Evidence suggests Tottenham’s fourth-choice forward may be best option

AS SPURS relaunch their bid for a top-four finish this weekend, the spotlight falls on Wigan’s DW Stadium – and on Tottenham’s front line.

The recent failures to beat Blackpool, Wolves and West Ham have been costly, and the goalless draw with Avram Grant’s Irons two weeks ago underlined a worrying impotence at the business end of the pitch.

At this stage last season, after 29 league games, Tottenham had scored 53 goals – 12 more than they have this time around.

That difference can be largely explained by the freak 9-1 win over Wigan in November 2009, but Spurs’ strikers must also take their share of the blame.

Despite their contributions in other competitions, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch have scored just two league goals apiece.

Those are paltry figures for a couple of England strikers and, whether Spurs win the race for the top four this season or not, the long-running search for a top-class striker is sure to continue this summer.

Given that Tottenham are playing 4-4-1-1 these days, with only one recognised striker operating ahead of Rafael van der Vaart, it seems unlikely that the Lilywhites will recruit a global star and retain the services of Crouch, Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko.

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Robbie Keane is almost certain to leave on a permanent basis but he probably won’t be the only one – and it isn’t hard to spot the odd one out.

Pavlyuchenko is the only Spurs striker that Redknapp didn’t sign, he has played fewer minutes than his rivals over the last two seasons – and, for that reason, he’s always saying that he wants to leave.

“The way I see it, the manager just doesn’t trust me and it doesn’t matter if I play well, score goals or try my best in training – nothing will make him change his mind about me,” said the Russian recently.

“So I’m not going to extend my contract, which expires at the end of next season, and will try to leave the club over the summer transfer window.

“Even when I do play well or score a goal, I don’t get a chance in the next game. Quite frankly, I’m fed up with sitting on the bench and waiting for my chances.”

The writing seems to be on the wall, but there is one little problem – Pavlyuchenko actually has the best strike-rate at Tottenham, and has done ever since his arrival in August 2008.

The frustrated 29-year-old has always been the fourth-choice forward under Redknapp, ever since the signings of Defoe and Keane in January 2009 anyway.

However, this season he has averaged 151 minutes per goal, better than Jermain Defoe (208), Peter Crouch (243) and Rafael van der Vaart (161).

It was the same story last season, when Pavlyuchenko averaged 123 goals per minute, topping that particular list ahead of Defoe, Crouch and Robbie Keane.

Look at Spurs’ current goalscoring chart and, while Van der Vaart leads the way, Pavlyuchenko is tied in second place with Gareth Bale with seven league goals and 11 strikes in all competitions – not bad for someone who has started just 18 of Spurs’ 42 games.

While Defoe is routinely referred to as ‘the most natural finisher’ at the club, there has been plenty of evidence this season to support the theory that Pavlyuchenko deserves that label.

Who could forget the dramatic injury-time strike against Young Boys in Bern, which salvaged a 3-2 defeat in the first leg of the Champions League qualifier?

How about that volley from the narrowest of angles in the 4-2 defeat at Bolton? Or the low, left-footed finish past Petr Cech in the 1-1 home draw with Chelsea? Or the piledriver in the recent 3-3 draw with Wolves?

It is easy to forget his contribution, and particularly the four goals he has netted in the Champions League – the brace against FC Twente at White Hart Lane and the killer third goal of the 3-1 win over Inter Milan.

Indeed, focus on Pavlyuchenko’s record for a moment and his public irritation with his situation at Tottenham is rather understandable.

However, things can change quickly at Spurs, as the Russian can testify himself. Last season his status at Tottenham was even lower, and he featured in just seven of the Lilywhites’ first 27 games before embarking on a devastating run of nine goals in eight matches.

That sequence included the trip to Wigan last February. Spurs were leading 1-0 after 73 minutes, at which point Pavlyuchenko came off the bench and scored twice to secure an emphatic 3-0 away win.

It was a tipping point in the Russian’s season and he finished with 10 goals, just three less than Peter Crouch – despite the England striker starting 17 games more, and playing much more than double the number of minutes over the course of the campaign.

Having already eclipsed that tally this season and hit 11 goals so far, despite spending most of his time on the bench once again, one starts to wonder how many Pavlyuchenko would score if he was promoted to the top of the forwards’ list, and given the weekly starting position that his strike-rate arguably deserves.

Indeed, one starts to wonder whether Tottenham really need to shell out on a ‘world-class striker’ at all – and whether they might just have had one all along.