The three-way tussle for Champions League football looks set to go right to the wire after Spurs slipped to a draw at home to Everton, allowing their rivals to make up ground
By Husmukh Kerai
Tottenham fans are no strangers to the anxiety of watching their side choke. The trepidation they suffer as they see their dreams unravel in front of their eyes is a familiar feeling in their half of north London.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side have had a affiliation with ‘bottling it’ long before he took over, but for large parts of the season it seemed as if the Portuguese’s Spurs weren’t going to let the promised land of the top four elude them; not this time.
A couple of weeks ago there was even talk of Tottenham catching a faltering Manchester City to claim second place in the league behind runaway leaders Manchester United.
But after faltering at home to fellow Champions League hopefuls Everton while both Chelsea and Arsenal negotiated narrow wins, Spurs have gone from sitting firmly in the driving seat to looking nervously over their shoulders.
The majority of those at White Hart Lane on Sunday would now bite your hand off if you offered them fourth. The Tottenham boss himself expressed concern post-Everton at what is a very tricky fixture list awaiting his team.
“We probably have the second-worst run-in,” he told reporters at White Hart Lane. “I think the race for the top four depends on our results against Manchester City and Chelsea. It looks like it will go down between these teams.”
A Gareth Bale-inspired Spurs side simply steamrolled opposition in the early part of this year, with the Welshman winning games with moments of brilliance on a routine basis.
On the right-hand side, meanwhile, Aaron Lennon was enjoying one of his best seasons at White Hart Lane, racking up four goals and an assist as Villas-Boas’ men marched up the table.
But both are currently consigned to the treatment table, something which has given their manager plenty to be concerned about.
In the duo’s absence the Spurs boss spread the creative responsibility out between Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey and Lewis Holtby. Despite their considerable talents, though, the three just can’t match the contribution of Bale alone, never mind that of both.
Sigurdsson did get on the scoresheet against Everton but the draw only continues a poor run for the north Londoners which has now seen them record a solitary victory in their last six games.
Villas-Boas preferred to credit Everton rather than criticise his team for dropping points. The Merseysiders were only minutes away from crashing the top-four party themselves.
If David Moyes’ side had been able to defend the lead Kevin Mirallas’ ‘Bale-like’ goal had given them, they would have drawn within three points of Spurs with a game in hand and Arsenal and Chelsea still to play.
The point on Sunday proves that they are still in with a slim chance but the Toffees manager conceded that his side are realistically out of the race despite proving that they can mix it with the three London clubs.
“We knew we had to win to stay in amongst the race for the Champions League spots,” the Scot said. “We’ve got tough games but Tottenham are as good as anybody so a draw here is encouraging.”
On current form, Arsenal look the best bet to repeat last season’s late surge into the Champions League places, something even the most optimistic Gunners fan wouldn’t have though possible after defeat to Spurs in the north London derby left them seven points behind their bitter rivals.
Since then, though, they have won every single game and still hold a one in hand over their two rivals. There is now a quiet confidence building at the Emirates Stadium; the Gunners have both history and momentum on their side. That delayed fixture against Everton should also have a huge bearing on the final standings.
Across London, Rafa Benitez is somehow managing to negotiate a nightmare fixture schedule which saw the Blues contest their fourth game in eight days against Sunderland on Sunday. Truth be told, they were mighty fortunate to pick up a win, with two lucky goals cancelling out the Black Cats’ deserved opener.
Their performance was lethargic and carried all the traits of a mentally fatigued outfit, yet they picked up the three points they needed and at this stage of the campaign that is all that really matters.
It is an ability that Spurs must quickly rediscover, while both their London neighbours keep ticking over in the top-four hunt, if they want to spare themselves from the embarrassment they suffered last May. They now have it all to do.
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