London: Christian Eriksen consolidated Tottenham Hotpsur’s place in the Premier League’s top four as his superb late strike sealed a hard-fought 1-0 win over struggling Brighton on Tuesday.
Mauricio Pochettino’s third-placed side dominated from start to finish at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but a combination of brave Brighton defending and poor finishing kept the match in the balance until the 88th minute.
Eriksen finally ended Brighton’s stubborn resistence with a sensational long-range drive that lifted Tottenham three points clear of fourth-placed Chelsea and four ahead of Arsenal in fifth.
Although Arsenal can close the gap to one point if they win at Wolves on Wednesday, and this was a vital result in Spurs’ bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top four finish.
Tottenham have now won all four games in all competitions at their plush new arena, scoring eight goals without reply.
This was the most frustrating fixture at the new ground as the hosts looked hamstrung without injured striker Harry Kane until Eriksen came to the rescue with his ninth goal of the season in all competitions.
But Pochettino will be delighted with the way his players kept plugging away right to the end despite the draining effects of their hectic fixture list.
Tottenham can take another step towards securing their top-four berth in Saturday’s crucial London derby against West Ham before focusing on the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals against Ajax next week.
The finale was painful for Brighton, who have won only two of their last 15 league games and sit just one place and three points above the relegation zone.
They have failed to score in their past seven games in all competitions and are in severe danger of being caught by third bottom Cardiff in the fight to avoid relegation.
Defeats for Arsenal and Manchester United, combined with Chelsea’s draw against Burnley, had given Tottenham a welcome lift following their 1-0 loss at Manchester City on Saturday.
Pochettino made five changes in an attacking line-up featuring Son Heung-min, Dele Alli, Eriksen, Lucas Moura and Fernando Llorente.
Despite all the forward-thinking talent, it was Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen who had the first sight of goal.
Rising highest at a set-piece, Vertonghen looped his header over, then moments later his close-range effort was inadvertently blocked by team-mate Victor Wanyama.
Lucas, scorer of a hat-trick in Tottenham’s previous home game against Huddersfield, nearly teed up Alli with a low cross, but Lewis Dunk slid in to clear off the line at the last second.
Pochettino’s decision to pick Llorente as his main striker forced Son out to the flanks when the South Korean had been so deadly in a more central role in recent weeks.
The move left Tottenham a little short of pace and penetration as they laboured to break down Brighton.
Pochettino’s men were denied by more last-ditch Brighton defending when Alli deftly controlled a high ball in the six yard box and flicked goalwards, only to see Shane Duffy scramble it off the line.
Duffy threatened at the other end when his header forced Tottenham keeper Hugo Lloris into action for the first time early in the second half.
Danny Rose’s fierce 20-yarder was well saved by Mat Ryan, while Toby Alderweireld’s luck was out as well when the Tottenham defender’s low drive hit a post, rolling along the line and away to safety.
Desperate for a breakthrough, Pochettino sent on much-maligned striker Vincent Janssen for his first appearance in 20 months.
Janssen didn’t make much of an impression, but Tottenham kept pressing and, with their 29th shot, Eriksen finally landed the knockout blow in the 88th minute.
Setting his sights from 25 yards, the Denmark midfielder lashed a powerful strike with his left foot that beat Ryan at his near post and sparked wild celebrations.