Why Spurs badly needed final flourish of victory at Anfield
WHEN he masterminded the victory over AC Milan and led Tottenham towards a Champions League quarter-final with Real Madrid, Harry Redknapp could not have imagined that the success of Spurs’ season would ever be called into question.
And yet, Tottenham needed the victory over Liverpool on Sunday. They really needed it, to restore their reputation and add a final flourish to a campaign which had stalled so badly that it had almost gone into reverse.
The manager is clearly irritated by the recent criticism that has come his way and, on Friday, he insisted that this season has been better than the last, when Spurs finished fourth.
“We’ve done better than we did last year. We had Champions League football this year, beating teams like Inter Milan and AC Milan,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic season, probably one of the best seasons Tottenham have had for a long time. We’ve reached the last eight of the Champions League and we’ve been pushing to get into the top four all year.”
Unfortunately, that is where the issue lies – those last two words. After the 2-1 win at Sunderland on February 12, Spurs won just one league game out of 10.
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Unfortunately, Tottenham did not push to get into the top four ‘all year’ at all – they only pushed until February, and then went into a coma.
Redknapp describes Spurs fans who have become disillusioned by recent results as unrealistic numbskulls who now expect a top-four finish every season, but that is probably an extreme description of his critics.
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Instead, some supporters are simply disappointed by a run of results that produced nine points from a possible 30, regardless of the performances, and regardless of the European success that went before.
They aren’t the only ones. A typically frank and uncompromising William Gallas said last week: “For Tottenham’s first time, the Champions League was amazing, But I think everybody is upset because we didn’t get anything at the end. Even if people have said ‘you had a great season’, I don’t think so.”
Those comments followed the defeat at Manchester City which confirmed that Spurs would miss out on the top four.
And, suddenly, another defeat at Anfield five days later would have ensured that fifth place was also out of reach, condemning Tottenham to sixth – an all-too familiar position which would certainly undermine Redknapp’s assertion that it has been a ‘fantastic’ season.
A Liverpool victory would have confirmed Spurs’ status as the sixth-ranked team in the new ‘top six’, ahead of a summer transfer window when everyone else has more money.
As the Lilywhites travelled to Merseyside, these factors, combined with Tottenham’s dreadful history at Anfield, the form guide and Spurs’ injury list made it difficult to summon a great deal of optimism – for the match or the foreseeable future.
Yes, Redknapp and his players really did need this victory because, on Sunday night, the mood had completely changed.
The Lilywhites’ victory means that they have done the double over the Reds, and won a league game at Anfield for the first time since 1993.
Couple that with the equally historic 3-2 win over Arsenal at the Emirates in November, and the much-publicised failure to win away against the Big Four teams – a run which had stretched to 68 games - has been well and truly destroyed this season.
Ledley King was back, looking as dominant as ever, while Danny Rose’s presence gave Spurs a new home-grown talent to showcase as he went head-to-head with the latest product of Liverpool’s academy, John Flanagan. Tottenham even scored a penalty as Luka Modric finally stepped up to the spot!
And, amongst all the celebrations, Spurs leapfrogged their hosts in the table, taking fifth place and putting one foot in Europe – albeit the Europa League.
Many had doubted whether Redknapp and his players actually wanted this double-edged sword, but few who witnessed this victory will question Spurs’ commitment to the cause now.
Suddenly, instead of seeing their season ended before the finale on Sunday, Tottenham have everything to play for when they take on Birmingham, and all eyes will be on White Hart Lane as the Lilywhites’ desire for another continental campaign is pitted against the Blues’ desperation for Premier League survival.
Meanwhile, Spurs have the chance to finish ahead of Liverpool for the second season in a row, an achievement worthy of note in itself, and a real blow to those who now rank the Merseysiders ahead of their north London foes again.
King Kenny may be back but there is clearly work to be done at Anfield. Meanwhile, it appears that news of Tottenham’s decline has been greatly exaggerated.