Tottenham are running on empty and must rely on Chelsea and Arsenal to make mistakes if they are to clinch top-four place

Andre Villas-Boas’s team show character to push for Champions League qualification right to the closing stages

Stamford Bridge

Courage and tenacity might not be the traditional characteristics of Tottenham Hotspur but they showed gallons of both at Stamford Bridge. After fighting back twice to draw 2-2 with Chelsea, qualification for the Champions League is no longer in Spurs’ hands. With two games left they are relying on mistakes from Chelsea or – more likely – Arsenal to finish in the top four.

The likelihood is that Spurs will not make it. But for them still to be close, even after a night when Gareth Bale was quiet, and after four months without Sandro, their best midfielder, shows there is something beyond the usual fragility at White Hart Lane.

This Tottenham team, it seemed for much of the game, are running out of legs. They do not have the players Chelsea have, and so have to match them in other ways. The fact that they are still just three points behind third is to their immense credit.

To look at the benches beforehand was to notice the difference. Chelsea had the vast experience of John Terry and Frank Lampard, and the explosive quality of Victor Moses and Demba Ba. Spurs had Gylfi Sigurdsson, not a superstar, but a player with the talent and character to turn games, as he showed 10 minutes from the end.

On the pitch, Chelsea had two of the season’s outstanding players in Juan Mata and David Luiz, and two of the league’s most thrilling talents, in Eden Hazard and Oscar. Between the four of them they created enough chances for Chelsea to win by a distance. Spurs played less well – few of their players looked particularly sharp – but with enough spirit to snatch a point.

This was truest and most relevant in midfield, where Andre Villas-Boas had a rather difficult job finding a way to stop his glamorous opponents, without Sandro or the injured Mousa Dembélé. He chose a midfield three of Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone and Lewis Holtby. Parker had completed none of his last four games, last playing 90 minutes over one month ago, and he looked drained and heavy-legged all evening.

Huddlestone, making just his ninth league start of the season, has added some more imagination to Spurs recently but he is not the fittest midfielder in England. And Holtby, eager willing and spiky, is still clearly adjusting to Premier League football, occasionally surprised by the arrival of an opposition midfielder from behind him to steal the ball.

The longer this season has gone on, the clearer it has been how much Spurs missed Sandro. Villas-Boas has always said that the Brazilian international is the league’s best at recovering the ball, and they have desperately lacked his ruthlessness, his controlled aggression and his athleticism since his knee injury at Loftus Road in January.

Tonight, as Chelsea’s Brazilians teased Spurs, they could have done with their own. They did not even have Dembélé either, a more attacking midfielder but a very good athlete and one not averse to some physical contact where necessary.

Spurs’ weary legs struggled to cope with Chelsea’s brisker movement. Juan Mata and Eden Hazard were drifting into areas Sandro usually considers his personal property, skipping past Huddlestone and creating chances.

There was never enough of a challenge and soon enough Chelsea were ahead. Parker was too slow to react to Oscar’s meeting Gary Cahill’s flick at the far post.

It took a rare counter-attack and a brilliant finish from Emmanuel Adebayor to send Tottenham level but soon enough Chelsea were back ahead, the goal coming through that same empty space. Ramires started a move in his own half and darted forward. Torres had the ball on the right, Oscar and Ramires both broke past their absent markers, Torres picked out the latter and he stabbed the ball past Hugo Lloris. Sandro could only look on from the Spurs bench.

It needed some good fortune to keep the game alive into the second half. Another unchallenged break early in the second half ended with Ramires slipping when he could have made it 3-1.

For much of this season Spurs have stayed in games and relied on Bale to make the difference, but tonight he was just a mortal, shifting from left wing to right but without much of an impact. But Spurs – whose competitive character is not in doubt – continued to push and push. Villas-Boas threw on Sigurdsson and Dempsey, the best that he had, and Spurs on empty legs started to force corners and create pressure.

Hanging on in the game, Spurs were going to need luck and they got it. With 10 minutes left, Benoît Assou-Ekotto clipped a left-wing cross down to Adebayor, who was offside. But play went on, Adebayor back-heeled the ball to Sigurdsson and the substitute finished into the far bottom corner. On the balance of play it might not have been deserved but on the balance of character it certainly was.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas