Redknapp fuels expectation despite midfield fears
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Bolton Wanderers 0
Harry Redknapp wrote in Saturday's match programme that up to seven clubs were battling at the top of the Premier League. By the time he spoke after a 3-0 stroll against Bolton Wanderers, the number was down to six, Newcastle being the team he eliminated.
What of Tottenham? Last month Redknapp suggested they could go the distance and although he was at pains to point out that he had only spoken of a possibility rather than a likelihood, he rejected the suggestion that rival clubs see Spurs as the next team that will fall away.
"I don't know if teams do at the moment," he said. "This is my third year now, and the last two years we've been fourth and fifth so we're there or thereabouts on a regular basis now. But you can't afford a slip-up with the other teams playing so well."
Second place, which Tottenham occupied for a couple of hours before Manchester United won on Saturday evening, represents another step forward for Redknapp, who admitted that this was probably his best collection of players – and, unlike his 2008 FA Cup-winning Portsmouth team, as was pointed out, this one is paid for.
But even as he praised his central midfield axis of Scott Parker and Luka Modric, he hinted at a possible weakness. "[Modric] and Scott have struck up a great partnership when we've been unlucky – we lost Tom Huddlestone, who was top class for us and he's out long-term with that ankle. Sandro has one game and then he breaks down again and we can't get him fit."
That chronic injury curse could yet prevent Tottenham being serious contenders. Ledley King broke down in training on Friday with another recurrence of his knee problem while the return of Rafael van der Vaart was delayed for 73 minutes. "Rafa is a great player, but he keeps getting hamstrings," Redknapp said. "He plays and gets injured. You've just got to be careful he doesn't tear it and we lose him for six weeks."
Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, would love Redknapp's problems. Phil Gartside, the chairman, joined him in condemning the dismissal of Gary Cahill by referee Stuart Attwell after 18 minutes with Bolton only 1-0 down, but his patience and understanding will not be infinite while the team remains in the bottom three. Coyle has attempted to make Bolton easier on the eye, but something has been lost in translation. No longer relying on set plays for goals, they seem unable to defend them either, allowing Tottenham to score on Saturday from two virtually identical corner routines.
"We are trying to evolve in terms of how we play the game, but we have lost two key elements: Stuart Holden and Chung-yong Lee," Coyle said. "But, equally, the group we have are certainly good enough to win games."
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