However, For all the understandable wet blanket of dissatisfaction that had been hanging over White Hart Lane, the fact was that their win with an inexperienced team against Blackburn earlier in the week had slightly reopened Tottenham's door into Europe. Chelsea, of course, are thinking of walking straight through to Europe via the FA Cup and yesterday were still pinching themselves after their dream-like recovery against Liverpool, an achievement that seemed to give a positive answer to the question of whether Mark Hughes, Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli could all appear in the same attack at the same time. Seemingly, Ruud Gullit was not convinced and left Vialli on the bench, though rumour had it that his opinion was shared by all of the first-team squad bar one.
The debate was virtually rendered irrelevant when, within a minute, Stuart Nethercott ruggedly blocked Hughes, and from Zola's free-kick high towards the far post Eddie Newton headed on to the legs of Ian Walker and the ball deflected in off Sol Campbell. Controlling Hughes by virtually any means became Tottenham's priority, which allowed Zola some freedom and this he used with a fine range of expression that exposed the frailty of the Spurs defence that at present depends too much on the excellent Campbell.
While remaining under extended pressure, Spurs did at least see some hope in the athleticism and control in the air of Steffen Iversen, who badly needs to feel the benefit of more invention in midfield and Hughes-like strength at his side.
Lack of challenge in midfield persistently jeopardised Tottenham's chances of recovery and, after 52 minutes, further damaged them when no one closed in on Roberto Di Matteo as he took possession some 30 yards out and was left to take a few strides before releasing a massive shot that Walker sighted but that was all.
Tottenham's forlorn answer was to bring on Darren Anderton while Gullit had the luxury of being able to keep Vialli frustrated on the sidelines. Since it took Spurs over an hour to raise their first direct shot, there was no need for Chelsea to make unnecessary alterations.
Even when Rory Allen headed powerfully from five yards and Andy Sinton thundered a drive towards the inside of the far post, Kevin Hitchcock was equal to this but he had no chance to reach a header from David Howells who met Anderton's centre to score and brought about a fighting final eight minutes from Spurs - pity about the previous 82.