With 18 games left, only goal different separates Tottenham Hotspur from second-placed Manchester United. Only three more points separates them from the lead. These are remarkable facts, given the nature of the Premier League. But, with every victory – last night they beat a good Everton side without ever looking like they might not – the authenticity, the reality of their title challenge becomes more obvious.
This routine win was meant to be the first game of Tottenham's season: back in mid-August, before the arrivals of Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor, before the victory in the Luka Modric transfer saga, only for the local riots to intervene. Moved five months down the track, Tottenham met it with more momentum than any other team in the League would have. The victory, owing to a first-half goal from Aaron Lennon and a second-half strike from Benoit Assou-Ekotto was Spurs' 14th from their last 18 League games.
Harry Redknapp knows the strength of his team's position. "I've been saying all along that it's not impossible to win the title," he said afterwards. "It's difficult, but it's not impossible. It's very very hard, but we've got a chance, we're in there. That's all we can do."
Rather than inflating expectations, though, Redknapp is keen to focus on the immediate. "I don't ever look any further than just Wolves on Saturday," he insisted, "I couldn't tell you in all honesty the points totals of the teams behind us. I just worry about Wolves coming here on Saturday, that's all I'll be thinking about driving home tonight."
Events at the very top of the table cannot possibly have evaded Redknapp's attention, though. Manchester City are three points clear of Spurs but have lost three of their four games this month. Redknapp insisted that they were the team under the most strain: "I think the pressure's on Manchester City. You look at their squad, you look at the type of money they've been able to spend. People like [Sergio] Aguero, and [Edin] Dzeko, [Samir] Nasri. The wages and the money they've spent on players, they're expected to be there and win the championship – certainly them or Man United are red-hot favourites this year."
None of those sides is currently playing with the confidence and fluidity of Tottenham. At no stage last night did it look as if they would not emerge with the three points; a reliable an indicator of championship-form. Another indicator is the successful reintegration of players: Lennon and Michael Dawson returned for their first League starts since December and August respectively.
Injuries forced David Moyes into one of his more adventurous sides of the season: with two strikers and a midfield made up of Marouane Fellaini and three attacking players. Fellaini was good enough to make it difficult for Spurs though, diligent and vigilant throughout, storming into necessary tackles as Tottenham took 30 minutes to start making chances.
Spurs' rhythm eventually came. Their movement improved, and referee Martin Atkinson had to turn down two penalty appeals. A brilliant counter-attack, from Rafael van der Vaart to Gareth Bale to Adebayor, ended with the big centre-forward's touch betraying him in front of goal. Van der Vaart curled a first-time shot onto the roof of the net.
One minute later they were ahead. Assou-Ekotto played a long cross-field ball to Lennon, which Leighton Baines misjudged. Lennon took advantage, burst into the box and squeezed his shot under Sylvain Distin and into the corner.
With only a one-goal deficit, Moyes knew the game was still within reach. He switched Landon Donovan with Victor Anichebe, and the sharper movement nearly won them useful opportunities. The tempo needed to be consistent across the pitch, though, and it was not.
Midway through the second half Assou-Ekotto had the ball 40 yards from goal but faced no concerted effort to take it back from him. Under urging from Joe Jordan to shoot, he stepped forward and swung his foot through the ball, which deflected off Tim Cahill's behind and into the far top corner.
Royston Drenthe came on, and twice went down in the area, without reward. Redknapp was able to bring on Steven Pienaar and Roman Pavlyuchenko, as Spurs continued their pursuit.
Man of the match Assou-Ekotto.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Attendance 36,132.Reuse content