Tottenham's Harry Kane sluggish as Brighton hold on for draw
BRIGHTON -- Three thoughts from Tottenham's 1-1 draw at Brighton, as Spurs moved eight points clear of fifth-placed Chelsea and Brighton went eight clear of the relegation zone.
1. Brighton dent Spurs' top-four procession
Tottenham's top four ambitions, so certain after the victory over Chelsea two weeks ago, are suddenly less assured after Brighton earned a deserved draw.
Pascal Gross' penalty, two minutes after Harry Kane had opened the scoring at the start of the second half, earned the hosts a valuable point and left Spurs winless in two matches going into Saturday's FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United.
Spurs are eight points clear of the fifth-placed Blues but that gap could be down to five if Chelsea beat Burnley on Thursday.
Brighton, meanwhile, took a significant step towards safety with another impressive home performance. The Seagulls' four remaining fixtures are against Burnley, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City -- by far the toughest run-in of the bottom sides -- but this draw moved them eight points clear of the drop zone. They could conceivably not win again this season and still avoid an instant return to the Championship.
With Saturday in mind, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino made six changes from the defeat to Man City, with Dele Alli, Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier rested.
Faced with an organised and energetic Brighton side, a disjointed Spurs were largely restricted to half chances in the first half, with two coming from dangerous free kicks, won following loose passes from Beram Kayal.
Christian Eriksen thumped the first into the wall and Kane struck the second at goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, who also saved from the lively Lucas Moura before the interval.
It was far from one-way traffic and Brighton were more decisive in possession, with Anthony Knockaert, their best player, impressive.
Gaetan Bong's mistake allowed Son Heung-Min to skip to the byline and around Ryan before teeing-up Kane who thumped home his 26th league goal of the season.
It took Brighton less than two minutes to hit back though thanks to another error from Serge Aurier. The right-back tripped Jose Izquierdo and Gross thumped home the penalty, which Lloris got a hand to but could not keep out.
Pochettino threw on Erik Lamela, Dembele and Fernando Llorente in the second half as Spurs chased a winner but their best chance came when Eriksen's low shot was deflected wide from Lewis Dunk and Brighton were reasonably comfortable in hanging on.
Spurs have a history with blowing commanding leads in the race for the top four. It will be a nervy final four games if Chelsea triumph in two days time.
2. Sluggish Kane in need of a rest
There was no doubt about the scorer this time but Kane's 48th-minute goal was a bright spot in an uncharacteristically subdued performance by Tottenham's talisman.
There is nothing more foolish than doubting Kane, who thrives on proving his detractors wrong, but his lack of sharpness must be a concern for Mauricio Pochettino ahead of Saturday's FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United. Kane has not looked his imposing self since suffering ankle ligament damage against Bournemouth last month and, while he was by no means poor against the Seagulls, he looked sluggish, taking one touch too many in promising positions or darting to the penalty spot when a near-post run was required.
His first half was summed-up when he slipped before striking Eriksen's short free kick, with the ball rolling into Ryan's arms and, aside from the goal, his only other shot was blazed high and wide from 18 yards.
Kane is among the fittest players in the Premier League but this was his 41st game of the season and it is possible he is simply running out of steam, having led the line for Spurs more or less unaided since August. England manager Gareth Southgate will be keeping a close eye on his performances before this summer's World Cup.
It said everything that with Spurs chasing a goal, Kane was withdrawn for the final six minutes for the untrusted Fernando Llorente.
His 26th league goal of the season, a thumping finish which he owed to Victor Wanyama's diligence and Son's skill, moved him four behind Mohamed Salah in the hunt for the Golden Boot and it would take a brave manager to rest him in the run-in. On this evidence, he may need it.
3. Ryan and Knockaert impress
Tottenham captain Lloris came into the match under scrutiny after mistakes in the last three games, but his opposite number came out of it as a bigger talking point.
Ryan made a superb one-handed stop to deny Son with the last kick of the first half and he made another good save from the South Korean, and the lively Lucas Moura, making his full debut, before half-time.
The Australia international will come head-to-head with Lloris again at this summer's World Cup and the 26-year-old, who is a calming presence for club and country in the penalty box, is a player to watch in Russia.
At the other end, Knockaert was again Brighton's outstanding outfield player. The tricky Frenchman was a constant threat to Spurs on the counter attack, forcing Lloris into a save in the first half, having nearly pounced on a mistake by the goalkeeper.
Whatever Brighton's fate this season, they could face competition for both players in the summer.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.