Tottenham moved back up to fifth in the Premier League table—three points behind leaders Arsenal—with a hard-fought 2-0 victory against Aston Villa at Villa Park Sunday afternoon.
Andros Townsend continued his rich vein of recent form as he opened the scoring with a first-half cross that evaded everybody as it crept in at the far post. Roberto Soldado clinched the three points with 20 minutes remaining, clinically converting his first Premier League goal from open play.
The Spaniard’s chipped finish came at a crucial juncture, with Villa looking increasingly dangerous following the introduction of Christian Benteke, returning from a recent injury lay-off as a 60th-minute substitute.
There was drama off the pitch too. A flare, apparently thrown by Spurs supporters as they celebrated the game's first goal, struck linesman David Bryan.
Townsend's goal capped off a 10-day period that saw him make his England debut, score his first international goal, help his country qualify for a World Cup and then sign a new contract with his club.
On Sunday he scored and, especially as the game wore on, gave his right-back opponent Antonio Luna nightmares with his pace and trickery, creating a number of great openings and worrying Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a couple of rasping efforts.
His goal, however, was fortuitous. Receiving the ball deep on the right, the winger cut inside and floated a cross at the far post, aiming for the heads of Soldado and Lewis Holtby. Neither man managed to get a touch on it, however, as a wrong-footed Guzan could only watch on despairingly as the ball floated into the far corner.
"We didn’t have the best of first halves," Townsend told Sky Sports afterwards. "It was a cross, I’m not going to take credit for it…but it set us on the way to a great three points."
Prior to that, Spurs had started somewhat uncertainly, with Libor Kozak—leading the line in Benteke’s absence—and Gabriel Agbonlahor causing problems. But poor delivery, especially from corners, prevented those openings being turned into goals, as Spurs gradually found their footing.
Townsend’s goal added to that comfort, although the linesman perhaps could not say the same, as he was forced to brush off a flare that hit him on the back. Stewards reviewed CCTV footage and subsequently removed a fan from Villa Park, although they did not initially confirm it was as a result of this incident.
Townsend had another chance to score just before the break, but Guzan was able to deny a more conventional shot attempt.
In the second half, Paul Lambert changed things around by quickly bringing on Benteke, who had missed the last three games after the thigh problem sustained in the win over Norwich. The Belgian immediately made a difference, winning three headers in the box—the first of which he perhaps should have done better with as it sailed narrowly over Hugo Lloris’ crossbar.
Benteke’s successes emboldened Villa, but suddenly their deficit was doubled. Great work from Soldado led Spurs on a counter-attack, and he fed Holtby. The German played it square to Paulinho, who showed great vision to slip the ball back to Soldado inside the box.
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With Guzan rushing to meet him, he clipped the ball over the goalkeeper to seal the points.
Having scored from the penalty spot in his opening two league games for the club, it was his first finish from open play.
That seemed to crush Villa, who had further chances but never really seemed to believe they could mount a comeback. Andreas Weimann, Fabian Delph and substitute Aleksandar Tonev all had glimpses at goal, producing efforts of varying quality that did not force Lloris into any acrobatics.
Indeed, Spurs only looked more and more threatening as time expired, with Townsend in particular beating the tiring Luna with impunity. The England man produced a number of great crosses, with Paulinho inexplicably failing to convert one particularly dangerous delivery that flashed across the six-yard box.
"It’s been one of the best few weeks of my life," Townsend reflected. "The main thing was getting the win after what happened at West Ham, and we dug in and did that.
"In the second half the game opened up and I think that is when I’m at my best."
"Andros is unbelievable," holding midfielder Sandro, standing alongside his team-mate, added. "He has to enjoy this moment and keep going."
With Spurs seeing out the match, manager Andre Villas-Boas was able to see his side rise back up to fifth, within three points of their arch-rivals currently setting the pace.
"We’ve kept ourselves in touch with the top. I think it is the result we deserved," Villas-Boas told Sky Sports.
"We had to pull our act together [after the first 20 minutes]. The second half was really, really good and after 2-0 we could have scored more. The second goal is always important away from home."
Villa, meanwhile, drop to 13th—albeit after a start to the season that has seen them play a number of the league’s best sides.
"I did not think there was too much in it," Lambert concluded. "In the second half we looked as if we were going to get the goal, but [instead] we lose a goal when we were probably on top at that time."
Spurs head off to face Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League on Thursday before hosting Hull City next in the Premier League.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, have a chance to get a home win in their next encounter, as Everton head to Villa Park next Saturday.
(GIFs via @FeintZebra; quotes transcribed from Sky Sports' live broadcast of the match)