MABBUTT: Highs and lows of roller-coaster season

THIS season has been a classic roller-coaster one for Tottenham. We started with high hopes of pushing the top four in the Premier League but spent most of it fighting relegation. In between, we reached a second successive Carling Cup final – and should

THIS season has been a classic roller-coaster one for Tottenham.

We started with high hopes of pushing the top four in the Premier League but spent most of it fighting relegation.

In between, we reached a second successive Carling Cup final - and should have beaten Manchester United at Wembley. Then, we went into Sunday's finale at Anfield knowing that victory could have been good enough for seventh spot and a place in the new Europa League next season.

In the end the 3-1 defeat saw us finish eighth, just two points behind Fulham, who claimed the last Euro spot.

Indeed, the Liverpool fixture turned out a totally different scenario for Spurs. Earlier in the season most of us were thinking it was going to be a worse case scenario - Tottenham would have to beat Liverpool in order to avoid relegation while Rafa Bentiez's men would need the three points to clinch the title.

But Harry Redknapp extracted an excellent response from the players, especially the defenders, when he was brought in for the sacked Juande Ramos last year.

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Our defence has been our saving grace this season. To concede only 10 goals at the Lane to set a new club record just underlined the fact. OK, we did not score as freely as I would have liked but the defence were on top of their game.

We had a disastrous start under Ramos, hitting rock bottom. It was dire before the chairman took a brave and swift decision after the Uefa Cup defeat in Italy, to sack the Spaniard and bring in Harry. It was a sweeping change and the players responded to Harry's style of man-management.

Some of my Arsenal friends have been quick to remind me of the number of "1-0 wins to the Tottenham" this season. Yes, we may have boring but it was those 1-0 wins that saved us.

Another reason for our strong showing in the new year was the signing of Wilson Palacios from Wigan in the January transfer window. His arrival signalled a major change in furtunes for us.

The combative midfielder offered more protection in front of the defence, allowing other players the freedom to get forward.

In fact, all of Harry's Janaury signings were good ones. The return of Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane were brave decisions but they paid off.

Keane had a point to prove after not fitting in at Liverpool and despite not playing as well as he did before leaving, Robbie has been influential since coming back to the Lane.

He has scored some vital goals, including the winner against Man City, and has a big presence on and off the field. I just knew he would score at Anfield on Sunday.

We've shown against the top clubs that we are more than a match for them. We were as good as United in the Carling Cup final and could have beaten them.

My only disappointment with Harry was his decision to play the kids against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Uefa Cup.

I felt we could have beaten them and, it could have been us lifting the trophy instead of them, in Istanbul last Wednesday. I know Harry's remit was to save us from relegation and he's gone way beyond that. So I will bow to Harry's better judgement.

I feel we've yet to see the best of some players, I'm talking about Jermaine Jenas, David Bentley and Gareth Bale, in particular. I know all three have been linked with moves away from the club but for me they have yet to reach their full potential.

JJ can be a wonderful player but at the moment he's a bit-part player. He needs to be more dominant, he needs to dictate more and start pulling people around the pitch.

Bentley is also a great talent as he showed with that wonder goal against Arsenal at The Emirates, while Bale has had his injuries. But, like Bentley, he has to turn potential into reality.

Overall, I'm delighted with the way the season turned out in the end. As I said I thought we would have been fighting relegation right to the very end.

But instead, Harry's been able to use the past month to assess his squad for next season, find out which players he wants to keep and I feel there will be a couple of surprise transfers in. Of course, some of our players will be targeted by the so-called bigger clubs. It is going to be a very interesting summer and I feel we need a couple of players to strengthen the team.

The experiences of this season will stand us in good stead for the new one. Three or four years ago we had successive fifth-place finishes in the Premier League and were pushing Arsenal for that fourth Champions League spot.

Then, it was Everton's turn to push Liverpool and this season Villa looked like overtaking Arsenal before they fell away. I believe the Gunners were very lucky that Villa imploded the way they did during the run-in. Now, I feel it is our turn to start pushing for that fourth spot again, along with Everton, Villa and possibly Man City. Yet, in Harry we've got a traditional English manager and the players have showed how well they can respond.

The board will give Harry full backing for transfer dealings. Our majority shareholder Joe Lewis made a rare appearance for the last home game against City - the first time I can remember him being there. And the opportunity to talk money matters with the chairman will not have been lost, especially on Harry.

Gary Mabbutt was talking to sports editor Patrick Mooney