James Lawton: The troubled talisman shows survival instinct

Terry faced a night of relentless booing and harassment from the big man of Togo

White Hart Lane

It was more than anything a night which demanded not so much glory as a mean understanding that no kind of defeat could be countenanced – and on balance no one could have felt the weight of it more than John Terry.

Like both his team Chelsea and his opponents Spurs, Terry avoided the worst possible disaster. However, no one needed to believe in this outcome more than the man currently fighting for his professional life.

The threat to Terry seemed to be on all fronts when Emmanuel Adebayor swept on to the cross which came, with perfect timing and placement at the end of Gareth Bale's scything run down the left, for the goal which landed like an unanswerable statement about the new status of Spurs after just eight minutes. For Terry it was the tightest corners: days of legal calculation as he fought to maintain his position in the game and now a night of relentless booing from the terraces and harassment from the big man of Togo.

It could hardly have started less promisingly but, if Terry is so widely perceived to be a man in a crisis and at an age and in a situation when he seems to represent much more of a problem than a solution to the efforts of his young coach, Andre Villas-Boas, to reshape Chelsea, no one ever said he was likely to submit meekly when the bad times came.

He was out of position – and his best levels of concentration – when Adebayor struck with such authority, but neither he nor Chelsea were inclined to wave Spurs deeper into the heart of the title race they joined with such panache and determination.

Indeed, it was as though the jeering and the thumping footsteps of the Old Bill had drawn from both himself and his team-mates a new level of resistance to the Tottenham assault.

Daniel Sturridge's failure to convert an early chance of an equaliser was rectified quickly enough with his ninth goal of the season and when it came in the middle of the most serious breakdown Harry Redknapp's team had suffered in some time, there was some reason to believe that Chelsea, with Raul Meireles once again repaying some of the faith of his compatriot Villas-Boas in midfield, were making another serious statement about the reclamation of a season that so recently appeared to be in ruins.

Villas-Boas has presented quite a number of faces in his brief reign at Stamford Bridge and if they have ranged from the aggressive to the extremely apprehensive, his expression was mostly suffused with optimism. This was especially so when Didier Drogba delivered an exquisite rapier thrust of a ball into the path of Ramires, who then dallied fatally before Brad Friedel saved superbly. Villas-Boas was in the air again when Terry produced a trade-marked back-header from a free-kick.

Drogba, however, had shown only flashes of the masterful renaissance he produced in the recent Champions League defeat of Valencia and it was not the biggest surprise when the coach rummaged around his bench and come up with a £50m item named Fernando Torres. It was a flourish which Villas-Boas no doubt felt was justified by the general solidity of team's second-half effort. Who knew, a moment of renovated inspiration might just bring a supreme bonus.

It would have been no extravagant reward for this latest evidence that maybe Chelsea do have the means to rescue something of genuine substance from a time which was supposed to be about merely hanging on. Victory over Manchester City last week was, of course, a potentially huge stride away from such desperation and even when Spurs remembered that they were supposed to be the team of momentum and new ambition near the end, the visitors plainly remained convinced that they could rescue something of major significance on a night which started so badly.

Ramires might have achieved precisely this but he sent a free header the wrong side of a Tottenham post near the end.

Terry had just waved away an appeal by Adebayor at the corner of the box with some considerable contempt and by now there was one overwhelming conviction. It was that if neither side could perform the coup de grâce neither had surrendered their belief that they remained at the heart of the battle for the Premier League.

This also applied to the deeply embattled John Terry. Spurs would have had their huge scalp if the England captain had not seen the danger unfolding when Bale passed beautifully into the path of Adebayor in the last minutes. Terry covered the ground with the authority of a man who knew precisely what he was doing. He got in the way of Adebayor's goal-bound shot, announcing that if he is not anything else in these days of controversy, he remains one of life's most dedicated survivors.

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