Donovan lets Spurs off hook

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Everton 1
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The Independent Online

The race for the title could go right down to the wire after this weekend's results, and the battle for the fourth Champions League place is turning out to be just as intriguing. Manchester City's thrilling win over Chelsea on Saturday put Roberto Mancini's team in pole position, but that was before Tottenham had a chance to show what they could do.

For 45 minutes at White Hart Lane yesterday, Harry Redknapp's team turned on the style and played with a pace and panache that suggested they could live with the best teams in Europe next season. And for the second 45 minutes they played like the same old Tottenham.

Brittle at the back and ragged in midfield, Spurs were a shadow of the side that had completely dominated Everton in a pulsating first half performance, capped by a wonderful goal from Luka Modric. Depressingly for the home fans, all it took for Spurs to be transformed from world-beaters into nervous wrecks was a second-half injury to Tom Huddlestone.

Deprived of his steadying influence in midfield, Spurs were so ineffective in the second half that only an incredible miss by Landon Donovan prevented Everton leaving north London with the point their fightback deserved.

Roman Pavlyuchenko gave Tottenham the perfect start in the 11th minute when he diverted Jermain Defoe's wayward shot past Tim Howard and Modric extended the lead with one of the best goals of the season. The Croatia midfielder exchanged passes with Niko Kranjcar on the edge of the penalty area before he managed to beat Howard with an exquisite chip which looped over the goalkeeper and into the net off the underside of the bar.

"It was one of the best goals I've scored," Modric said. "I know Niko from the Croatia team. I'm very happy but the most important thing is that we won the game."

The win was in doubt for long stretches of the second half, especially after Ayegbeni Yakubu bundled the ball over the line to bring Everton back into the game in the 55th minute. Heurelho Gomes was at fault for the goal, the Brazilian goalkeeper again demonstrating that he is still uncomfortable dealing with routine crosses. Luckily for Spurs, Gomes is better at shot-stopping and he used his good reflexes to keep out a stinging effort by Steven Pienaar.

"We didn't turn up in the first half and the same thing happened to Spurs in the second half," David Moyes, the Everton manager, said. "Two-two would have been a fair result." Moyes would have had that point if Donovan had not missed the target from two yards in the 77th minute. The American winger has been in impressive form since he moved to Goodison Park in January, but Moyes was on his knees on the touchline with his head in his hands when Donovan failed to tap Jack Rodwell's inviting cross into an empty net.

Unfortunately for Moyes and the travelling Everton supporters, their team did not turn their superiority into clear-cut chances after Dononvan's horrible miss – even during six anxious minutes of added time for the Spurs crowd – and Tottenham limped back into fourth place with Redknapp counting the cost of the victory.

Huddlestone left the pitch on a stretcher and will have a scan on a foot injury today. Redknapp also revealed that the latest diagnosis on Aaron Lennon's groin problem is that he needs to rest for at least six weeks. David Bentley and Jermain Jenas (both groin) and Ledley King (thigh) are also giving Redknapp cause for concern.

Injuries to key players and some tough fixtures next month – against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United – will determine whether Redknapp's side earns the right to rub shoulders with Europe's big boys. For the time being at least, they are in the box seat, but only on goal difference. "The pressure's not on us," Redknapp claimed. "It will be a real bonus if we make it, but Liverpool are the favourites."

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Bale; Kranjcar, Palacios, Huddlestone (Kaboul, 52), Modric; Pavlyuchenko (Crouch, 82), Defoe (Gudjohnsen, 71). Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Walker, Dervite, Assou-Ekotto.

Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Osman (Jagielka, h-t), Rodwell (Vaughan, 81), Arteta, Pienaar; Anichebe (Donovan, 63), Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Yobo, Bilyaletdinov, Gosling.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Tottenham Modric; Everton Neville, Arteta, Pienaar, Heitinga.

Man of the match: Bale.

Attendance: 35,912.

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