Perhaps a dodgy meal will not stop Spurs this time. When it was announced that Dejan Kulusevski would start on the bench after contracting a stomach bug that had affected other members of the squad, it was hard not to draw parallels with the “lasagne-gate” drama of 2006, which helped Arsenal pip them to the Champions League. But Tottenham negotiated a sizeable banana skin nevertheless and can watch their closest rivals seek a way past Newcastle tomorrow night with a two-point advantage in fourth.
They can thank VAR for that. Burnley were irate but the penalty award that won this game looked correct by the letter of today’s mind-numbing laws. Ashley Barnes’s arm was deemed in an unnatural position when the ball struck it as half-time approached but it would barely have been a talking point had play not been called back for the review. Harry Kane had little time for such concerns; he buried the spot kick, leaving relegation-threatened Burnley to live on their nerves next weekend and ensuring a leggy Tottenham got the job done.
Their ability to achieve that was in question for long periods. The biggest intrigue, as the first half took shape, was whether a rugged Burnley could get away with their approach for an entire 90 minutes. Mike Jackson had gone with a flat back five and, although critically weakened by the absences of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, the away defence showed ample appetite to hack, block and scrap at anything sent in their direction. Tottenham did not begin as if affected by sickness, nor by the rapid turnaround since Thursday’s jubilant derby night, but the lack of an early breakthrough naturally risked fomenting tension.
While Spurs began at speed, flipping the ball from one side to the other with alacrity, Burnley were rarely turned around. All the same, there were one or two narrow escapes. Nick Pope was sharp to deal with a whipped cross-shot from Son Heung-min and a speculative yet troublesome drive from Emerson Royal; he was grateful to clutch one Kane header after Ryan Sessegnon’s accurate cross and even more thankful for the sharp intervention of Nathan Collins when a second seemed bound for his far corner.
Burnley did not leave their own half for almost 20 minutes. But they could sense the passing of a storm and, perhaps, that ripple of uncertainty from the stands. Davinson Sánchez did just enough to prevent Dwight McNeil making meaningful contact on a cross and then, just before the half-hour, they created the calibre of chance that had eluded Tottenham. Collins was the architect, advancing from the back and slipping a smart pass behind Sánchez to free Maxwel Cornet. The angle gave Hugo Lloris a chance and, repelling with his left fist, he denied Burnley a goal out of the blue.
Spurs had, though, begun to drift. Denied space in which to break, this had become a test of their craft in front of opponents primarily focused on spoiling. When Kane pulled a by now rare chance wide in the final minute of added time, meeting Lucas Moura’s cutback from the kind of position he usually exploits in his sleep, Burnley appeared to have reached the interval in some degree of comfort.
Immediately, their plans were shattered. Moura had taken possession after Burnley had scrappily cleared Son’s deflected delivery from a short corner, whose execution had initially been met with groans. Nobody had appealed for any offence but a protracted VAR check showed Sánchez, trying to redirect the ball into the danger zone after it had spun up, finding Barnes’s outstretched arm. Barnes was at point-blank range but today’s interpretation of the rules would find no excuse for the extension of his limb. Unfortunate or not, a penalty now felt inevitable and its award was confirmed after Kevin Friend checked his monitor. Kane got his bearings right this time and Spurs had got away with a performance of dwindling intensity.
Burnley’s feelings were summed up by heated protests in the tunnel, their substitute Phil Bardsley taking particular issue with Spurs’s backroom staff. They re-emerged as if fired up, Kevin Long heading narrowly wide. Shortly afterwards Collins rose to meet a free-kick but nodded over. For a time the ball hardly left Spurs’ territory; Burnley, after all, could not afford to hang everything on Brighton compounding Leeds’s misery at Elland Road.
Kane shot narrowly over but, in the 62nd minute, Burnley were within inches of a reward they would probably have merited. Found in space 20 yards out, Barnes beat Lloris with a cleanly-hit drive but watched his moment of redemption evaporate as it thudded against the right-hand post.
A consequence of Burnley’s relative ambition was the opening-up of the spaces Spurs enjoy. When Sessegnon found one, he cut back for Son to draw an outstanding reflex save from Pope. The keeper denied him again in the last 10 minutes; Burnley threw men forward towards the end but their fate remains in the balance.