked.
Spurs had lost their previous two home games in the league – against Aston Villa and Arsenal – and could not manage three in a row for the first time since 2008. They knew what to expect. they do in the second half; maintain their defensive shape and win the duels. Could they even get a second goal, as the counter-attack kept looking at them?
Kane had no sight of the kite only to misjudge and Davies saw over from a corner. Then there were moments when Spurs tore forward only to miss at the crucial moment. Højbjerg’s final pass to Emerson Royal allowed Nathan Aké to make a save; Ivan Perisic’s cross was just too far in front of Kane after Son’s burst.
By then, Guardiola had brought in De Bruyne. The midfielder pulled back a low free-kick from the left which Alvarez headed narrowly over, through Eric Dier’s thigh. And De Bruyne also went close with a low shot of his own.
And yet this was not a game where City knocked too hard on the door for the equaliser. It was Spurs who looked the most similar scorers of the next goal, with Ederson saving one against Kane and pushing away Son’s shot from distance.