Tuesday 24 October 2017

Redknapp awaits final


Amy Lawrence at White Hart Lane

You don't go through the long and winding road of a 38-game chase for glory without enduring some butterflies, hiccups and bruises along the way.

This was not Tottenham Hotspur at their most vibrant, and in the final few minutes a lot of fingernails were being chewed. But Harry Redknapp's team did enough to bid farewell to White Hart Lane this season with a crucial win.

That "enough" largely took the form of Tom Huddlestone, whose decisive goal was thunderous in both body and spirit. Tottenham's Champions League aspirations now rest on a colossal tussle with Manchester City on Wednesday night. Their opponents have home advantage but Spurs have the benefit of knowing a draw should be enough, and a win will make absolutely sure.

"It's a massive game and will feel like a cup final," said Redknapp. "I am desperate to see us do it. City are tough opposition. Their front two, with [Craig] Bellamy and [Adam] Johnson, are a threat to anyone. But we will have a go as well. It will be exciting stuff."

The Tottenham manager scoffed at the notion that his team might be cautious and play for the safety of a draw. "We only know one way to play and we are not about to change now."

The rampaging attacks that had been a hallmark of their recent triumphs against Chelsea and Arsenal did not come so easily here, however. Perhaps they were feeling the nerves with the prize so tantalisingly close. The last time they were within touching distance of a Champions League finish they literally threw up the chance with some dodgy lasagne.

It was fortunate that they came up against opponents who had no great need, as Jose Mourinho would describe it, to leave their blood on the pitch. But Bolton were able to stay within striking distance for the entire duration and Tottenham could never quite relax.

"We were in the game until the last second and feel genuinely disappointed not to go home with a point," said Owen Coyle. "It took a wonder goal to separate the teams."

Tottenham needed to keep plugging away to make the breakthrough. Roman Pavlyuchenko scuffed at a clear chance. Gareth Bale twice tested the reflexes of Jussi Jaaskelainen. Then, seven minutes before half-time, Huddlestone released the pressure gauge with a blistering strike.

When Benoit Assou-Ekotto dinked a pass into his path, he needed no touch to tee himself up, no second to gather himself. He simply clubbed the ball with ferocious power into the top corner. It was a splendid finish from a player who has become a cornerstone of his team's campaign this season.

Bolton improved after the break and gave Tottenham a few scares. Heurelho Gomes twice pulled off agile saves to deny Matt Taylor, and the one time the Brazilian keeper was left stranded, deceived by the fine approach play of Jack Wilshere and Johan Elmander, Taylor was presented with an even more promising opportunity. To the home team's relief the excellent Younes Kaboul made a critical block.

Gomes, incidentally, injured his groin in stoppage- time and went off to have a scan. With Ledley King probably unable to manage a midweek game on top of this, there is the prospect of two big changes at the back.

Redknapp's men had ample chances to kill the game. Huddlestone had another crack from distance, Jermain Defoe and Pavlyuchenko just missed the target. Bale galloped into the box only to be repelled by Jaaskelainen's fingertip save. Peter Crouch's header was shepherded off the line. Each time the tension was palpable.

Tottenham were anxious for the final whistle, to signal the eighth win in their last 10 league games. And when it came, all thoughts lurched inexorably towards Manchester.

Sunday Independent

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