Tottenham Hotspur vs. Cardiff City: 6 Things We Learned
Roberto Soldado's first goal of 2013 handed Tim Sherwood's team the vital three points. The strike came just short of the half-hour mark.
Kyle Naughton reacted quickly to clear from a Cardiff attack to free Andros Townsend on the break. The winger charged into the opposition half and fed Emmanuel Adebayor, who promptly picked out Soldado's run into the centre of the penalty box.
The Spaniard controlled the ball in his stride and prodded it to the left of David Marshall.
Just two minutes later, the Bluebirds were almost level. Meeting Craig Bellamy's corner, former Spur Steven Caulker headed against the crossbar from just a couple of yards out.
Spurs summoned some attractive build-up play in the second half, but neither they nor the visitors created too much of note.
Substitute Harry Kane came closest for Spurs with a couple of minutes to spare of normal time. Cardiff sought an equaliser with a couple of late corners that saw goalkeeper Marshall venture forward without reward.
For now, here are some things we learned from Sunday's clash.
Soldado Has a Chance to Establish Some Serious Momentum
The relief on Roberto Soldado's face was clear to see. The delight among his teammates and the White Hart Lane faithful was just as evident.
Having gone eight games without a goal since scoring a penalty in the 3-0 win over Stoke City just prior to the turn of the year, the striker once again found the back of the net.
It was his first in open play in all competitions since December 12. For his last non-penalty goal in the Premier League, you have to go back to his winner against Aston Villa on October 20.
Soldado's 11th of the season did not come until after a couple of other missed opportunities against Cardiff.
The game was one minute old when he put an Aaron Lennon cross just wide. Soon after, a header that was perhaps intended for Emmanuel Adebayor flew past the post too.
When the moment did come, it was the culmination of an outstanding Tottenham counter-attack. Soldado finished impeccably, reminding everyone of the £26 million man's class as a finisher.
So much of his other work has been good. But he was bought for goals and definitely needed this one.
Just what his manager has in mind for the team over the next few weeks will be established in due course. If Soldado is part of those plans, he has a chance now to establish some momentum.
Spurs have some big matches ahead (more on that later). A confident Soldado could be big for them if he can build on his winner here.
Kane Impressed but Missed a Big Chance Post-Defoe
Jermain Defoe's departure to Toronto FC this past week has seen Harry Kane move up one place in the attacking pecking order at Tottenham by default.
Against Cardiff, he was given just more than 10 minutes to show his club why he can be a worthy replacement for Defoe.
The cameo highlighted what we already knew about the young striker—knowledge that is now given greater significance by his slightly elevated status.
The 6'2'' man's first touch was a good header in Emmanuel Adebayor's direction. When the ball came his way again shortly after, Kane intelligently held it up and kept Spurs moving.
A few minutes later, his perseverance of an almost lost cause down the right saw him win his team a free-kick in their continued attempts to see off Cardiff. And then came his big chance.
Fellow substitute Nacer Chadli jinked between defenders and passed to Kane in space on his left just inside the box. He controlled, perhaps unnecessarily, but still had time to fashion a shot beyond the onrushing goalkeeper. Instead, he shot low, straight at David Marshall.
Kane has many attributes that could make him a fine striker for Spurs in the years to come. The area that predominantly needs refining is his finishing.
The 20-year-old's goal against Hull City earlier this season suggests he does possess quality here. He might need to hone his split-second instincts in the box or perhaps just find an extra degree of confidence.
Whatever is currently missing, if Kane can find it, he could contribute for Spurs sooner rather than later.
Townsend Needs More Minutes out Left but Might Not Get Them
Andros Townsend was back for another crack at left midfield on Sunday after his 85-minute shift on the right against Dnipro on Thursday.
Given his preference for using his left foot, the position has looked more suitable for the Tottenham winger.
Compared to midweek, he had more space to operate. Though he was a constant nuisance for the Ukrainians, he was rarely granted room to cut inside and subsequently was stifled on his less-natural right side.
Whilst the endeavour was certainly there, except for his part in Roberto Soldado's goal, Townsend did not make too much happen this time out.
The England man was not shy in running at right-back Fabio and his fellow Cardiff defenders. He won a couple of free-kicks and got beyond them to cross on a few occasions, without much success. A few times he cut inside and got off decent shots without majorly worrying David Marshall.
Out left appears to be where Townsend might find his niche for Tottenham in the long-run. The 22-year-old will need minutes to achieve sufficient comfort out there, though. This is a problem, given his situation.
Since his international heroics last year, the expectations surrounding him have now hastened the perceived need for him to deliver. What might have been a patient development process is unlikely to be afforded him now, at least while this summer's World Cup looms.
There is also an option for Spurs whom Townsend might find hard to displace on the left...
Eriksen Was Missed as Spurs Enter Decisive March
Tottenham were good for their 1-0 win against Cardiff. However, manager Tim Sherwood will know his players need to be better going forward if they are to beat current Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Missing from the march on Cardiff's goal was Christian Eriksen, who was out with a back injury. His absence was felt by the North Londoners, who will hope to have him back for the tough games ahead.
Mousa Dembele and Paulinho were tidy but largely unremarkable in their work coming out of the centre circle. Andros Townsend was eager but largely fruitless.
Aaron Lennon was sharper, but his best work arguably came defending. Nacer Chadli caught the eye late on.
At their respective bests, these players have more than enough to make Spurs competitive in establishing worthy attacks against Chelsea, Arsenal, Southampton and Liverpool (whom they all face this month).
But as Thursday's win over Dnipro reiterated, Eriksen provides a creativity that few in the squad can match. His probing in possession, the quality of his deliveries and passing can make the difference as they seek to find a way through.
He has had varying levels of success against the Premier League's stronger teams this season. Picking him (especially on the left) does risk sacrificing an element of balance too.
Yet based on the best of Spurs this season, if they are to thrive in these upcoming games, they will need to stay focused at the back, utilise their pace on the flanks and get Emmanuel Adebayor in threatening positions.
And a key ingredient in bringing these together—the importance of which was made clearer without him—could be Eriksen.
Cardiff Were Better at the Back but Are Still Limp in Attack
If Cardiff boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking for positives from this defeat, he can look to an improved showing from his defence compared to the 4-0 defeat to Hull City.
Solskjaer's five-man back line was far more focused than the version that stood and watched as the Tigers ripped Cardiff apart.
Ben Turner and Steven Caulker pounced quickly to steal the ball from Spurs. When they had to stand off, they were mostly prepared for what came next.
At full-back, Fabio's duel with Andros Townsend was one of the game's more notable one-on-one encounters. Teenager Declan John was given more problems by Aaron Lennon but did not shame himself with his efforts.
Less promisingly for the former Manchester United goalscorer Solskjaer was the limp display by those he deployed in attack.
Craig Bellamy and Kim Bo-Kyung were willing but failed to muster much telling quality in their forays forward.
More centrally, ex-Spurs forward Fraizer Campbell was typically lively but barely given an inch by the opposition defence. In his most notable contribution, Kenwyne Jones added to his reputation as a physically imposing but largely limited striker by running into Campbell at one point.
Substitute Mats Moller Daehli offered a few hints of a route through, but it would be unfair to place any burden of expectation on the 19-year-old. Manchester United loanee Wilfried Zaha did not feature, but his struggle to make an impact since arriving does not bode well for Cardiff moving forward.
Solskjaer needs to see an improvement from these players. Considering that no Bluebird has scored since beating Norwich City at the start of February, it is going to take a major effort from all concerned.
Things Are Getting Worse for Unrepentant Tan
Cardiff owner Vincent Tan's interview with BBC Sport's David Ornstein this past week has been unsurprisingly doing the rounds ahead of their match with Tottenham.
Taking place amid grand birthday celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, known as "Founder's Day, an event held annually since 2011 to honour his business and charity work through Berjaya Corporation," Tan reaffirmed his stance on his decision to change Cardiff's colours from blue to red.
It would have been a surprise to see the unrepentant businessman change tact. But, contrasted with the seemingly jubilant scenes in Malaysia, the reality of the hostility towards him at Cardiff is growing starker.
Bluebirds fans are planning a protest against Tan prior to their meeting with Liverpool on March 22, as reported by Wales Online's Simon Gaskell. The move is designed to highlight their disquiet at not facing one of the English game's traditional "red" powers wearing their own historic blue.
Few were ever going to agree with Tan's initial decision here, but at least early on it was backed by sound footballing decisions. Sense seems to have been dispatched with almost completely in the run-up to and sacking of former manager Malky Mackay.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might yet salvage Cardiff's season. But this loss was yet more evidence of the complete hash Tan has made of a campaign that once showed some promise.
With supporters getting angrier and more concerned by the day, things are looking to get worse.