Eriksen’s beauty late on hands Spurs pivotal win over Brighton
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Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Christian Eriksen’s wonder strike in the 88th minute helped Tottenham Hotspur finally break down a resilient Brighton & Hove Albion team to improve their stranglehold on finishing in the Premier League top-four this season.
It was a tough night for Mauricio Pochettino’s team and they struggled for long spells to even test Mat Ryan in the Seagulls goal.
Eventually they started to make inroads, but before Eriksen’s stunner late on it looked like they would drop points for the first time in this 62,062-seater stadium.
As it was, they have extended their fantastic form here to four played, four wins with no goals conceded since returning to N17 at the start of April.
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Spurs were able to welcome captain Hugo Lloris back into the starting XI after a muscle injury ruled him out of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Manchester City.
He replaced Paulo Gazzaniga, who was on the bench, and Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Victor Wanyama and Fernando Llorente also earned recalls.
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This saw Juan Foyth, Ben Davies, Davinson Sanchez and Eric Dier named among the substitutes for what was an important fixture for both clubs.
A win for Tottenham would see them build up a healthy advantage over their rivals for a top-four finish while Brighton needed the points in their quest to stay up.
Pochettino saw his team start brightly with Lucas Moura winning a free kick inside 60 seconds and although Trippier found Jan Vertonghen from it, the Belgian could only head over.
Heung-min Son forced a corner two minutes later, but the Seagulls survived and were able to try and slowly work their way into the game.
Tottenham continued to dictate possession and Eriksen tried his luck in the ninth minute and although his effort flew a few yards wide, Dele Alli was so close to getting a decisive touch to it.
Mat Ryan had yet to be tested in the away goal, but was taking his time with his goal kicks which angered the home fans – particularly those in the North Stand.
Referee Christopher Kavanagh was aware of the time-wasting though, and warned the Seagulls custodian to hurry up.
Chris Hughton’s team then enjoyed a bright spell after winning a free kick, which Wanyama fired over his own crossbar from Pascal Gross’ cross.
After forcing two corner in quick succession, Brighton were unable to do anything with either, but it showed they could threaten if Spurs suffered lapses in concentration and this season they have had a tendency to do just that.
The Lilywhites soon got back on the front foot and a goalmouth scramble ensued in the 20th minute, but the opener didn’t arrive.
Eriksen whipped in a free kick which was headed out to Vertonghen and his low shot was blocked by a combination of Lewis Dunk and team-mate Wanyama, who was on the floor after attempting a diving header.
Brighton managed to eventually get the ball clear and remained a threat in their more attacking than usual 4-3-3 formation.
Lloris had to be alert with 23 on the clock when Gross’ corner almost came for Dunk, but the Tottenham number one punched clear.
Another opportunity was created two minutes later - following some lovely footwork by Dele Alli – and a free kick won by Wanyama was taken quickly to Lucas Moura by Son, but his shot was superbly blocked by Bernardo.
Vertonghen and Eriksen failed to make the most of decent shooting positions before the half an hour mark as frustration began to creep in.
With an hour still to play, the key for Spurs was to remain patient and try to get the ball moving at a quicker tempo.
Pochettino saw his team move the ball quicker in the 34th minute and it almost resulted in the opener as Vertonghen and Eriksen combined to find Moura, but his centre was brilliantly cleared by Dunk with Alli waiting to pounce.
All of a sudden Tottenham were playing with more vigour and purpose, although they overcommitted eight minutes before half time.
Toby Alderweireld had an effort blocked and the ricochet allowed Florin Andone to race clear and he cut inside Vertonghen and prepared to let fly from inside the area, but Rose slide in to make a wonderful sliding challenge.
It earned him a standing ovation from the crowd, but the danger wasn’t over and a fine cross by Alireza Jahanbakhsh almost came for the unmarked Andone yet luckily for Spurs it bounced away from the forward and out for a goal kick.
While Tottenham were desperate for the opener, Brighton were looking dangerous on the counter and it had set up an intriguing encounter in N17.
A minute of stoppage time was added on at the end of the 45 and the hosts came ever so close to the breakthrough with one of the final kicks of the half.
Trippier spotted Alli’s great run into area and the former MK Dons playmaker brought the ball down brilliantly and flicked beyond Ryan, but Shane Duffy had got back on the goalline to block.
It was a stunning piece of defending and ensured it was goalless at the break with the visitors much the happier of the sides.
Spurs’ frustration increased early into the second period when Eriksen was booked for hauling down Bernardo and Ryan’s time-wasting was becoming more frequent now.
A chance was created in the 51st minute when Son found Rose, but his effort was poor and Hughton’s men had survived another decent opening for the home side.
The South Korean seemed key to Tottenham’s hopes of breaking down Brighton with the number seven hardly involved in the opening 45.
While Son was getting more of the ball, he was struggling to do much with it as the Seagulls remained organised and hard to break down in London.
Brighton added an increased goal threat to their line-up in the 64th minute when Glenn Murray introduced in place of the hard-working Andone.
Spurs were still trying to get balls into the area, but the visitors were more than happy to deal with that and Pochettino’s team were in desperate need of a plan B.
In the 66th minute Tottenham finally tested Ryan significantly and the Australian had the answer as Wanyama found Rose, who cut inside and unleashed a fierce strike with his weaker right foot.
Brighton’s number one got a strong hand to the effort though, and managed to parry it up in the air before he grabbed the loose ball out of the air.
As the seconds ticked away the tension inside the stadium increased with Spurs eager to find the opener.
Now attacking the South Stand, they were desperate to suck the ball into the net, but the relegation-threatened Seagulls were throwing themselves in front of everything.
Luck was also on Brighton’s side in the 72nd minute when a short corner saw Eriksen set up Alderweireld and he fired towards goal on the turn and saw his shot beat Ryan, but hit the post and roll agonisingly across the line.
The chances continued to come with Alli firing way off target from Moura’s knock-down minutes later and then Son drilled an effort wide following another free kick into the away area which had been cleared.
Shortly afterwards and Vincent Janssen was summoned to come on and make his first appearance for Tottenham since August 2017.
He entered the field with 10 minutes left, in place of Moura, to a huge cheer from the home fans who immediately chanted his name.
Another substitution was made with 82 played when Davies replaced Wanyama and it was no backs to the wall from Hughton’s Brighton.
Time was running out for Spurs in their efforts to take advantage of Arsenal, Chelsea and United’s slip-ups over Easter.
The situation may have looked worst for Tottenham too had Seagulls substitute Beram Kayal been able to do better in the 88th minute from a break, but he smashed over while off balance after a good run.
It looked like being the first really frustrating night inside this new spectacular stadium, but then some overdue magic arrived.
Alli passed into Eriksen’s path and after a dozen long-range strikes which had come to nothing, this time it was worth a try.
The Denmark international let fly from a central position around 25-yards-out and smashed into the bottom corner with venom to finally beat Ryan.
All the nerves and tension inside the ground evaporated and suddenly Spurs were on their way to a fourth consecutive home victory.
Four minutes were added on at the end of the 90 and Foyth replaced Son - perhaps showing he has jumped ahead of Sanchez in the pecking order - before the Seagulls created one last chance.
Solly March cut inside impressively, but got his shot wrong and dragged his effort well wide of Lloris goal.
The Tottenham fans then hailed their captain when he decided to take his time with the resulting goal kick; following in Ryan’s lead from earlier in the game.
A few more seconds needed to pass before referee Kavanagh could bring the match to an end, but when he did, it confirmed Spurs’ strong position in the race for a spot in the top four.
Pochettino’s men moved onto 70 points with 35 games played and hold a three-point advantage over fourth in the table Chelsea, who have played the same number of matches.
Further back Arsenal in fifth have 66 after 34 games while Manchester United have 64 also after 34 games.
It is looking encouraging for the Lilywhites, but they have another tricky home game up next against West Ham United on Saturday and they will need to be improved if they are to pick up another three points at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (c); Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Eriksen, Wanyama (Davies 82), Alli; Moura (Janssen 80), Llorente, Son (Foyth 90).
Unused substitutes: Gazzaniga, Sanchez, Dier, Skipp.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Ryan; Montoya, Duffy, Dunk (c), Bernando; Stephens, Bissouma (Kayal 86), Gross; Jahanbakhsh (March 73), Andone (Murray 64), Locadia.
Unused substitutes: Button, Bong, Balogun, Burn.