Harry Redknapp broke into laughter when he was informed yesterday of the odds the bookmakers had given on Tottenham winning their last two games against Arsenal and Chelsea, and today's contest with Manchester United.
"90-1?" the Tottenham manager laughed. "90-1, I thought the bookies were being a bit stingy, they should have been a lot higher than that. Winning those two games should have been 90-1."
Unlikely though it might have seemed two weeks ago, that is precisely what Redknapp's Tottenham side have achieved. Victories over Arsenal and Chelsea have become the strongest indication yet of the potential within this Tottenham team, and the most eloquent demonstration of Redknapp's managerial prowess.
They go to Old Trafford today with the prospect of claiming an improbable hat-trick and able to call on influential midfielder Wilson Palacios, who is back from suspension, and winger Aaron Lennon, who has not played since December with a groin injury but is likely to be on the bench.
The return of the pacy Lennon is especially welcome for Redknapp, and for England manager Fabio Capello, but there is no way he will be rushed back into action. "He could be available if we need 20 minutes. We'll see how we go," Redknapp said yesterday.
The possibility of victory at Old Trafford, a ground where Spurs have not tasted victory for 21 years, is a beguiling prospect for Redknapp, who has seen his side suddenly and unexpectedly blossom in the wake of the disappointment of losing the FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth two weeks ago. "It knocked us all flat but we just got on with the next game," Redknapp said yesterday. "It should have knocked us for six but it didn't. We all came back on the Monday and we were down but we picked ourselves up. The players said, 'There's nothing we can do, we tried'. I didn't come in and have a go at them. It was just one of those days. It happens in football."
The subsequent turnaround has been remarkable. Across the pitch Redknapp's players are relishing the moment. Roman Pavlyuchenko has been reborn as the side's spearhead and his inclusion, ahead of Peter Crouch, seems to encourage Spurs to adopt passing the ball to feet rather than just hitting it forward. Behind the Russian striker, Luka Modric is displaying the full array of his midfield talents, and controlled the recent victories over Arsenal and Chelsea.
In defence, Ledley King and Michael Dawson are an impressive all-English central duo, although neither has yet done enough to convince Capello. Tottenham can also boast the hottest player of the moment in Gareth Bale, the young Welshman whose destructive displays that combine pace, athleticism and a sumptuous left foot have drawn comparison with Ryan Giggs.
Redknapp insisted yesterday the 20-year-old is not for sale, despite rumours of a possible £20m bid from United in the summer. "There's no chance of it," the Tottenham manager said. "I don't make those decisions but I know the chairman would not want to be selling him. We're a club that is looking to build a new stadium, a new training ground. We're a club that wants to go upwards and forwards. We're not into selling a player like Gareth Bale, that's for sure."
Bale has been a revelation in the past three months. "His game has gone up so many levels this season," Redknapp said. "He's got stronger. He's a fantastic athlete, great ability. He can do everything, he's 6ft 1ins. He can head it, great left foot, right foot, he's got the lot. He's got the ability to run all day. He's grown up. He's still only a boy but physically he has got stronger and he's looking as good as any left-sided player in the country."
Tottenham's wins over Arsenal and Chelsea have had a direct and telling impact on the title race, and they hope to extend their kingmaker role further with today's visit to the champions. Redknapp is more concerned with Spurs' battle to clinch fourth place, though. Tottenham hold a two-point advantage over Manchester City, with Aston Villa a further point behind and Liverpool two, but the latter two have played one more game.
"Six points could well be enough for us," he said. "Six points should keep us above Villa. They can get nine but we have got a much better goal difference. Six points should give us a good chance but it may take more. It may take nine. I don't know. The last two wins have given us a real boost. It's going to be tight. It's a great end to the season."
For once Tottenham travel to Old Trafford with a genuine hope of victory, rather than a fear they might be hammered. They were 2-0 up there last season, but ended up losing 5-2. Redknapp called on his team to improve even on their performance of a week ago, when they totally outplayed leaders Chelsea, who were flattered by the 2-1 scoreline. "We've got to go to Old Trafford and play even better than we did in the last two games to get the result. We go there in a good frame of mind and confidence is high. But the sun's shining, it's a great stadium, a fantastic place to play football against a great team. We're looking forward to it."
Tottenham's rollercoaster month
Harry Redknapp's side has endured wildly contrasting emotions over the last four matches, dropping vital points against Sunderland and going out of the FA Cup to Portsmouth at Wembley, before consecutive home victories over Arsenal and Chelsea.
*Sunderland 3 Spurs 1 (Prem, 3 Apr)
Darren Bent took centre stage against his former side, scoring after 34 seconds but missing two of three penalties awarded to the home team. Peter Crouch gave the visitors hope but a stunning volley from Boudewijn Zenden sealed the points for the Black Cats.
*Spurs 0 Portsmouth 2 (FA Cup, 11 Apr)
Heavy favourites, Spurs failed to convert their dominance into goals. Frederic Piquionne and Kevin-Prince Boateng scored extra-time goals for an already relegated Pompey side.
*Spurs 2 Arsenal 1 (Prem, 14 Apr)
A stunning long-range volley by Danny Rose in his first league game helped Spurs to a first league win over their neighbours in 11 years. Gareth Bale extended the lead, Nicklas Bendtner pulled one back before Heurelho Gomes performed heroics between the sticks.
*Spurs 2 Chelsea 1 (Prem, 17 Apr)
Redknapp's team put in a fine performance against the league leaders, again going 2-0 up before a late consolation, while John Terry was dismissed. Jermain Defoe — from the spot – and Bale struck before Frank Lampard's injury-time goal.Reuse content