Relishing their role as kingmakers, Tottenham Hotspur last night did unto Chelsea as they had done to equally unloved London rivals in Arsenal, thereby opening up a convoluted Premier League race which Chelsea would have hoped to close out until yesterday's dramatic derbies in east Manchester and north London. More importantly for their own ambitions, Spurs were able to move above Manchester City, and go two points clear in fourth place before they visit Manchester United on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson should have a whole case of best Bordeaux ready for Tottenham's Harry Redknapp, in the knowledge that his team could now regain the leadership before Chelsea play again, at home to Stoke a week today.
For that game against Stoke's aerial bombardment, the leaders will be without their captain John Terry, who conceded a penalty for the first goal, and was then sent off for two tackles within the space of three minutes.
Yesterday they looked the tired team, even though it was Tottenham who had gone through the more demanding midweek engagement, and with one day less to rest. Chelsea were so out of sorts that Carlo Ancelotti made his three substitutions before the start of the second half, prompting a bizarre incident in which Didier Drogba appeared to want to come off as well. Drogba had no joy whatsoever out of the outstanding Michael Dawson, who must have impressed England manager Fabio Capello – far more so on this day than Terry.
Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira were hauled off at half-time, having been unable to stem the flow of Spurs attacks down the Chelsea right, in which Gareth Bale confirmed his emerging status as one of the bright young men of British football.
Tottenham were again unable to select Aaron Lennon, Niko Kranjcar or Jermaine Jenas in that midfield area, yet still Chelsea could not take a grip, before or after John Obi Mikel was injured. Their goal, by Frank Lampard, was too late to matter and only came after the home side spurned numerous chances on the counter-attack.
"After the disappointment of last Sunday [in the FA Cup semi-final], it's been two unbelievable performances against Arsenal and Chelsea," Redknapp said. "We had to raise our game again and did even better than against Arsenal. It's still going to be tight [for fourth place] but we can go to Old Trafford and give it a real go."
Ancelotti could find few consolations in his team's performance, only in the League table. He had pledged "the same mentality, same philosophy" as in the recent victory away to United, which should have meant starting at a high tempo and taking the game to the home side. His team not only failed to do so, but were left in arrears within a quarter of an hour and two goals down by the interval.
If the referee Phil Dowd was a key figure in the early period of pressure, he made it third time lucky for Spurs, third time unlucky for the visitors, who many were convinced should have conceded two penalties in an edgy victory over Bolton in midweek. Dowd turned down appeals when Terry appeared to foul Jermain Defoe and then when Mikel tackled Bale.
At the third time of shouting, however, Spurs were granted their wish. Roman Pavlyuchenko drove the ball across and Terry, as he had done in midweek, failed to take his arm away. Defoe, by no means a deadeye from the penalty spot recently, emphatically beat Petr Cech.
Two minutes before half-time, a difficult situation for Chelsea became critical. Pavlyuchenko sent Bale down the left to cut inside Ferreira and score at the near post with his supposedly weaker right foot. Chelsea, who deserved no better, were denied a way back into the game in the last attack of the half. Yuri Zhirkov crossed from the left and Lampard hit a brutal volley that Heurelho Gomes saved in as thrilling a fashion as he had denied Arsenal three days earlier.
Making two changes at the interval, with Ballack already on for Mikel, was a dangerous ploy at such an early stage that illustrated Chelsea's desperation. Even before the restart Drogba limped to the touchline holding his groin but he was soon back in the thick of an increasingly furious game that spilled over into one of those ridiculous mass confrontations after Lampard fouled Luka Modric.
Tottenham kept the upper hand and the pressure they were exerting was reflected in Terry's reckless tackling. He brought down Pavyluchenko and in almost the next attack did the same to Bale. As five minutes of added time began, Lampard slid in Ballack's cross but by then the game should have been long beyond them. The title is still within reach, just.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Bale.
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content