For fans of Tottenham and West Ham who are concerned that the season is fast sliding towards a premature end, there is consolation of a sort to be found in today's London derby at White Hart Lane: they cannot both lose.
Even if Spurs do so, they will at least have one more oppor-tunity to resurrect the campaign, when attempting to retrieve a 1-0 deficit in the Uefa Cup against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday. For today's visitors, sitting only one place but eight points ahead of their neighbours in the middle of the table, a defeat would only increase the feeling of having nothing left to play for.
The latter outcome would also create serious concern that the phenomenon known as "Charlton syndrome" – whereby a team stop performing at the start of March, if not sooner – has spread north across the Thames to Upton Park.
West Ham followers at Liverpool last Wednesday will have had that in mind, as well as their side's negative tactics, when chanting, "It's just like watching Charlton"; a knowing dig at their increasingly unpopular manager, Alan Curbishley, who did of course preside over several such collapses to a season while in charge at The Valley.
The Anfield débâcle was West Ham's second straight 4-0 drubbing and followed unconvincing performances against three of the many relegation strugglers, Fulham, Birmingham and Wigan. "I've had to do what I think is right for the club," Curbishley has maintained. "We're sitting 10th and there are a few other clubs would like to be there."
Tottenham are one of them, although the eight-point gap between the two halves of the table is an extraordinary one for this time of year, and their results since Christmas point to greater interest in the cup competitions. In the League, the only teams they have beaten this year are Sunderland and Derby. The danger is that failing to emulate PSV's deserved success in London last Thursday will spread the outbreak of Charlton syndrome to north London too.
Defeat by the accomplished Dutch champions came as a shower of rain on the Carling Cup parade, and afterwards Jonathan Woodgate, goalscoring hero of the Wembley final, had to face the accusation that the rest of the season could easily fade into anticlimax. "We can't let it happen, I'm sure the manager won't let it happen," Woodgate said. "Professional footballers want to win as many games as they can. The Carling Cup's in the past now. I didn't come here just to win one trophy but as many as I could."
The England defender will need to do some homework, apparently believing that the second leg in Holland takes place on Wednesday week and that Spurs need to win 2-0 (a 2-1 victory will take them through). He was on safer ground with the old cliché that "it's only half-time". At half-time at Wembley, Tottenham were a goal down, but Juande Ramos, the Uefa Cup specialist, has his work cut out to turn things round this time.Reuse content