Redknapp plays it cool at the top

Some said Everton or City could shock the top four. Instead Spurs are setting the early pace – but the manger isn't getting excited, yet.
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The Independent Online

It already seems absurd that Tottenham did not qualify for the early stages of the Europa League this season. Of the Premier League teams that did, Everton were thrashed 6-1 at home last weekend, Aston Villa lost to Wigan and Fulham could only scrape past a thin Portsmouth side.

By comparison, two games in to the new campaign and Spurs have won both, with no little style and with a confidence that has been missing from their performances for a long time.

First up were Liverpool last Sunday, dealt with as if Rafael Benitez's side were mid-table fodder, not title contenders, as they were beaten 2-1. Then came the north Londoners' trip to Hull in midweek and a crushing 5-1 victory that was as impressive and emphatic as it sounds. The early signs, at least, are that Spurs will not miss out on the European places again by next May. They just have to carry on in this vein.

Next up for Harry Redknapp's emerging side are West Ham, at Upton Park, tomorrow. Harder than Hull but easier than Liverpool, on paper, and for Redknapp it means a return to the club where he managed for seven years, before being sacked suddenly in 2001.

He had players such as Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand under him at West Ham but they were still raw. By comparison, his line-up at Spurs has a more rounded look. He says: "This team is more experienced. That West Ham team were kids that hadn't reached their prime. This Tottenham team is improving and we've still got a long way to go."

The nationalities he now manages include Croatians, a Honduran and a Russian as well as Englishmen such as Ledley King, whose worth he cannot overestimate, despite his injuries. It is a team that appears equipped to build on early-season promise, with Redknapp citing the presence of Wilson Palacios in midfield as vital. If they can ride out the injury to Heurelho Gomes, the goalkeeper who is out for a month at least, then they will win over some of the numerous observers who wonder when the inevitable dip will come.

Redknapp is not getting carried away by just two good results, but he is also smart enough to see them not in isolation but as a continuation of something that was building last season.

He arrived at White Hart Lane last October with the club in turmoil. Bottom of the league and without a win, he was distraught at what he saw as he replaced Juande Ramos. Relegation, even at that stage, was a distinct possibility. They finished just short of the Europa League places.

He says: "The difference between now and when I arrived is like night and day. There was a group of players who were isolated, and not part of the squad. That's not my style. The attitude now is they're all pulling together – some are disappointed they're not playing – and if they all stick together we're in for a good season."

The idea of perfect harmony is not quite accurate. One who left was Darren Bent, whose self-esteem was shattered after a jokey aside by Redknapp in January, when he claimed his "missus" could have scored from a chance that Bent missed. He was sold to Sunderland this summer, but Redknapp has managed to keep the players close to him since then. Allowing Bent to go was logical as he bought Peter Crouch from Portsmouth, maintaining his choice of four forwards. Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe are the players in favour, and the way Defoe has started the season has made him a contender for player of the month. He scored twice against the Netherlands last week before his hat-trick against Hull – culminating in him clubbing a shot past Boaz Myhill – made him the Premier League's top scorer. Redknapp believes he can get 20 goals and he could win the Golden Boot, now that Cristiano Ronaldo has gone to Spain.

The only blot on the landscape is Defoe's recent brushes with the police. He has been arrested twice, the second apparently erroneously, leading Redknapp to speak up for the striker. "The kid's driving a big car, why shouldn't he?" Redknapp said. "He keeps getting stopped. What's he done wrong? Nothing. Anyone can have a big car if they work for it."

Redknapp, too, has worked hard to get to a club that meets his ambition. He won the FA Cup with Portsmouth last year but getting any further would have been impossible. Spurs, however, offer the tantalising possibility of a seriously high position, possibly more so than Manchester City, who so many have tipped to break into the top four.

But Redknapp is doing his level best to keep a level head. "If I'm sitting here after 18, 20 games and we're still top of the League I think we'd all be getting a bit more excited. But at the moment it's a good start, six points is a nice start, but no more than that."

Hammerer: Redknapp v West Ham

*Harry Redknapp returns to Upton Park looking to continue his fine record against his former side:

*Bournemouth (1983-92)

P2 Won 1 Drawn 1 Lost 0 F5 A2

*Portsmouth (2002-08)

P8 Won 4 Drawn 3 Lost 1 F11 A8

*Tottenham (2008-)

P2 Won 2 Drawn 0 Lost 0 F3 A0

*Overall

P12 Won 7 Drawn 4 Lost 1 F19 A10

Fast starts: How early pace-setters finish

*Leicester City (2000/01)

The Foxes were top of the table for two weeks in October. They looked set to qualify for Europe throughout the season, but suffered nine defeats in their final ten league games, finishing poorly in 13th position.

*Tottenham Hotspur (2002/03)

Glenn Hoddle's Spurs went top of the table after four games following three wins and a draw. They eventually slipped down the league and finished a disappointing 10th.

*Sheffield Wednesday (1996/97)

David Pleat led Sheffield Wednesday to the summit after the opening five games with four wins from five. Although unable to maintain their scintillating early-season form, the Owls finished a very respectable 7th.

*Carlisle United (1974/75)

The Blues began well, winning four successive games to sit at the top of the table. Their descent down the table was catastrophic, however, finishing at the very bottom.

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