Tottenham put the pressure on Premier League leaders Leicester City as Harry Kane scored twice in a 2-0 victory over bottom side Aston Villa at Villa Park.
A goal either side of half-time from Kane enabled Tottenham to close the gap to Leicester to just two points, with Claudio Ranieri’s team the opposition for Rafael Benitez on Monday as the former Real Madrid coach takes charge of Newcastle United for the first time.
Kane quickly set about troubling the Villa backline, clipping an effort onto the crossbar in the fifth minute – Remi Garde’s decision to drop captain Micah Richards and switch to a back four following the 4-0 drubbing at Manchester City immediately coming into question.
Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan proved a formidable obstacle, but, after parrying a shot from Erik Lamela onto the post, he was beaten by a sweeping finish from Kane on the stroke of half-time.
It took the England international just three second-half minutes to double his tally, turning a sumptuous pass from Dele Alli into the top-left corner to make it 19 goals in the league this season.
Jordan Ayew, Rudy Gestede and Joleon Lescott all struck the post in quick succession for Villa inside the last 10 minutes, but a 20th Premier League defeat of the season – equalling a club record – was inevitable and they remain nine points adrift of safety at the foot of the table. Tottenham’s title dream, meanwhile, remains a distinct possibility.
After criticism for leaving a number of key players out of Tottenham’s 3-0 defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League on Thursday, Kane, Lamela, Alli and Mousa Dembele were restored to a starting line-up from Mauricio Pochettino that included seven changes.
Two of the returning players combined to create the first opening inside five minutes, with Lamela sliding a pass through for Kane, whose attempt to clip an effort over the onrushing Guzan hit the crossbar.
Alli rifled a 25-yard shot straight at the Villa goalkeeper as Tottenham continued to apply the early pressure, while Eriksen sent a shot from a similar distance wide in the 18th minute.
Garde’s team got the fans on side with some attacking spells of their own, but needed a pair of saves in the space of two minutes from Guzan to stop Kane converting.
The Villa goalkeeper made another important contribution on the half-hour mark, stretching out an arm to Lamela’s attempt to steer Kyle Walker’s cross inside the post onto the woodwork.
But Tottenham finally broke the deadlock when Kane latched onto Alli’s pass and stroked the ball across Guzan and into the bottom-right corner.
Kane added his second straight after the restart, steering Alli’s excellent cross from the left into the roof of the net.
The goal hit Villa hard, with a drop-off in their desire to press the opposition immediately evident.
Walker sent a powerful effort straight at Guzan, while Lamela had a shot deflected wide in the 75th minute as Tottenham showed far less urgency when going forward.
Villa had chances to make a game of it before the final whistle, Ayew and Gestede hitting the frame of the goal within seconds of one another with six minutes remaining.
Lescott also volleyed onto the upright, but it was not Villa’s day as they succumbed to a fifth straight defeat.
Key Opta stats:
– Tottenham have lost none of their last nine trips to Villa Park in all competitions (W7 D2 L0).
– Only Sunderland (10) in 2005-06 and Derby County (10) in 2007-08 have won fewer points after 30 games in a Premier League season than Villa this season (16).
– Villa have now equalled their worst tally of Premier League defeats in a single season (20 – set in 15-16, 14-15 and 13-14).
– Kane has scored more goals in all competitions this season than any other Englishman in the Premier League (22).
– Alli has provided more assists in all competitions for Tottenham this season than any other player (10).