Tottenham Hotspur strengthened their Premier League title challenge as Kieran Trippier’s goal moved Mauricio Pochettino’s side up to second place following a 1-0 victory over Watford on Saturday.
The north London club took full advantage of Manchester City’s 3-1 loss to Leicester City earlier in the day to move above Manuel Pellegrini’s side and to within five points of leaders Leicester.
Having been on the fringes of the title race for much of the season, Spurs are now reinforcing their status as one of the main contenders to be crowned champions in May.
The margin of victory should have been much more comfortable, with Pochettino’s side dominant for all but the opening moments of the game.
But a string of missed opportunities, together with a fine display from Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, meant that they had to rely on Trippier’s 64th-minute tap-in to claim all three points.
It was the right-back’s first goal for the club on only his fourth league start since making a £3.5 million ($5.1 million, 4.5 million euros) switch from Burnley last June.
There were few positives for Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores, whose side failed to register a single effort on target.
Spurs initially appeared to be missing the creative influence of Dele Alli in midfield, with the youngster named among the substitutes after being forced out of last weekend’s win at Norwich City with illness.
The visitors, though, had few options going forward and were unable to relieve the gradual build-up of Spurs pressure after a dour opening 25 minutes.
Pochettino allowed his three attacking midfielders –- Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen –- to roam and with full-backs Trippier and Ben Davies getting forward well, Watford began to appear vulnerable.
Trippier provided a succession of good crosses from the right and Chadli should have done much better then direct his header against Watford defender Allan Nyom after being picked out by the right-back.
Moments later Nyom again intervened, this time to deflect Davies’s shot away to safety.
When Chadli again miscued a header, this time from Lamela’s free-kick, it appeared only a matter of time before Spurs took the lead.
Watford’s sole response during the first half came from Almen Abdi, who floated a chip onto the roof of the net after Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris had rushed from his line.
But there were few signs of the confidence that has made Flores’s side one of the unexpected successes of this season.
And it was no surprise when the manager responded to his side’s first-half display by making a double substitution, withdrawing the ineffectual Abdi and Mario Suarez and introducing Valon Behrami and Troy Deeney.
However, the switch back to a more familiar formation made little difference for the visitors, who continued to find themselves under the cosh.
Gomes had received a warm reception from the home fans before kick-off on his return to his former club.
And the Brazilian provided a reminder of why he is fondly remembered at White Hart Lane with a string of fine saves early in the second half that added to the feeling that this would not be Tottenham’s day.
But the introduction of Alli on the hour helped transform the home side’s fortunes.
Within four minutes of replacing Chadli, the England international was released on the left by Mousa Dembele and drilled a low cross across the face of Gomes’s goal with the outside of his right foot.
Trippier had timed his run to the far post excellently and the defender met Alli’s cross to side-foot home from close range.
Spurs should have added to their tally, but Watford’s lack of cutting edge meant they were never going to need the cushion of a second goal.