André Villas-Boas wanted to shout it from the rooftops but instead he made do with mumbled understatement. "Today, we celebrate our first official penalty," the Tottenham manager said. It was a quirk of his debut season at White Hart Lane that the team were not awarded a single spot kick but the one that they got here was decisive, Roberto Soldado gilding an encouraging first appearance with the nerveless conversion.
Tottenham's season is up and running but the only thing to ignite inside Ian Holloway, the Crystal Palace manger, was rage. He said he had waited for 38 minutes to speak to the referee, Mark Clattenburg, after the game to complain about the penalty award, along with other issues and, by the time that he eventually reported for his press conference, he was in the mood to vent his spleen.
What had got him started, he explained, was the non-award of what he felt should have been a free-kick for a barge on Stephen Dobbie near the Tottenham box. How could the assistant referee have not seen it? "We have professional referees but we haven't got professional linesmen," Holloway said, which felt like a comment that brings a letter about responsibilities from the Football Association.
Tottenham then went up the other end and they felt they should have had a penalty when Mile Jedinak challenged Paulinho, another of Tottenham's four debutants. Holloway was unimpressed at how the Brazilian went down. He would become rather more so.
Aaron Lennon got to the byline and, not unusually, he watched his cross hit the first defender. Happily for him, though, the ball struck Dean Moxey's trailing hand, triggering the penalty decision and leaving Holloway almost choked with indignation. "It was a completely and unbelievably dubious handball," he said, before insisting that there was no deliberate intent and questioning how Moxey might have got out of the way.
"I better learn quickly what a foul is in this division," Holloway added, returning to the Dobbie incident which, it must be said, had not registered with quite the same force among his audience. Holloway felt decisions went against his Blackpool team in 2011 when they were relegated from the Premier League and he practically shouted his conspiracy theory against the smaller clubs. "It's going to be a long, hard season for me with these people," he said. "I had this with Blackpool. Certain clubs get fouls and others don't. I've got a horrible taste in my mouth after that."
Holloway was asked how his players felt after Palace's first game in the top division since 2005 got away from them. "I don't know," he replied. "I didn't see them. I was talking to the ref. I spent 38 minutes waiting for him. It should be 30."
Holloway stressed that his problem was not with Clattenburg but with the assistant – it was unclear who he thought had given the penalty – although there were other targets for his frustration, including his players who, he said, had lacked sharpness and belief during the first half. He had choice words for them at half-time and he felt that the second half had started better. The penalty was awarded in the 49th minute. It was all a bit bewildering especially as, to most neutrals, Tottenham had deserved the victory. One thing was clear: it promises to be an exhausting season for Holloway.
Palace were fuelled by spirit and adrenaline but they lacked the guile to stretch more seasoned opponents, at least until a frantic late effort made for the quickening of pulses. Villas-Boas could be pleased with his debutants – Soldado, Paulinho, Nacer Chadli and the substitute Etienne Capoue – and the breakthrough goal did not come as a surprise.
Tottenham had monopolised possession, even if there was a spluttering quality to the general entertainment. Julian Speroni, the Palace goalkeeper, saved smartly from Gylfi Sigurdsson in the 35th minute, while the visitors also went close in the first half through Mousa Dembélé and Chadli. Palace offered little.
It changed after Holloway made a dramatic triple substitution on 66 minutes, introducing Jonny Williams, Kevin Phillips and new signing Marouane Chamakh. Finally, they flickered. Phillips took a heavy touch on to a long ball and Hugo Lloris was out to thwart him, while Damien Delaney and Kagisho Dikgacoi drilled shots at the Tottenham goalkeeper's body.
Yet Sigurdsson, who prospered in the space behind Soldado, ought to have made the game safe after Palace's changes but dragged a shot wide when well-placed and then substitute Jermain Defoe was uncharacteristically off target.
Tottenham hope to find their stride more smoothly in the coming weeks. Holloway, it seems, is already into his.
Man of the match Gylfi Sigurdsson (Tottenham)