It has been obvious for the past month but, finally, in his own vernacular, Juande Ramos put into words what everybody has been thinking since Tottenham Hotspur bowed out of the Uefa Cup on 12 March: "We are in the middle of the table, the points are not excessively important, and it is not easy to get the maximum motivation in this situation."
The Tottenham manager, unaware that people in his position are not supposed to be this honest, has long been divided between two time zones. His body exists in the 2007-08 season, his mind in 2008-09. It is even likely that he has been thinking about next season since the day, last October, he assumed control at White Hart Lane.
His players do not have the luxury of being able to look too far ahead – "Our motivation is that we have to continually impress the manager," Alan Hutton, their right back, said – because they are no less erratic than they were during the latter stages of the Martin Jol era.
Accomplished in the first half against Middlesbrough, and worthy of more than a one goal lead at half-time, Tottenham forfeited control early in the second half and ended the match grateful for the point from a 1-1 draw. It was only because of fine defensive performances by Michael Dawson and Jonathan Woodgate that Tottenham did not lose, although a close-range miss by Afonso Alves, the Middlesbrough striker, late on was just as significant.
But, then, this is not the Middlesbrough of old. In a previous incarnation, when Gareth Southgate was taking his first tentative steps as a manager, they were nervous and unsure of themselves and perilously close to the bottom three of the table. Now, having recently drawn with Arsenal and Manchester United, they have the makings of a team wholly suited to life in the higher regions of the Premier League.
"We feel it is all starting to come together," Stewart Downing, the Middlesbrough winger, said. And just as it is for them, so it is for Downing, who exemplified everything that was good about the team in the second half. It was his equaliser – a 27-yard shot that brushed off the head of Jermaine Jenas in the 69th minute – that gave Middlesbrough a deserved point and, with Fabio Capello, the England head coach, watching from the West Stand, the timing was perfect.
In the first half, Capello might have wished that Bulgaria's Dimitar Berbatov was English. The Tottenham striker provided neat skills inside the penalty area to cross for Aaron Lennon at the far post. Lennon volleyed the ball goalwards and the shot was diverted home by Jonathan Grounds for a 27th-minute own goal.
Goals: Grounds (27 og) 1-0; Downing (69) 1-1.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cerny; Hutton, Dawson, Woodgate, Chimbonda (Gilberto 70); Lennon (Bent 75), Zokora, Jenas, Malbranque (Huddlestone 60); Berbatov, Keane. Substitutes not used: Forecast (gk), Tainio.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Young, Wheater, Pogatetz, Grounds (Johnson 64); O'Neil (Sanli 74), Boateng, Arca (Rochemback 67), Downing; Aliadière, Alves. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), McMahon.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Middlesbrough Pogatetz, Arca, Young.
Man of the match: Woodgate.
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