Time is running out for Birmingham City. They battled hard but still lost convincingly to a team who showed that they might just have what it takes to play Champions' League football nest season.
That Birmingham were the busier team for much of the game only made it harder to take for their manager, Steve Bruce. They played as if their lives depended on it, but yet again the defence crumbled in the second half and Spurs were only too happy to capitalise with well-worked goals from Aaron Lennon and Robbie Keane.
Now Bruce can only contemplate a punishing schedule of fixtures, with Manchester United and Chelsea coming up and things not getting much better thereafter. Thankfully for Bruce, relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion have a similarly cruel run-in and lost yesterday, but Birmingham will not make up the three points with a game in hand if they continue to look shaky at the back and toothless up front.
The Birmingham manager was without David Dunn and Muzzy Izzet, who succumbed to injury yet again, and left out the injury-prone Mikael Forssell in favour of D J Campbell. It is hard not to feel sorry for the Birmingham manager, whose best players spend more time on the physiotherapist's table than on the pitch.
The Spurs manager, Martin Jol, whose side needed this win to stay fourth following Arsenal's victory over Charlton, left out Mido and paired the diminutive Jermain Defoe and Keane up front.
Birmingham had the game's first good chance when Emile Heskey was put free on the right by Jermaine Pennant and crossed low. Campbell looked set to finish but for a late intervention by Michael Dawson.
The home team looked to be relishing the battle, with Nicky Butt raising big cheers for a couple of thumping challenges. Spurs, meanwhile, were failing to establish a platform in midfield and did not have a chance of note until Defoe was found offside in a promising position on half an hour following a strong run by Jermaine Jenas.
Birmingham looked as hungry as Spurs looked insouciant. Heskey was put through by Jamie Clapham and looked set for a run to goal, but a clumsy first touch let Dawson recover, and the same player just failed to get on the end of a delicious lob from the lively Jermaine Pennant.
Spurs sharpened up in the second half and had two chances in quick succession. Defoe's high shot after a Keane flick-on was touched over the bar from Maik Taylor. From the resulting corner, Dawson found himself free to shoot, but his effort ricocheted inches wide of Butt's arm.
Birmingham's defence was compared to a Sunday league team by Bruce last week, and it crumbled under pressure in the 65th minute. Defoe picked up an innocuous ball on the left and bundled past Mario Melchiot and Kenny Cunningham to play a neat ball across to Aaron Lennon. The 18-year-old stepped inside to fire a left-footed shot into the bottom corner.
At the other end, by contrast, Dawson was showing that he should be added to the long list of possible England centre-backs. He made his second important intervention of the game when the substitute Forssell found space in the Spurs box.
Keane made it two with 13 minutes left, tapping home a Jenas cross at the far post after Michael Carrick had found Jenas with an inch-perfect pass. The Birmingham fans, who had been in good voice all afternoon, began to leave in their droves.Reuse content