The final match of our post-season tour ended in the same fashion as so many of our games in 2014-15 – with Harry Kane the match winner.
The young striker made up for a couple of spurned opportunities in the first half when he found the net with a clinical finish two minutes before the break to give us a 1-0 AIA Cup victory over Sydney FC in front of more than 71,500 fans at the ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
It took his post-season tour tally to three goals, having also netted twice in our 2-1 victory over a Malaysia XI on Wednesday, as we concluded the campaign in winning fashion.
There was a late scare, however, as George Blackwood glanced a header towards the far post in stoppage time, but substitute goalkeeper Michel Vorm leapt to his left to marshal it past the upright and make sure of the victory.
Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino made four changes to the side that began our first tour match in Kuala Lumpur, with Nabil Bentaleb, Mousa Dembele, Erik Lamela and Ryan Mason coming into the starting XI. Bentaleb took on the left-back role, while Benji Stambouli dropped back from midfield to partner Jan Vertonghen at centre-half. Dembele and Mason occupied the two deeper central midfield positions.
The first chance arrived four minutes in as Andros Townsend crossed from the right for Lamela, who got clear of his marker but nudged his header over the top from six yards.
Sydney then showed their attacking prowess, Stambouli making a good tackle at the edge of our box, before Shane Smeltz raced onto a through ball and looked to be clean through on goal, but DeAndre Yedlin was there with a fine covering tackle to thwart the front man.
Bentaleb was showing tremendous effort at full-back, often racing forward down the left, but it was his defensive endeavours that led to a fast break forward on nine minutes. He dispossessed Christopher Naumoff and Christian Eriksen was able to surge forward and feed Townsend, but his left-footed shot from 20 yards sailed over the bar.
Kane got his first sight of goal on the 10-minute mark after Townsend’s cut-back was scooped into his path by Nikola Petkovic and naturally he pulled the trigger – sadly for him, though, it was straight at goalkeeper Ivan Necevski.
The latter’s opposite number, Hugo Lloris, was forced into a save at his near post a minute later to deny Naumoff before Bentaleb once again found space to run into on the left side, only to arrow the ball beyond the far post with Kane lurking in the area.
The passionate Sydney crowd was very nearly treated to a live re-enactment of the Europa League goal of the season with 20 minutes gone, Townsend setting up Lamela to try to repeat his ‘rabona’ strike from October’s Asteras Tripolis encounter – yesterday named as the UEFA competition’s best of 2014-15. This time, though, the ball came to him at speed and his effort dipped just wide.
Our pursuit of an opener continued with Eriksen lifting a shot over from 18 yards and Kane latching onto a perfectly-weighted ball over the top from Jan Vertonghen just before the half-hour mark, but the striker’s first touch let him down and Necevski was able to clear.
We nearly gifted the hosts the lead two minutes later, though, as a wayward square ball at the back saw Alex Brosque round the advancing Lloris at the edge of the box to give himself the whole goal to aim at, but Vertonghen was there to block on the line.
Naumoff shot over the bar after cutting in from the left as Sydney tried to edge themselves ahead while, at the other end, Lamela forced a low save from Necevski with Kane unable to properly connect with the rebound when well-placed in the area.
Eriksen ran onto Lamela’s pass and tested the goalkeeper from 20 yards with five minutes of the first period remaining, before we finally broke the deadlock through Kane. Eriksen scooped the ball – first time – into the path of Lamela, who in turn passed to Kane as he overlapped him in the right channel, the forward confidently pulling the trigger from the angle to give us a 43rd minute advantage.
Changes were made by both sides at the break and that theme continued throughout much of the second half, with Sydney rarely threatening replacement keeper Vorm’s goal.
The hosts’ most evident danger man in that period was probably Bernie Ibini-Isei, who forced Vorm into a smart stop four minutes after the restart and glanced a header some way wide a quarter of an hour later.
We had claims for a penalty waved away on 66 minutes when Bentaleb, who had reverted back to his usual central midfield berth as part of the half-time alterations, made a powerful run through the middle and fed substitute Harry Winks. He went down as Peter Triantis slid in to tackle him, but the referee felt there was nothing doing and play continued.
Kane was then denied by a goal-line clearance from Sebastian Ryall when he shot through a crowded area after Winks’ initial effort was blocked, with the striker drilling wide moments later as he made a near post run to meet substitute Tom Carroll’s wide free-kick.
Grant Ward, on for Lamela, tested the goalkeeper from the left side while replacement left-back Kyle Walker-Peters played a good through ball for Kane, but it was just taken off the striker’s toe by a defender at the expense of a corner.
We hadn’t looked in any real danger of conceding an equaliser, but Sydney mounted one last attack two minutes into stoppage time and nearly made us pay. Blackwood’s glancing header following a cross from the left looked like it might be creeping in at the far post, but Vorm made sure he had it covered.
Sydney FC: Necevski (c), Ryall, Petkovic, Smeltz, Ibini-Isei, Naumoff, Brosque, Gersbach, Antonis, Grant, Tavares. Substitutes: Janjetovic (GK), Bouzanis (GK), Jurman, Gligor, Triantis, Calver, Faty, Blackwood, Stambolziev, Hoole, O'Neill.
Spurs: Lloris (c) (Vorm, 46); Yedlin, Stambouli, Vertonghen (Dier, 46), Bentaleb; Dembele (Walker-Peters, 46), Mason (Winks, 62); Lamela (Ward, 62), Eriksen (Chadli, 46), Townsend (Carroll, 62); Kane (Onomah, 84). Substitute (not used): McGee.
Goals: Spurs – Kane (43).
Referee: Minhu Lee.