Record-chasing Harry Kane was limited to a watching brief as Son Heung-min fired Tottenham into the fifth round of the FA Cup with a 3-0 victory at Preston in a battle of the lilywhites.
Kane recovered from a midweek illness to take his place on the bench and was hoping for an opportunity to move clear of Jimmy Greaves’ all-time scoring record for the club, having matched his tally of 266 with the winner at Fulham on Monday.
But, although this was not always an easy night for Spurs against a side 26 places below them in the pyramid, the England captain was not needed as Son’s second-half double proved the difference at Deepdale before substitute Arnaut Danjuma marked his debut with a late third.
Son’s goals may not come with the weight of history attached but these were important strikes for the Korean, who had only one since October coming into the match. A push for the top four would be a much more realistic prospect if he is back firing again.
Kane had dropped to the bench as one of seven changes made by Antonio Conte, but even so Spurs’ Premier League pedigree was clear as they dominated the ball, were faster in their movement, stronger and quicker in battling for the ball.
But, as Preston, who have made it beyond the fourth round only once in the last 14 years, defended in numbers, the visitors struggled to carve out clear opportunities in the first half.
Dejan Kulusevski saw a shot deflected wide after Ivan Perisic sent a free-kick straight into the wall, while Son twice tested Freddie Woodman from range but earned nothing more than a corner.
Preston fed on scraps. Andrew Hughes had a shot charged down following a long free-kick, while Tom Cannon’s tenacity almost forced Davinson Sanchez into an error as he tried to shepherd the ball back to Fraser Forster, earning a roar of approval from the stands if nothing more.
Spurs’ best move of the half came two minutes before the break as Kulusevski exchanged passes with Son to create space for a shot inside the box, but Liam Lindsay slid in to block.
Spurs started the second half with more energy and got their rewards five minutes after the restart.
It was another shot from distance from Son but although Woodman had a clear sight the goalkeeper had no chance thanks to the power and accuracy on the left-footed strike.
Preston were forced out of their shells as the game suddenly became open. Ben Whiteman sprung forward and fed Cannon. The on-loan Everton forward tried to cut back inside the box and then went down as he anticipated a touch from Japhet Tanganga that never came, earning himself a yellow card.
But the home fans were on their feet and just after the hour Whiteman found space on the edge of the box but could not get the curl he needed to find the bottom corner of the net.
Spurs responded and Woodman had to palm over a dipping header from Perisic when he got in front of his defender to meet Clement Lenglet’s cross.
Moments later, Son had his second and the tie was effectively over. Perisic turned provider, his neat flick finding Son inside the area. The Spurs man had his back to goal but his quick movement took him away from Jordan Storey before he picked out the bottom right-hand corner.
There would be no hat-trick, with Son brought off inside the final 10 minutes, but Spurs were not done quite yet as Danjuma, who joined on loan from Villarreal on Wednesday, turned in Kulusevski’s cross in the 87th minute for a debut goal.