The match between Tottenham and Manchester City on Wednesday night has, for a few weeks now, been seen as a shoot-out for the last available place in the Champions' League. As that date has approached, the results of both teams have not changed that situation. Thanks to Tom Huddlestone's outstanding strike yesterday, and City's win against Aston Villa, it will be all eyes on Eastlands.
Not that Huddlestone was the only Spurs player deserving of his teammates' thanks for this nervy victory. Heurelho Gomes, who stopped Arsenal from claiming a draw or possibly winning here almost three weeks ago, produced an excellent save from Matt Taylor's volley three minutes from time to guarantee that Spurs will go into Wednesday's encounter with a one-point advantage.
Should Tottenham win that game, then they will participate in Europe's premier competition for the first time in almost half a century, after they won the Football League in 1961. If the game with City were to finish in a draw – which is a distinct possibility – then Spurs will go to Burnley on Sunday knowing a win will put them in Europe's elite.
For the home fans, as Spurs failed to put a decisive stop to Bolton's stubborn challenge, the second half must have felt as if it lasted 50 years, if not an eternity. Not least when Younes Kaboul, with Gomes (below) dragged out of position, cleared Taylor's shot after 68 minutes off the goalline, before Taylor then brought the best out of the Brazilian with his attempt from 18 yards. Gomes's emergence as a top-class goalkeeper has been key to Spurs' challenge.
This game was not in the same vein as Spurs' wins over Arsenal and, two weeks ago, against Chelsea, although how they would have loved to open up a two-goal lead against Owen Coyle's men, with so much at stake over the next week. The hosts could have done with preserving some energy.
Huddlestone's effort had been a long time coming against a side with nothing left to play for, Bolton having guaranteed their safety some time ago. Indeed, Huddlestone had had to wait a very long time – since November, against Sunderland – for his second League goal of the season. "A wonder goal," Coyle called it. Benoit Assou-Ekotto rolled a pass sideways and Huddlestone struck it from 25 yards with some curl that sent it arcing into the top corner.
That was not the cue for an onslaught on Jussi Jaaskelainen's goal, although Huddlestone tried his luck again from 25 yards. Gareth Bale, scorer of the winning goals against Chelsea and Arsenal, had been less visible in the first half yesterday but after the interval he could have made it a personal hat-trick. Jermain Defoe, whose goalscoring form has dipped recently, turned provider as he slipped a neat pass inside Gretar Steinsson, but Bale's shot was too close to Jaaskelainen and the Finn pushed it away.
Bale was now coming more to the fore despite Steinsson's close attention, and Pavlyu-chenko was a fraction away from turning in the Welshman's volleyed cross.
If Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, is considering changes for the City game – and here he decided to drop Wilson Palacios from the line-up that lost to Manchester United last week – then Peter Crouch could come in for Defoe. Crouch, a late substitute, went closer to scoring than Defoe did, but his header was cleared off the line by Lee Chung-Yong.
Redknapp is perhaps feeling the pressure more than he wanted to let on. He contradicted himself afterwards, saying: "I'm not getting too excited about the Champions' League," but adding, "No one wants to get there more than me." One thing is sure: he will need a clear head on Wednesday.
Referee: C Foy
Man of the match: Gomes
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content