Soldado ends barren spell as Spurs stay in hunt
Tottenham Hotspur's Spanish striker Roberto Soldado celebrates scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Cardiff City at White Hart Lane in north London on March 2, 2014 RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or “live” services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. - by Ben Stansall
Sunday's win helped consolidate Tottenham's hold on fifth place, although they remain four points adrift of Manchester City, who lie fourth having played two games fewer than Spurs.
For Cardiff, a seventh successive away league defeat leaves Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s side second bottom, three points off safety, and capped a week in which the club's owner Vincent Tan again attracted attention following an interview that highlighted the rift between him and some of the club's supporters.
Soldado had been under growing pressure after failing to score in eight previous games, amid reports his spell at Tottenham could end after just one season.
But the striker justified the faith shown in him by manager Tim Sherwood –- whose own future has been thrown into doubt after Dutch national coach Louis van Gaal was linked with a move to White Hart Lane –- with the decisive first half goal that built on the midweek Europa League victory over Dnipro.
That European win had lifted spirits following the disappointing defeat at Norwich that dealt a severe blow to the north London club's hopes of securing a place in next season's Champions League and Sherwood made just two changes to the team that had set up a meeting with Benfica.
- Much needed goal -
That meant Soldado was again given the chance to form a two-man attack alongside Emmanuel Adebayor, although when the Spaniard spurned two early half-chances it appeared he may be set for more disappointment.
That would change later in the first half, but before the Spaniard claimed his much needed goal, the home side were forced to survive some persistent early pressure from a Cardiff side keen to put last weekend's 4-0 home defeat by fellow strugglers Hull City behind them.
The arrival of Solksjaer as successor to the popular Malky Mackay has failed to transform Cardiff's fortunes, although the new manager received the backing of Tan earlier this week.
Tan maintained he had no regrets about making a number of controversial decisions, including changing the club's colours from blue to red and was fiercely critical of Mackay's tenure.
The Malaysian businessman also warned he would consider selling the club if supporter opposition to his regime continued.
Tan was in the stands at White Hart Lane and will have been satisfied by Cardiff's early efforts, although they were unable to find a way through a Tottenham defence well-marshalled by Michael Dawson.
And frustratingly for the visitors, the Spurs winner came via a thrilling breakaway following a Cardiff corner.
Andros Townsend led the move, collecting Hugo Lloris's clearance and running powerfully up the centre of the pitch before finding Adebayor on the left hand of the Cardiff area.
The Togo striker held the ball up then squared for Soldado, who had been allowed to find space ten yards out despite the presence of three Cardiff defenders, and the Spaniard took one touch before volleying past David Marshall.
The reaction of the Tottenham players as they mobbed their team-mate spoke volumes about the build-up of tension during Soldado's goal-drought.
But the home side were almost brought back down to earth immediately afterwards when Steven Caulker headed Craig Bellamy's corner against the bar from close range.
That, though, would prove to be one of the last occasions Cardiff managed to threaten the Spurs goal as the urgency inexplicably disappeared from their game.
The second half was even less enthralling than the first, although Spurs believed they should have had a penalty when Declan John tripped Aaron Lennon on the edge of the box.
Referee Phil Dowd adjudged contact took place outside the area and Townsend fired the resulting free-kick tamely wide, summing up the latter part of the game.