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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
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

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test