Tottenham’s first top-flight title challenge in a generation gathered further momentum with a landmark 2-1 win at Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, with Christian Eriksen scoring a late winner on his birthday.
Spurs’ vibrant, young team celebrated its fifth straight victory – and first away against a high-profile opponent – by throwing their jerseys into the away end at Etihad Stadium, before manager Mauricio Pochettino shook his fists to loud cheers from fans.
With Tottenham just two points off the lead held by Leicester with 12 games left, an underachieving club is starting to believe.
“It is important to start to feel that you can come to a stadium like Man City against a big, big team and you can win,” Pochettino said. “It is true our supporters can dream.”
Spurs went ahead in the 53rd minute through a penalty by Harry Kane that was controversially awarded, with Raheem Sterling adjudged to have handled as he turned his back to a cross from Danny Rose. The ball may have struck the winger’s back.
Substitute Kelechi Iheanacho equalized in the 74th with the first clear-cut chance created by City, only for Eriksen to race onto Erik Lamela’s through-ball and slip a low finish past goalkeeper Joe Hart. It was the perfect way for the Denmark midfielder to celebrate his 24th birthday.
City scored a total of 10 goals in its last two home games against Tottenham, but Spurs’ 2015-16 crop are a different prospect entirely and may be some pundits’ favorite – despite their unfamiliarity with this lofty position. The club’s last league title came in 1961, and it was last this high in the league at this stage of the season in 1985.
The mobility of Tottenham’s midfield caused City problems all game and led to the winning goal, after Yaya Toure was robbed by Lamela. The Argentina forward surged through and his pass was expertly controlled and finished by Eriksen.
“I think it was an important victory for the future,” said Pochettino, who is surely thinking more about the present now.
As for City, a second straight home loss – after last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Leicester – kept the team six points off the lead. A squad reeling from midfield injuries is looking stretched as it goes for trophies on four fronts.
The midfield lacked balance here, with playmaker David Silva out of position on the right – to accommodate Toure in the No. 10 role – and forced into lots of defensive work. Sergio Aguero was isolated and frustrated up front until Iheanacho came on just after the hour mark.
Pellegrini complained about the penalty decision but was just as concerned about City’s recent form. The team hasn’t won any of its eight matches against teams in the top six this season.
“The first problem is our team,” said Pellegrini, who gave captain Vincent Kompany his first start since November after injury. “We need to improve in a lot of things.”
Neither goalkeeper was seriously tested before Kane converted his penalty down the middle, while a raging sense of injustice was sweeping around the Etihad. Sterling, who had been moved to the right wing for the second half, turned his back in a bid to block Rose’s cross but referee Mark Clattenburg adjudged Sterling to have deliberately handled the ball.
“It was decisive for the game,” Pellegrini said.
The decision seemed to fire up City and its fans, and Toure struck the crossbar with a free kick three minutes later.
Iheanacho came on for Fernando to give City and equalized within 13 minutes. It was a composed finish from the 19-year-old Nigeria forward, stroking a sidefooted shot high into the net from Gael Clichy’s cut-back.
Eriksen had the final say, though, to complete a successful day for the north London clubs after Arsenal beat Leicester earlier Sunday. It wrapped up a miserable weekend for the Manchester giants after United’s loss at relegation-threatened Sunderland on Saturday.