For 92 minutes, Cardiff City goalkeeper David Marshall had an answer for everything Tottenham Hotspur sent towards his goal. Then came the 93rd minute.
Paulinho scored a dramatic 93rd-minute winner as Tottenham Hotspur moved level with Arsenal atop the Premier League with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.
Having beaten Manchester City at home earlier this season, Cardiff nearly claimed another result against one of the Premier League's glamour sides. But after being foiled for more than 90 minutes by Marshall's brilliant performance, Tottenham made their last attack of the match count.
"Today it was different from normal in that there was justice in football," said Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, per BBC Sport. "We created so many chances that there could only be one winner."
In the third minute of stoppage time, substitute Erik Lamela won a header near the right edge of Cardiff's box. After receiving a pass from fellow substitute Lewis Holtby, Lamela crossed into the middle, where Paulinho redirected the ball into the net with a deft back-heel kick for his first Premier League goal.
29 - Tottenham scored with their 29th and final shot of the game against Cardiff today. Patience.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 22, 2013
GIF via Feint Zebra
The goal—and the result—was harsh on Cardiff, who had a goal ruled out near the end of the first half. And it was especially harsh on Marshall, who made 11 saves, including a string of spectacular stops in both halves that kept the hosts level.
Spurs started brightly, but the hosts nearly carved out the first clear chance in the sixth minute. Tottenham defender Kyle Naughton misplaced a backpass, allowing Fraizer Campbell a chance to chase down the ball near the edge of the box. Hugo Lloris came off his line to clear, but replays suggested he handled the ball just outside the area.
After the early let-off, Tottenham began to dominate. Marshall saved from Roberto Soldado in the ninth minute and twice from Christian Eriksen, in the 15th and 20th minutes.
But with Marshall keeping Spurs at bay, Cardiff nearly nicked the go-ahead goal just before half-time. Ben Turner rose highest to head in a corner, but referee Mark Clattenburg ruled out the goal for a foul.
Spurs piled on the pressure again after the interval. Gylfi Sigurdsson hit the bar in the 51st minute, and when the rebound fell to Soldado, Marshall saved deftly with his leg.
Cardiff created a chance in the 81st minute as substitute Peter Odemwingie cut back from the right for Aron Gunnarsson in the middle of the box. But Gunnarsson sent his shot over the bar.
Spurs attacked relentlessly throughout stoppage time, but while Marshall found a way to stop the first 11 shots he faced, Paulinho's back-heel was impossible to keep out.
With the victory, Spurs moved onto 12 points from five matches. Villas-Boas' team trail leaders Arsenal on goal differential. Cardiff are 16th with five points.
David Marshall, Cardiff City: A+
Marshall made an astounding 11 saves, including six in the first half. His team failed to register a shot on target, but thanks to his heroics, the hosts were never out of the contest.
Paulinho finally beat Marshall in the third minute of second-half stoppage time, but blaming the Cardiff keeper would be unfair. He was superb throughout.
Big Picture, Tottenham Hotspur: B+
Three more points mean Tottenham are level atop the table with rivals Arsenal, trailing their neighbours only by goal differential. But for all Tottenham's possession and attacking play, it took a late, late winner to break Cardiff's resistance.
A return of five goals in five games will pose a bit of a worry for Villas-Boas (Arsenal, by comparison have scored 11, and Manchester City 12), but Spurs' many new signings will take time to build an understanding.
If, or when, that happens, this could be a fearsome squad.
Another positive for the visitors came from the buildup on the goal. The two players who set it up were both second-half replacements, showing that Villas-Boas made good decisions with his substitutions. It also hinted at the depth in the squad.
Big Picture, Cardiff City: B-
Simply put, the result was harsh on Cardiff.
Though Spurs dominated shots and possession, Cardiff defended well and probably deserved a point. What's more, the result could have been different if Lloris had been whistled for a handball outside his box early in the match—or if Turner's goal had been allowed to stand.
Cardiff have already beaten Manchester City at home this season, and they came within seconds of drawing with Spurs. Creating more chances is a concern, but Malky Mackay has his team playing reasonably well early in the campaign.
Tottenham host Chelsea on Saturday in a London derby. Cardiff travel to Fulham the same day.