Sometimes teams become synonymous with certain ideas. Manchester United are world-famous for their dramatic late comebacks, with or without the aid of generous injury time; in popular imagination the Brazilians are caricatured relentlessly attacking aesthetes, with the wily and steely Italian defence their cynical polar opposites; and certain teams, from Newcastle United to Atletico Madrid, are renowned for the circus that surrounds them, how they lurch from crisis to crisis as if to antagonise their famously loyal fans ever further.

Tottenham Hotspur, while also famed for trying to play an attractive passing game since the glory days of Bill Nicholson, are probably better known in the modern era for their remarkable tendency to self-destruct, to snatch defeat from the jaws of seemingly certain victory. From being 3-0 up at home to Man Utd and losing 5-3 in 2001, through losing to ten-man Man City in the FA Cup four years later despite being three goals ahead at half time, to this season, where a Champions League challenge been hampered by league defeats to Wolves and dropping points at home to Hull and Stoke.

Not only this, but Spurs also tamely went out to an under strength Man Utd in the League Cup quarter-final, and then, in one of the shocks of the season, were beaten 2-0 by the crisis-ridden, debt-laden sunken ship that is Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi-final. From such a promising season, it suddenly went a bit bleak for the beleaguered Spurs fans.

And then, in characteristic unpredictability, Spurs beat Arsenal, their high-flying arch-rivals, in the league for the first time in 11 years, bringing them back to one point of Man City in the hallowed fourth place chase, and with a decent chance of taking the ultimate prize of Champions League football. But can the north London club carry through and realise their lofty ambitions?

On the plus side, Spurs’ team is as good as any they have had for years. A defence that leaked like a rusty bucket now boasts one of the league’s best centre-back partnerships in Ledley King and Michael Dawson, with Vedran Corluka a solid right-back and Heurelho Gomes thriving between the sticks after his erratic first season. In midfield, the signing of Wilson Palacios allows the likes of Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric to move forward without leaving too many gaps at the back, and up front they have three high-quality strikers who score consistently. With Aston Villa and Liverpool most likely too far behind in the race for fourth, it is now a straight fight between Spurs and Man City, maybe the only club with a worse reputation for shooting themselves in the foot, meaning that with only a one point gap between the two, there is a sound basis for optimism at White Hart Lane.

However, there are some factors that would be wise to take into account. Though it may seem a bit anachronistic to paint Spurs as a club with a history of choking, there is a definite lack of experience in closing out the latter stages of the season with success, most infamously the 2005/06 season, when after being fourth for much of the campaign, a bout of food poisoning and a loss to West Ham on the last day of the season saw Arsenal sneak in ahead of them at the death. Fears of another collapse will be heightened by their run-in, with games against Chelsea and Man Utd to come next, two opponents who they have a woeful recent records against, and thus may need City to fail in their big games against a dispirited Arsenal and Man Utd, who they pushed so close in the League Cup and earlier in the Premier League.

The comparison with City’s run-in is not favourable, and the strength of Roberto Mancini’s side is much deeper than Spurs, who have struggled to fill in for the injured Lennon at times, have Jermain Defoe only recently returning from injury and would struggle with any more strains on their squad. For all the qualities of their first team there are weak points in their backup options, such as cover at centre back – King cannot play regularly, and Jonathan Woodgate is always injured, leaving only Dawson and Sebastien Bassong as the regular centre-backs – and the lack of midfield bite when Palacios is injured or suspended (as he will be against Chelsea). Hoping key players keep fit, needing an in-form City to slip up and praying the top two have an off-day are key elements that will be needed for Spurs to finish fourth, and that is assuming they play well enough to keep in contention.

It’s very much up in the air for Spurs, and the real decider will probably come later this month, when they travel to Eastlands to play City, and with only two games to follow it the winner will be most likely to take fourth. What could be arguably the greatest season in Harry Redknapp’s career and Tottenham’s recent history could also be the biggest disappointment of recent times, another bright dawn fading into the dark obscurity of also-ran status. If Spurs can eradicate their habit of tripping up when it counts, and at least avoid defeat against City, then it could all go down to a tense final day. Drama, intrigue and edge-of-the-seat entertainment: perhaps victory will also become synonymous with Spurs.


Related Articles: