Spurs: A Top Half Finish?
Four months later, however, and Spurs remain embroiled at the wrong end of the table. Until the recent victory at Hull, dire away form had stalled Spurs’ ascent from the mire.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. An emphatic victory on Wednesday, securing the club’s first back-to-back league victories since November, lifted Spurs to 12th and suddenly a top half finish appears achievable. Yesterday’s draw at the Stadium of Light consolidated this position.
Despite being unbeaten in four now, survival is not yet wrapped up. As many as twelve teams remain vulnerable to the drop, an unprecedented number at this stage of the season.
As close to relative mid-table security now as they have been since those heady weeks in November, Spurs have demonstrated how a minor run of positive results can hugely impact the composition of the table. With the possible exception of West Brom, their New Year resurgence appearing to have run aground, anybody capable of stringing two or three decent results could make similar progress.
For Tottenham, home form alone should ensure their safety. In particular, home games against Newcastle, West Brom and Manchester City all look winnable. Everton are the only team to have emerged from White Hart Lane with three points since Redknapp took over and it is not unreasonable to also expect points from the visits of West Ham and Chelsea.
Frustratingly, the team is a different proposition on the road. Performances away from home have often been poor and a recent run of league defeats at Newcastle, West Brom, Wigan and Bolton does not inspire confidence for the weeks ahead. Spurs must visit Villa Park, Old Trafford and Goodison before their season concludes at Anfield.
Yesterday’s point, and a decent performance to boot, was encouraging but the disparity between home and away form remains. Ultimate survival will be achieved but the ride may not be a comfortable one.
On a more positive note, Spurs, unlike the ailing economy, are beginning to show the encouraging green shoots of recovery. With new additions Keane and Palacious already making a tangible impact, Lennon and Modric are also reaching top form.
Less celebrated has been the improvement of the Tottenham back four. Spurs have kept nine clean sheets under Redknapp and only the top three have conceded fewer goals at home. Michael Dawson, in particular, has enjoyed a renaissance in form.
Yesterday’s game will have underlined this collective improvement. Sunderland, like Spurs and Blackburn, have also benefitted from a change in management and appear one of the better bets to avoid relegation. The result will have satisfied both teams.
Sunderland’s North East rivals are not fairing quite so well. Both appear to be in disarray and are urgently in need of a change in fortune. Middlesbrough’s thrashing at White Hart Lane this week will surely have dashed any brittle confidence taken from the defeat of Liverpool whilst Newcastle, with the irascible Kinnear sidelined indefinitely, appear rudderless.
Portsmouth under Adams seemed too to be in freefall but Hart seems to have steadied the ship. Hull’s unlikely mid-week win at Wigan slammed the brakes on their own alarming descent though it remains to be seen if they have enough strength in depth to build on this.
Stoke, by contrast, appear to be getting stronger. Their home form has been fantastic and shows no signs of abating. West Brom, the third of the promoted clubs, are the one side who will struggle to keep the door ajar going into the final games in May.
Ultimately, such is the taut make-up of the lower half of the table, nobody, Spurs included, are ‘safe’ at this point in time.
Managers and pundits alike are debating the points threshold needed to secure safety. Redknapp has his sights fixed on forty points. Others, the BBC’s Final Score team included, suggest that as few as 37 may be sufficient.
Less up for debate is that this year’s relegation battle is going to be like no other. Unless a dramatic fault line appears in the next two or three weekends, isolating the likes of Middlesbrough and Newcastle in the bottom three, it is feasible that up to seven or eight teams could enter the final weekend in danger.
It is unlikely that Spurs will be one of those sides. If they can make scoring, as opposed to conceding, late goals a habit then reaching forty points should be straightforward. Hopes of a top half finish remain alive.