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.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Harry Redknapp. Mark Hughes and Ryan Shawcross
footballNews and updates as Queens Park Rangers host the Potters
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam