For both Aston Villa and Tottenham, the outcome of the season will not be determined until the last day, although the threat of relegation from the Premier League that would be the ultimate nightmare for the beleaguered Villa manager, Alex McLeish, looks to have been avoided. Tottenham will finish fourth at worst with a win at home to Fulham next Sunday, third if Arsenal fail to take maximum points away to West Bromwich Albion.
Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, said he would have taken this morning's table had it been offered ahead of the weekend's results. Yet he admitted that he could view the outcome here as two points lost as readily as one gained.
The sending-off early in the second half of Danny Rose, the Tottenham left-back, made him lean towards the latter. Villa, a goal ahead, if a little luckily, should have been good enough to win against 10 men. Instead, they conceded a penalty from which Tottenham equalised and spent the remainder of the match defending their goal, as they had for much of the time previously. Having clawed back a point in those circumstances, Tottenham could feel happier. Yet perhaps they ought to have done better still, Redknapp felt.
"When you've gone down to 10 men you'd say it was a point gained, but on the balance of play maybe it was two lost," he said. "But I thought Arsenal would beat Norwich on Saturday, so I would have taken where we are now. There is all to play for on the last day of the season. Us beating Fulham is not a given, by any means. It is going to be exciting."
Villa, technically, are not safe yet. But West Bromwich's late equaliser at Bolton means their superior goal difference can be interpreted as being effectively worth a point.
Villa had gone into the match against the backdrop of a dreadful week, one which had begun with an incident in a nightclub involving three of their players and had ended with the substantial anti-McLeish faction among their supporters taking out a back-page advertisement in the local evening paper, calling for his dismissal. Yet the team on the field looked united enough, defending with resolution, limiting Tottenham initially to long-range shots. Chris Herd, one of the players fined for the nightclub incident, kept his place in the side with another, James Collins, on the bench.
They did not threaten Brad Friedel much. Emile Heskey, slipped through by Stephen Ireland, wanted a penalty when William Gallas deprived him with a sliding challenge but the referee made the right call in dismissing his claim.
Then came the opening goal, something of a lucky break in reality, as Ciaran Clark's shot looped off the head of Gallas and over Friedel. The home crowd roared its relief. But the Tottenham response was strong. Shay Given pulled off a fine save, at his near post, as Gareth Bale struck the ball with venom, then Rafael van der Vaart, in a position to have stretched Given at the opposite post, fired wide.
The second half continued as the first had ended. But the red card for Rose, whose studs landed on the shin of Alan Hutton after a challenge on him by Charles N'Zogbia put him off balance, ought to have tipped the scaled in Villa's favour. The defender might have been unlucky, in one respect, but the outcome left the referee with little option.
Yet Villa, who end the season with the smallest number of home wins in their history, could not made the advantage count. After Richard Dunne's foul on Sandro gave Tottenham a penalty, converted by Emmanuel Adebayor, the visitors looked the side likelier to win.
Safe or otherwise, the home fans voiced their disapproval with McLeish again at the final whistle, although the news from Bolton tempered its voracity.
The manager himself, having seemingly avoided the unwanted distinction of taking both Birmingham clubs down in successive seasons, was humbly defiant. "It has been a tough season, as tough as I have had, although I knew what I was taking on," he said. "I think I have stood up in the face of adversity and I'm proud to have done that."
* Exeter yesterday said that Steve Perryman, their football director and Tottenham's leading appearance-maker, was recovering in hospital in Plymouth after undergoing heart surgery.
Villa: GIVEN 7/10; HUTTON 7; DUNNE 6; CUELLAR 7; LICHAJ 8; N'ZOGBIA 6; HERD 6; CLARK 7; WARNOCK 6; HESKEY 7l IRELAND 7
Spurs: FRIEDEL 7; ROSE 6; KABOUL 7; GALLAS 6; WALKER 7; BALE 6; MODRIC 7; SANDRO 8; LENNON 6; VAN DER VAART 7; ADEBAYOR 7
Scorers: Villa: Clarke 35. Spurs: Adebayor pen 62
Substitutes: Aston Villa Weimann 6 (Heskey, 51), Collins 6 (Warnock, 53), Delfouneso 6 (Weimann, 70). Tottenham Hotspur Parker (Van der Vaart, 89).
Booked: Aston Villa Dunne. Tottenham Kaboul, Sandro.
Sent off: Tottenham Rose (49).
Man of the match Sandro. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Aston Villa 47% Tottenham 53%.
Attempts on target: Aston Villa 2 Tottenham 10.
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire). Attendance 36,008.Reuse content