Van der Vaart urges Spurs to raise game for weaker sides

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The Independent Football

Rafael van der Vaart has cautioned his Tottenham Hotspur team-mates that they risk losing ground in their push for a top-four finish unless they start to improve their record against the Premier League's weaker teams.

Spurs head into the festive period in fifth position on the back of an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions, which stretches back to the start of November. The Londoners' outlook could have been much brighter had they not been defeated by the likes of West Ham United and Wigan Athletic, both of whom sit inside the relegation zone.

Van der Vaart has been encouraged by Spurs' performances in draws against more fancied teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea and the win over Arsenal, but insists the team must beat the division's poorer sides to ensure qualification for next year's Champions League. Looking ahead to Spurs' games against Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Fulham and Everton over the festive period, the Dutchman said: "We have to win our games and have confidence that we will be in the top four. There are a lot of good teams but we play well against the big teams and [against] some of the small clubs we have our problems."

Van der Vaart will be fit to play in the Boxing Day game at Villa Park having recovered from the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for the past three weeks.

The 27-year-old, who has made a stunning impact since his summer move from Real Madrid, scored both goals in Spurs' 2-1 win over Villa at White Hart Lane in October and is convinced that he and his team-mates will beat Gérard Houllier's beleaguered side.

"I played there [at Villa Park] once with the national team against England. It's a nice stadium and they are a great team," he said. "I expect a difficult match but we're going to win."

* Spurs' recently postponed trip to Blackpool has been rescheduled for 8pm on Tuesday 22 February.