Harry Kane’s penalty ended Middlesbrough’s resistance as Tottenham’s 1-0 win on Saturday kept their flickering Premier League title challenge alive.
Spurs are nine points off runaway leaders Chelsea thanks to Kane’s second half spot-kick — the players answering manager Mauricio Pochettino’s demand on Friday to maintain their hold on second place and pray for Chelsea’s form to slump.
Tottenham lost precious ground after being held by Sunderland in their previous game and Middlesbrough were in danger of repeating the trick.
That was until Kane struck in the 58th minute to give the hosts their seventh successive home win and leave Middlesbrough — without a win away since the opening month of the campaign — looking nervously over their shoulders.
Aitor Karanka’s side are just a point above the bottom three.
Tottenham’s task would have been much tougher had Alvaro Negredo not planted Adama Traore’s right-wing cross over in the opening minutes.
It appeared to spark Spurs into action as man of the match Korean international Heung-Min Son saw his low shot pushed out by Middlesbrough goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Dele Alli was next to try, but hit the side netting after Christian Eriksen’s shrewd pass had opened up the visitors’ defence.
Valdes, though, could find himself in hot water with the Football Association after raising his hands at Alli in the aftermath which was missed by referee Mark Clattenburg but caught on camera.
It promised to be a busy night for the Spaniard, who was saved by his post in the 24th minute.
Eriksen’s corner was met by Toby Alderweireld and the Belgian’s powerful header bounced off the outside of the post.
Middlesborough frustrated the home side but the breakthrough almost arrived via Kane in the 24th minute.
Son’s cross found the England striker but Kane was stretched and could not direct his header on target from six-yards out.
The game was played exclusively in Middlesbrough’s half but Karanka’s side were happy to sit back and soak up pressure.
When it looked like they had been breached, the assistant referee’s flag saved them as Kane had strayed offside after turning home Son’s cross.
Spurs were hitting a brick wall as Eriksen’s piledriver was pushed away by Valdes but Spurs were finally presented with the chance in the 57th minute that would not be passed up.
Son was tripped by Espinosa Bernardo and Kane, who blazed his last spot-kick over the crossbar last month at Southampton, sent Valdes the wrong way.
Two minutes later Spurs would have doubled their lead when Kane played in Eriksen, only for Valdes to once again come to Middlesbrough’s rescue.
The game was finally opening up and the lively Son shot just wide but Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal had still not had a shot to save.
Negredo, who spurned his side’s best chance, saw an overhead kick drift wide before Marten de Roon steered a volley just off target in the last minute.