Tottenham kept their patience and their nerve to secure this victory over Swansea that elevated them to fourth in the table and laid to rest a ghost.
On a taut afternoon that appeared destined to end in a short-passing stalemate, with Tottenham's dominance foundering on the massed ranks of Swansea's tackling technicians, it took a 75th-minute set-piece, and Jan Vertonghen's first league goal, to put Spurs in a winning position.
It then took 15 minutes of defiance to hang on to it, with the players and crowd fighting memories of the previous week's late capitulation at Everton from an identical position. The collapse at Goodison Park was the most extreme example of Tottenham's vulnerability to late goals, 10 of which have been shipped in the last 10 minutes.
Had those goals been kept out, Spurs would sit top of a notional league table based on games lasting only 80 minutes. Andre Villas Boas will settle for fourth in the real table, particularly after surviving a late barrage from visitors who only abandoned their principles in a desperate search for an equaliser.
Those efforts meant the game ended in acrimony, with both benches joining a melee after Swansea striker Michu was flattened by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as he raced from goal to clear with his fists.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup was enraged that referee Mike Dean failed to stop the game, and his players equally angry at Andros Townsend's attempt to score for Tottenham on the counter-attack, apparently unaware that Michu was laid out in the other penalty area.
In the confrontation that followed Kyle Walker and Chico Flores clashed, with pictures suggesting the defender had raised his hands at his opposite number, while Villas-Boas joined substitutes on the field. The Spurs manager played down the incident, which might attract the interest of the Football Association, explaining that he had gone onto the pitch to try to calm the situation, and said his side had deserved their victory.
"I think if one team was going to win, it was going to be us. Swansea, defensively, were very, very good and it was difficult to break them down. But we have so many opportunities and chances that it would have been extremely unfair to come out with a point from this game."
Villas-Boas was right in his analysis, but for long periods he seemed destined for frustration as Tottenham's efforts foundered on Swansea's game defence and cautious approach. The visitors are rightly praised for the addiction to passing that they again displayed here, but they were also intent on denying Tottenham space for their attacking talents to flourish. And for long periods, despite the efforts of Jermain Defoe, playing his 350th Premier League game, Aaron Lennon, Dembele and Walker, it looked like succeeding as Swansea sat back and soaked up pressure, with their captain, Ashley Williams, outstanding.
After a bright opening 10 minutes from the visitors, Tottenham wrested control of possession and saw shots from Defoe (twice) and Emmanuel Adebayor blocked when given a clear sight of goal. A better chance was spurned after 25 minutes, when Lennon wasted a chance to find Defoe in space 10 yards from goal.
As the half tailed off two pure strikes from distance almost broke the deadlock. The first, a searing half-volley from Walker, was clocked at 87mph and left Swansea goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel a spectator as the ball cannoned away off his shoulder. Michu, the league's leading scorer, almost added his most spectacular with an opportunistic hit from just inside the Spurs half that narrowly cleared the bar.
Tottenham survived a scare within a minute of the restart, when Nathan Dyer produced a header worthy of his name, glancing wide from a matter of yards after Wayne Routledge had skipped to the byline past William Gallas. Spurs answered with their best chance on the hour, Sandro, Lennon and Defoe combining to play in Walker, galloping up on the right. His finish was as slack as his earlier effort had been rousing, slicing high and wide of Tremmel's goal.
After 75 minutes of surgical probing, the law of sod dictated that the breakthrough should come courtesy of the blunt instrument of a set-piece. After Townsend, on for Adebayor, was fouled by Routledge, Walker swung in a free-kick that defender Ben Davies could only glance on. The ball fell to Vertonghen, who struck it smartly on the half-volley with his right foot past Tremmel.