LONDON, United Kingdom, Jan 27 – Harambee Stars skipper Victor Wanyama made his first appearance in two months for Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday night as the North London side was knocked out of the FA Cup following a 2-0 loss to Crystal Palace.
Wanyama has missed the last 10 weeks due to a niggling knee injury and came on as a second half substitute replacing Eric Dier as Spurs’ hopes for a trophy took another tumble.
Coincidentally, the burly midfielder’s last match for Spurs was a league match against Palace on November 10, a match he played for the entire 90 as they won 1-0 at Selhurst Park.
Connor Wickham gave the unfancied Eagles, 29 points adrift of Spurs in the Premier League, a ninth-minute lead before a penalty by former Tottenham winger Andros Townsend made it 2-0.
Spurs’ Kieran Trippier missed with a penalty before half-time as Tottenham suffered more spot-kick woe following Thursday’s shoot-out defeat by Chelsea in a League Cup semi-final.
Tottenham pressed for a goal in the second half but Palace, just three points above the relegation zone, upset the form book to record a deserved win.
This reverse left Mauricio Pochettino still searching for his first trophy as Tottenham manager since the Argentinian joined from Southampton in 2014, with Spurs’ last piece of silverware the 2008 League Cup.
It is also bound to intensify the debate over whether Spurs need to change their transfer strategy and spend big in the closing days of the January window.
Spurs were without injured England stars Harry Kane and Dele Alli, while the in-form Son Heung-Min had still to return from international duty with South Korea at the Asia Cup.
Pochettino, however, decided to omit Christian Eriksen, with the influential playmaker not even among Spurs’ substitutes at Selhurst Park.
For all they are third in the Premier League, Spurs are nine points adrift of leaders Liverpool.
And, with title-holders Manchester City also ahead of them, it would be a surprise if Tottenham — last crowned champions of England in their ‘Double’ season of 1960/61 — ended the season top of the table.
– ‘So Painful’ –
The Champions League is now Tottenham’s only hope of a trophy this season, with Pochettino’s men playing German club Borussia Dortmund in the last 16.
Pochettino said his side had suffered a “painful” defeat, telling BT Sport: “Palace did not do much, but they scored and deserved to go through to the next round.
“It was so painful to lose the game like this. There were some key moments, like the (missed penalty), which would have changed everything.”
He added: “We have to look forward to the Premier League and Champions League.
“We are in a crazy run of fixtures, but this is how it is in England. We cannot complain and just try in the two competitions to give our best.”
It took Palace a mere nine minutes to open the scoring, Wickham following up after a Jeff Schlupp shot was blocked by Spurs goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
Palace then made the most of a bizarre incident when Spurs’ Kyle Walker-Peters handled a cross into the box.
It was a clear penalty and Townsend made no mistake from the spot, slamming the ball into the middle of the goal.
“It was good to get the goal in the first 10 minutes and give us the platform to build on,” said Wickham, whose goal was his first in any competition since November 2016.
Meanwhile Townsend turned Tottenham’s knowledge of his spot-kick technique against them.
“I took a few penalties for Spurs, so I knew they would be telling the keeper to go the other way,” he explained.
At 2-0 down, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, making his first Spurs start since January 2017, had two good chances well-saved by veteran Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni.
But Speroni wasn’t needed when, after Patrick Van Aanholt brought down Juan Foyth, Trippier blasted the ensuing penalty well wide of the post.
Tottenham pressed hard in the second half, but Speroni saved well from Fernando Llorente to keep them at bay.