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Jan Vertonghen propelled Tottenham Hotspur into the top four of the Barclays Premier League with a second-half strike that finally condemned stubborn Swansea City to a 1-0 reverse.
The Belgium defender fired his first league goal for Spurs following his summer move from Ajax when he showed composure to sweep a free-kick from Kyle Walker past Gerhard Tremmel.
It was the reward Tottenham deserved after controlling a hard-fought encounter at White Hart Lane which ended shortly after Swansea striker Michu was caught by Hugo Lloris as the goalkeeper punched the ball clear and fell heavily to ground.
Sorely missing the penetration of the injured Gareth Bale, Spurs struggled to break down opposition that defended stoutly without offering much of an offensive threat.
Andre Villas-Boas could be heartened by his side’s third clean sheet of the season and the energy of the irrepressible Jermain Defoe, but an injury to Emmanuel Adebayor could well affect the manager’s attacking options over a busy Christmas fixture schedule even if a brief injury-time cameo from Scott Parker, who made his first appearance since suffering an Achilles injury at Euro 2012, is a boost.
Spearheaded by the Premier League’s top scorer Michu, Swansea rarely troubled the home goal and looked leggy after their midweek Capital One Cup quarter-final victory over Middlesbrough.
Michael Laudrup brought in Ashley Williams and Ki Sung-yueng to freshen up a team that was continuing to thrive in the top flight.
The pattern was much the same for both halves, Swansea enjoying a bright start before Spurs took control in pursuit of the goal needed to rescue the encounter.
A decisive tackle from Williams stopped Defoe in his tracks on the edge of the area after the Swans had opened the first half strongly, but moments later the lively England striker forced a save from Gerhard Tremmel.
Swansea’s defence was then split open twice more, first by Dembele’s steal from the dawdling Michu and then by another slick move that saw Chico Flores stick out a leg to block Adebayor.
Defoe was a constant menace with one turn and shot ghosting the right post as Swansea continued to be picked apart by their opponents’ slick passing.
Aaron Lennon passed up one fine chance, producing a poor final ball when he should have taken the shot himself after dashing free down the right, while William Gallas showed speed and timing to close down Michu.
At the other end a powerful 40-yard drive from Walker cannoned into the chest of Tremmel, who would have been beaten had the attempt been better placed. Moments later, an audacious lob by Michu from just inside Spurs’ area clipped the roof of the net as a relieved Hugo Lloris backpedalled to cover.
Wayne Routledge darted around Gallas early in the second half and found Nathan Dyer but his glancing header failed to hit the target.
The fingertips of Tremmel then frustrated Adebayor before Walker skied a shot into the stands, wasting the chance after a dynamic interchange between Defoe and Lennon.
Villas-Boas replaced the ineffective Dempsey with Gylfi Sigurdsson as the match wore on and then Adebayor limped off with Andros Townsend coming on.
The goal that Spurs had been threatening for most of the game arrived in the 75th minute, a Swansea head nudging the ball into the path of an unmarked Vertonghen who made no mistake with a low shot into the right corner.
The visitors pressed throughout the five minutes of injury time, before Michu was felled and the game ended with Flores remonstrating against anyone in a white shirt.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas: "I think if there was one team to win this game it was us. We were very patient and persistent in what we were doing and kept moving the ball well. We had the bigger share of possession and had lots of shots. There was also plenty of desire from players.
"We held on to the win. Obviously in this season we will continue to suffer goals in the last minute because football is unpredictable, but I think today the players showed the desire and ambition to put the wrong right and we managed to hang on to the result.
"We address it [conceding late goals] as a group in training by stimulating concentration in the last parts training. It is very difficult because you can't replicate the stress of a game and environment of a game.
"By increasing the complexity in terms of the exercises that you do, so the more complex the exercise the more concentrated you have to be, to do it you have to be very creative.
"Swansea were difficult to break down as they defended well, but it was a hard-fought win and a deserved one in the end."
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup: "We started well in the first half and then they put us under some pressure, which we expected. During that time they had three or four big chances, but we also had a couple of our own, particularly with Nathan [Dyer] and Wayne [Routledge]. Of course, it's a little disappointing to concede in the way we did, but that's what can happen.
"Even when our passing wasn't the best, we still kept going until the end. This is a very tough place to come and we were competitive throughout. They have a lot of speed in their team. They were very offensive and we had to defend deep at times.
"But credit to Tottenham because they put us under pressure when we had the ball and our wingers had to drop back, leaving us with just Michu up front.
"We now have four games in ten days, starting with the game that everyone wants to play in next Sunday. But we have two key games in that period, against Reading and Aston Villa. They will be important for us."
|22 Dec 2012||v Stoke (H)|
|26 Dec 2012||v Aston Villa (A)|
|29 Dec 2012||v Sunderland (A)|
|01 Jan 2013||v Reading (H)|
|12 Jan 2013||v QPR (A)|
|20 Jan 2013||v Man Utd (H)|