Mauricio Pochettino saluted Tottenham’s fighting spirit as they kept alive their bid to gate-crash the Premier League title race with a 3-1 win over Leicester on Sunday.
Pochettino’s side took the lead through Davinson Sanchez’s first goal for the club, but they were indebted to Hugo Lloris for saving Jamie Vardy’s spot-kick after the interval at Wembley.
Christian Eriksen netted moments later and although Vardy got one back, Son Heung-min’s late strike ensured third-placed Tottenham clinched a fifth win in their last six league games.
The north Londoners are five points off the top of the table as they try to catch pace-setters Liverpool and Manchester City.
While Tottenham are still outsiders to win their first English title since 1961, their ability to stay in contention, despite injuries to key players Harry Kane and Dele Alli suggests they shouldn’t be completely written off.
This gritty success was the ideal preparation for hosting Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last 16 first leg on Wednesday.
“Sometimes you can win games not playing your best. We conceded more chances than usual, but I think the victory is fair,” Pochettino said.
“The effort was fantastic, with the circumstances that happened in this game and also this season. I’m so proud.”
Leicester have lost four of their last five league games, increasing the pressure on under-fire boss Claude Puel.
Puel has reportedly lost the support of several influential players, including England striker Vardy, who was left on the bench for the first 60 minutes before coming on to miss a penalty with his first touch.
Insisting he was happy for Vardy to take the penalty, Puel said: “I gave him the opportunity. I said if he felt good he could take it.
“Maybe it was not a good thing, but we had a lot of chances, not just with this penalty.”
Fernando Llorente was caught napping early on when Harry Maguire evaded the Tottenham striker’s marking and met James Maddison’s free-kick with a towering header that Lloris tipped over.
Then, Leicester’s Harvey Barnes was allowed too much space in the penalty area as he raced onto Youri Tielemans’ pass, but a poor finish wasted a gilt-edged chance.
Finally piecing together an incisive raid, Tottenham were furious when Son’s penalty appeal ended in a booking for diving after Maguire stuck out a leg to halt the South Korean.
Still angry about the decision after the match, Pochettino fumed: “It’s unbelievable. I am a person who accepts the mistakes, but today it was so clear. I told Michael Oliver.
“If we are being targeted (by referees), I don’t understand why. We are nice people.”
Pochettino’s men channelled their frustration into a sustained assault on the Leicester goal.
– Protests in vain –
Tottenham were rewarded with a well-worked 33rd minute opener.
Trippier’s short corner found the unmarked Christian Eriksen and he whipped a pin-point cross towards Sanchez six yards from goal.
Leicester called for offside, but their protests were in vain as Sanchez launched himself into a diving header that flashed past Kasper Schmeichel.
Replays showed the Colombia defender was just onside as he scored his first goal for Tottenham since his 2017 move from Ajax.
Leicester’s positive start to the second half brought a golden opportunity to equalise with their 60th minute penalty.
A rapid exchange of passes opened up a chance for Maddison, prompting Jan Vertonghen to rashly bundle over the midfielder.
Vardy had been warming up in preparation and was immediately introduced, jogging forward to take the ball from Maddison.
But Lloris came to Tottenham’s rescue, plunging to his right to keep out Vardy’s spot-kick.
Tottenham made the most of their escape as Eriksen doubled the lead three minutes later.
Llorente pounced on Ricardo Pereira’s poor clearance and teed up Eriksen for a superb strike from the edge of the area for his first goal since January 1.
Vardy gave Leicester hope in the 76th minute, pouncing from close-range to convert Pereira’s cross in typically predatory fashion.
But Son had the last word in the 90th minute as the winger raced clear to slot past Schmeichel for his 15th goal of the season.