Tottenham Hotspur’s top-four ambitions received a New Year’s Day boost as defender Davinson Sanchez proved an unlikely match-winner deep into stoppage time to hand his side a 1-0 win at struggling Watford in the Premier League on Saturday.
The visitors had looked like being frustrated for the second match in succession but Sanchez broke the deadlock in the sixth minute of time added on to send Tottenham fifth in the table, at least until West Ham United play Crystal Palace later.
Just as in the 1-1 draw at 10-man Southampton on Tuesday, Antonio Conte’s side lacked attacking spark.
They dominated possession and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Sergio Reguilon and Harry Kane all had chances but it looked like being a dreary draw until Sanchez flicked in a header from a whipped delivery by Son Heung-min.
Victory lifted Tottenham above Manchester United and West Ham, with 33 points from 18 games, two points behind Arsenal who have played two games more.
It was cruel on Watford who have now lost six consecutive league games and sit one place and two points above the bottom three, having played two more games than 18th-placed Burnley.
While Tottenham were largely unimpressive they can justifiably point to 21 goal attempts to the six for Watford and 74% possession and they remain unbeaten in the eight league games they have played under Conte since the Italian replaced the sacked Nuno Espirito Santo.
Momentum is clearly building and a couple of astute signings in January could make them serious top-four contenders.
“I’ve seen great commitment from many players but we have to improve in many aspects and we need time to work on this aspect,” Conte told reporters.Slideshow ( 3 images )
“It is important to get three points. We know we have to suffer to get points. Another clean sheet and we’re showing solidity in this aspect.”
Tottenham’s first chance fell to Hojbjerg who could not keep a shot under the crossbar after a loose ball bounced his way.
Reguilon then forced a fine save from Daniel Bachmann before some poor defending from Watford allowed Oliver Skipp to win the ball and set up Kane who fired wide when he should have scored.
Kane had a left-footed effort tipped over by Bachmann after the break, although Watford went close to taking the lead when Josh King broke into space and fired in a right-foot shot that Hugo Lloris turned away.
Bachmann also saved from Son while at the other end Lloris had to be alert to thwart Joao Pedro who was played through — the keeper sprinting off his line to win the ball with the Watford fans roaring for a penalty.
The game was halted for several minutes late on while a fan was given medical attention and in the resulting added time Sanchez denied Watford a first league clean sheet of the season.
“What a pity! My players made everything to try to win or to not concede a goal,” said Watford boss Claudio Ranieri, who has managed only six points in 11 games since taking over.
“The second half was much better in the counter-attack. We had a good moment with Joao Pedro and with Joshua King.”