Three points was all that was needed to all but clinch a top four finish, as well as overtake Arsenal for a shot at finishing third, for Tottenham today on a trip to Villa Park to face a side that has been the effective laughing stock of the Premier League this season. Though we didn't witness instead the kind of epic collapses we've witnessed in recent week, as Spurs never got off and running to the point where we had the momentum to trip and fall, a point earned in a 1-1 was probably below what an admittedly jaded looking and limping Spurs side should really have been aiming for, and once again we've made it as hard for ourselves as humanly possible.
Throughout the first half, Spurs never got on the front foot against a fresher-looking Villa side who utilized the Chelsea-vs.-Barca gameplan of a compact defense which allowed our players space on the wings but gave us little space inside the box. A lot of passes were misplaced early doors and we displayed little urgency- though the team didn't fully relapse into the indifferent, toothless style of play that had seen us go down to Norwich and QPR, they managed a pretty good impression of it. In terms of early chances, Adebayor sliced a tricky shot wide around 5 minutes in while Kyle Walker did a Pav special when given time and space around ten minutes after. Frustrations at not being able to click together and get a foothold in the game flared up when Younes Kaboul was booked in the 17th minute for on overzealous challenge on Emile Heskey.
As the half dragged on Spurs slowly began to warm up a little, beginning to threaten the Villa goal more and more with Bale fluffing up a near post header. Luka Modric's orchestration and Bales marauding runs up the left gave us a few chances on the break, and for a foolish stretch I thought we were going to be able to break down a dogged Villa defense. Then out of nowhere Ciaran Clark took a pot shot from distance which hit William Gallas and looped over Brad Friedel into the net. Gareth Bale nearly provided an instant response at the other end with a close-range shot that forced an absolutely world class diving reflex save from Shay Given that a young player twenty years his junior couldn't manage. Minutes before half-time, van der Vaart managed to put a swerving shot just wide of the post from a short corner. Between these chances, however, Villa did enough to keep the team off balance and off game plan, and we went down the tunnels looking empty-handed and in serious trouble. You couldn't accuse Spurs of not wanting it by this point in the game, just of not having the legs to do it.
What happened immediately following the break threatened to turn a retrievable situation into an abject disaster. In the 50th minute, Danny Rose was shown a red card for a lunging, two-footed challenge on Alan Hutton which could have broken the Villa right-back's leg. On another day, that would have signified the beginning of heads-down and roll-over time. Somehow, however, the incident seemed to galvanize the squad. Spurs quickly found the strength to kick it up a gear and not ten minutes later the game was miraculously tied. Winning a corner by forcing a smart save from Given, Sandro was fouled in the box by Richard Dunne, and Ade converted a brilliant penalty to make it 1-1. What followed, if we're going to be generous to the team, was a couple of extended periods of neat passing play and attacking fluency; ultimately, however, we never really saw Spurs get out of second gear and go all out for a goal. None of this was helped by Harry Redknapp's tactical dithering- first looking to bring on Defoe to bolster our attacking threat, he then opted to send on Scott Parker, who dropped back into a semi-sweeper role which made it look like we were playing for a point. The logical result was that the final whistle went with the scores still tied.
General thoughts for the game: our set piece deficiencies cost us once again, as out of 18 attempts Spurs never looked able to threaten from even one. Despite the flack he was taking in the game thread, I thought Kyle Walker put in a fairly decent shift in the second half as he followed the game nicely up and down the right wing. Sandro is still a beast and should really be a first team regular from here on in. Danny Rose- what the hell, man. And that's before the red card was shown too.
Next week, we take on Fulham at home. There's no fancy mathematics or crossing our fingers and praying any more. If we win, we finish top four at least. If we lose, God know where we'll end up. We've probably missed out on third now, and that's a huge shame, but the merest possibility of Champions League lies at the end of the tunnel and all we can ask the team to do for us is to rest up and play better to clinch it.