Spurs review of the year part of part IV: Relegation...or Europe?
PUBLISHED: 16:15 31 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:40 07 September 2010
2009 Getty Images
Spurs began the month with double vision. With eight games left, the Lilywhites still had work to do to cement survival, peering down at the relegation zone with a nine-point cushion. But at the same time Harry Redknapp s side were suddenly...
Spurs began the month with double vision. With eight games left, the Lilywhites still had work to do to cement survival, peering down at the relegation zone with a nine-point cushion.
But at the same time Harry Redknapp's side were suddenly eyeing a European place, with just three points separating them from seventh place - which would earn a Europa League spot.
"This season has been remarkable," admitted Robbie Keane. "I can't think of another year when, at the end of March, you have as many people in the street talking about relegation as you do Europe."
Spurs had the chance to temporarily take the crucial seventh place in an early kick-off away at Blackburn Rovers - victory would have seen them overtake Manchester City, Fulham and West Ham for a few hours at least.
Tottenham seemed to be on course, as Keane's successful penalty kick on the half-hour mark gave the visitors a 1-0 lead with 10 minutes left.
However, Wilson Palacios as then dismissed for a second bookable offence, and that was the cue for a dramatic turnaround in the final minutes.
Rovers were level within moments as Rovers centre-back Chris Samba - deployed as a makeshift forward in the second half - caused carnage in the Tottenham penalty box.
Benni McCarthy equalised with eight minutes left, and in the 90th minute the home side's corner kick made it all the way across the six-yard box. Samba was again in the centre of the action and, when Heurelho Gomes failed to deal with the cross, Andre Ooijer converted from close range to hand Blackburn the win.
The late defeat, and the manner in which it came, was ironic to say the least. Just 24 hours earlier Redknapp had stated that his side had become much more resilient away from home - particularly in their defending at set pieces, and especially in the closing stages.
"In those four games away [at Newcastle, West Brom, Wigan and Bolton] it was all last minute goals from set plays we were conceding, but we seem to have stopped that now," he said. "We're not conceding late goals and we've been better from set pieces, so I think that's been a big change."
David Bentley had once again been entirely absent from view as Spurs took on his former club Blackburn, and in the aftermath of the match Redknapp gave a damning verdict of the £15million man.
"Obviously from David's point of view I'm sure it's been a disappointing season," said the manager. "I used to watch him at Blackburn and he turned in some great performances for them. But he's not played the same as he did at Blackburn on that many occasions here."
Spurs recovered from their disappointment in Lancashire with a 1-0 home win over London rivals West Ham.
Roman Pavlyuchenko came off the bench in the 56th winner, and the Russian struck the winning goal nine minutes after entering the fray.
The victory over the Hammers also coincided with Tom Huddlestone's first league start of 2009, and after the match he admitted that he was considering his future at White Hart Lane.
"It's been very frustrating," he said. "I think the last league game I started was on Boxing Day, so that's pushing four months. I just want to be playing, hopefully at Tottenham, but if not I guess I will have to have a think. I've already considered my future a little bit. I think I've played 220 games now and I'm 23 this year, so I'm not young any more."
Spurs were at home again the following week, and again they ran out 1-0 winners, this time against Alan Shearer's precariously-placed Newcastle outfit.
This time Darren Bent grabbed the winner, netting at the second attempt after a swift counter-attacking move - the goal came 16 seconds after Gomes had thrown the ball out to Benoit Assou-Ekotto at the other end of the pitch.
Tottenham's victory left the endangered Magpies three points from safety and the Tyneside giants were relegated the following month.
Spurs, on the other hand, maintained an impressive home record under Redknapp - the Lilywhites had only lost one game in all competitions under their new boss at the Lane - a 1-0 defeat to Everton back in November. That unbeaten run continued until the end of the season.
Spurs may have recorded back-to-back wins at home, but they lost their second straight game on the road as their miserable record at Old Trafford continued.
The visitors even took a 2-0 lead into half-time, thanks to goals from Bent and Luka Modric. But a controversial penalty after the break changed the game, as Gomes was wrongly adjudged to have brought down Michael Carrick.
Replays showed that the Brazilian stopper had got his fingertips to the ball, but a spot-kick was given and Cristiano Ronaldo converted.
United's resurgence was as sudden as Spurs' collapse, and the champions scored another four goals inside 23 minutes to run out 5-2 winners and ultimately take the title again.
There was further disappointment for Aaron Lennon, who lost out to Aston Villa's Ashley Young when the PFA Young Player of the Year award was announced.
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