Tottenham warmed up for the crucial showdown with Manchester City by edging a hard-fought home game with Bolton.
Tom Huddlestone’s long range rocket was enough to claim a crucial three points, with both keepers busily employed in restricting the score to 1-0. Also kicking off at 3pm on Saturday was City’s game with Aston Villa, with Roberto Mancini’s side winning 3-1. That result ensured that Wednesday’s clash at the City of Manchester Stadium remains every bit as important, whilst also ending Villa’s hopes of claiming the coveted fourth Champions League qualification spot for themselves. The equation for Spurs is now simple, victory on Wednesday will leave Harry Redknapp’s team four points clear of City with one game left to play, an unassailable advantage. A draw retains the status quo, leaving Spurs a one point advantage to protect away to Burnley on the final day of the season. Defeat gives City a two point advantage and a better goal difference leaving Tottenham hoping they lose at West Ham on Sunday. Arsenal’s defeat to Blackburn means that an unlikely third place is now not beyond Spurs either, but all focus will be on beating City and securing fourth.
Of course, winning away at Eastlands sits firmly in the “easier said than done” category. Only Everton and Manchester United have come away with the three points this season, a record similar to that held by Sunderland at the Stadium of Light when Spurs lost there recently. Tottenham’s away record is hardly a patch on their home form either. Compared to the 44 points won at White Hart Lane, Spurs have taken just 23 on the road. Like Tottenham, City have been in strong form overall in recent weeks, and will start the game as narrow favourites with the bookies. Redknapp at least has the advantage of knowing that a draw suits his team far more than it does their hosts. Both teams will expect to win their respective away games on Sunday meaning that remaining a point ahead would be enough for Spurs come Wednesday night. Playing for a draw does not suit Tottenham but Redknapp will tell his team that they can afford to be patient as opposed to playing negative football.
In the recent Manchester derby, United controlled the game without looking particularly threatening, and a similar display from the Spurs midfield could pay dividends. City effectively play four forwards, with Adam Johnson and Craig Bellamy on the flanks biased towards their offensive duties. If Spurs field the same midfield as on Saturday, then Bentley and Bale will be far more involved in keeping possession than their City counterparts, and Redknapp has the option of fielding either Wilson Palacios or Younes Kaboul in the centre if he wants to play a tighter game. Spurs have scored in their last 11 league games whereas City fired blanks against United and Arsenal recently, so a 1-0 win is possible and would be enough to secure the Champions League spot for Tottenham. One thing to arise from the Bolton game was the subject of Huddlestone and his shooting from distance. His ability to hit a ball sweetly has long been recognised, but it is a feature of his game that is woefully under-utilised. The giant midfielder’s strike was just his second goal of the season, and his second since the 4-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb. Huddlestone has had occasional efforts in recent times but rarely looked like scoring, suggesting he needs to put more training ground work in to what could prove a very valuable asset to the team.
At United, Paul Scholes has always possessed excellent long distance shooting ability, but has missed plenty along the route to scoring some wonder goals. It is Scholes’ willingness to keep trying his luck that has enabled him to net all those that have flown in, and Huddlestone can learn from the master’s example. With the confidence to keep taking on opportunities and solid practise on his technique, Huddlestone will be more than capable of improving on this season’s tally of two. Securing fourth spot with a win on Wednesday will not be easy but Tottenham will be confident that they can get at least the draw that will keep their fate in their own hands on the last day of the season. Victory over City is achievable and it would be fantastic to secure the Champions League place on the ground of the team they are competing directly with. Whether the issue is settled in midweek or on Sunday, the key objective is not to lose, and Redknapp will have learned plenty about his team’s capabilities in recent weeks to be able to set his stool out to achieve this. This is the biggest game of the season for Spurs, and if they can get a result then they will have proved themselves worthy of playing in the big time next season.