Paulinho's clever finish seals points for Tottenham over Cardiff City

If the timing of the killer blow was cruel on Cardiff City, it was difficult to argue with the outcome. The last of Tottenham Hotspur's 29 shots on goal ended in the back of the Cardiff net.

Paulinho's wonderful flick in the 93rd minute, after Erik Lamela and Lewis Holtby, two second-half substitutes, combined beautifully, allowed André Villas-Boas to celebrate three precious points that lift his side to second spot, behind Arsenal only on goal difference.

It is their third 1-0 victory in five league games this season, which suggests the new Spurs are becoming the old Arsenal. Villas-Boas smiled at that comment before admitting that he would happily accept more of the same, as long as he is not kept waiting so long for a winning goal every week.

That Spurs left it so late owed much to the performance of David Marshall, the outstanding Cardiff goalkeeper who produced save after save. There were 11 in total, including two in injury-time, before Paulinho registered his first goal for Spurs with a moment of Brazilian brilliance.

When Marshall was beaten in normal time the woodwork came to his rescue, as Gylfi Sigurdsson's superb 25-yard shot rattled the crossbar. To the Scot's credit he reacted quickly and was well-positioned to block Roberto Soldado's first-time shot from the rebound. It was that sort of day for Marshall and looked like being that sort of day for Spurs.

Tottenham, however, remained patient and kept probing, trying to create rather than force an opening, with the breakthrough a case in point.

Holtby, who had replaced Christian Eriksen in the 89th minute, slid a lovely pass that invited Lamela to get to the by-line, where he delivered a low cutback that Paulinho, with one leg behind the other, steered beyond Marshall from inside the six-yard box. Cue an outpouring of relief from Villas-Boas and the Spurs players.

"I think today there could only be one winner; we created so much football that it would have been unfair for us to come away from here only with a point," said Villas-Boas, whose side have kept seven clean sheets in eight matches this season. "We got rewarded in the end but, to be fair, for the amount of chances that we created, if it wasn't for Marshall, we could have played a more comfortable game here.

"It could have been one of those days, not only could you have come out of here with a draw but also with no points at all, because we played so open and we tried so hard that sometimes on the counter Cardiff were a threat.

"But either way I think it would have been extremely unfair. It's a very satisfying win because I don't see it's easy for teams to come here; it's a difficult stadium to play at and a team that is well organised."

Cardiff, who have beaten Manchester City and held Everton at home, worked tirelessly. Although they spent much of the game chasing the ball – Spurs had 67% of possession – the home side had a couple of great chances, the first as early as the sixth minute, when Fraizer Campbell ran on to Kyle Naughton's blind backpass and tried to take the ball around Hugo Lloris.

Desperately close to the edge of the penalty area, the Spurs goalkeeper stuck out a right hand and pawed the ball away from Campbell. Television replays showed that Lloris may have been just outside the penalty box when he handled, although it would have been an impossibly difficult decision to call in real time.

Indeed Malky Mackay was more disappointed with Campbell's failure to score than the officials' interpretation of the incident. The Cardiff manager also criticised Aron Gunnarsson for blazing Peter Odemwingie's pass over the bar nine minutes from time. Between those two gilt-edged opportunities Mackay felt Cardiff had a goal wrongly disallowed, when Ben Turner's 44th-minute header was ruled out after Mark Clattenburg penalised Gunnarsson for a foul on Lloris.

"It's the harsh realities," the Cardiff manager said. "They were clinical in the last minute or so and we weren't in the [sixth] minute, we were right through on goal, Fraizer read [the backpass] really well and wasn't clinical when one-v-one. And we're disappointed with the disallowed goal.

"I think Hugo Lloris will see it tonight and realise he's a lucky man. I think the referee will be disappointed in his decision because you look at it again and it's Lloris who has got his hand on Gunnarsson and then completely misses the track of the ball, so for me it's a clear goal. And then the one with 10 minutes to go, when it's cut back six or seven yards out, I think Gunnar has got to do better with that and he realises that himself. It's about being clinical."

Man of the match David Marshall (Cardiff City)

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