Harry Redknapp must be sick of seeing his players' only reward for their aggressive attacking policy being to bring the best out of goalkeepers. The Tottenham manager has seen men such as Thomas Sorensen, Boaz Myhill, Marcus Hahnemann and Casper Ankergren raise their game to thwart Spurs' ambitions in League and cup. Brad Friedel was the latest to join that list last night, with the American producing four fine saves to prevent Spurs from going fourth, even if what he did was nothing less than display the high standards he has shown for years in England. "Brad was exceptional," said his manager, Martin O'Neill.
At home Tottenham have lost to Stoke and Wolves, and drawn with Hull – all games where they failed to score – although this result, against a side that will contest the Carling Cup final at the end of the month against Manchester United and is part of the pack hunting for the final Champions' League place, is no embarrassment.
Yet when Spurs dominate like this, they should convert their superiority into three points. When they can do that, they will be a threat to the top three teams as well.
When Friedel – "the old goalkeeper keeps going on," said O'Neill – was not involved, some fortune came to Villa's rescue. With three minutes to go Stiliyan Petrov tangled with Jermain Defoe but the referee, Chris Foy, waved play on. "I can't fault the tenacity of my side," said O'Neill. "I honestly have not seen it. Where have you heard that phrase before? But if it looks like a penalty then we've had a bit of luck. But it was probably the best defensive performance this season."
Victory for the visitors never looked likely and with Liverpool winning, going fourth was not possible for them, although Spurs knew a win would see them overhaul Rafael Benitez's side. Three times in the first 25 minutes they tested Friedel, but each time he was equal to the task, ably helped out by Richard Dunne and James Collins in front of him.
Before the interval, Friedel pushed away a shot by Peter Crouch that deflected off Dunne and twice saved from Tom Huddlestone's powerful long-range efforts, but Friedel's best save came after 40 minutes. Ledley King flicked a foot at Crouch's knock-down that saw the American dive full length to push the ball away. However, Defoe should have converted the loose ball from six yards out.
Villa's response to Tottenham's early pressure only saw them go close to scoring on two occasions. Dunne was just shy of getting on the end of a cross after 19 minutes while James Milner went closer with a long-range shot. Heurelho Gomes saved that effort and the Brazilian then kept out Gabriel Agbonlahor's follow-up.
"I thought we played well but couldn't get the break," said Redknapp. "We were the better side, like at Villa Park earlier this season. At least we make keepers work and create a few chances. As for fourth place it's all still to play for, but the squad is looking strong. Fourth place is going to be tight."
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Friedel
Match rating: 6/10