ottenham did just enough to edge past a stubborn Burnley and pile the pressure on rivals Arsenal in the race for the top four.
Harry Kane’s penalty in first-half stoppage-time earned Spurs a 1-0 win over the relegation-threatened Clarets and ensured Arsenal must beat Newcastle at St. James’ Park on Monday night to keep Champions League qualification in their hands on the final day.
If Thursday’s 3-0 win over Arsenal showcased Tottenham’s improving killer-instinct and game-management under Antonio Conte, they had to show different qualities to beat Burnley.
Conte had predicted a “sporting war” against Mike Jackson’s side and Spurs were made to fight until the final seconds of stoppage-time after Nick Pope twice denied Golden Boot-chasing Heung-min Son in the second half.
They had to deal with a succession of late Burnley balls into their box and you wondered if, earlier in the season, they may have cracked.
The game turned on the penalty decision when Davinson Sanchez’s hoof caught the outstretched arm of Ashley Barnes.
By the letter of the law, it was a spot-kick, with Barnes’ arm clearly in an unnatural position, but no-one in the stadium, even Sanchez, appeared to appeal before a VAR check was announced.
Referee Kevin Friend eventually made the call after consulting the pitchside monitor, and Kane made no mistake with an unsavable low effort into the side-netting – in the opposite corner to his opening goal against Arsenal.
Burnley could feel aggrieved at the call, while Arsenal might reflect that Spurs’ excellent week has ultimately hinged on two soft penalty decisions.
Nonetheless, Conte’s side deserve credit for a battling to the win in difficult circumstances. After such a short turnaround and just one full day to prepare, their preparations were further disrupted by illness in the camp and Dejan Kulusevski was not well enough to start, with four other players believed to have been impacted.
Spurs started sharply, dominating the first 20 minutes, but looked sluggish for long periods against a Burnley side who followed the blueprint established by Brighton and Brentford last month: defend deep and deny Conte’s side space.
While the hosts were not at their best, they played with more zip and purpose than they did against the Seagulls and indeed in the 1-0 defeat at Turf Moor, which Conte has suggested was a turning point in their season.
They were lucky when Barnes’ 25-yard effort struck the post in the second half, but they ultimately did enough for the win – their first by a single goal since February.
Spurs can now only watch Arsenal’s response on Tyneside but they will reflect that they have done all they can this week to enhance their claims for Champions League football next season. With a week to prepare for the visit to already-relegated Norwich on the final day, Spurs can be confident of finishing the season with another three points, but the question is whether they will go to Carrow Road with their fate in their own hands.