In this much-vaunted audition for one of the leading roles in the Premier League it is fair to say Tottenham most impressed the judges. The honours might have been even as the wannabes left the stage, but in terms of potential there had only been one outfit with the star quality. Top four, here they come.
Actually, Spurs are there already and have been for some time. But this being November, and with the season being all of a third done, it was quite clearly the time to decide who would be denying Liverpool, or Manchester City, or whoever, the final Champions' League berth. Tottenham are playing some good stuff at the moment, so it's going to be them. It must be them.
"Why not? It's not impossible," declared their manager, Harry Redknapp He also said: "Well, I'm not going to sit here and say we can't do it, am I?" No, he was not, and neither was anyone on the Villa side going to write off their own European ambitions (despite Martin O'Neill's well-used emphasis on "how hard it is going to be because it's no coincidence the same four teams finish as the same"). "Our confidence is high and we are making good progress," said their adaptable defender Carlos Cuellar. "We are fighting for the top four and have the squad who can achieve that."
Strictly on this evidence, Villa's go-forward is debatable, although it cannot be doubted that Cuellar is making great strides. Next to Brad Friedel, the Spaniard was the main reason Spurs did not leave with the three points their supreme second-half performance deserved. As Villa bizarrely came out and elected to try to defend their one-goal advantage, Cuellar kicked one off the line, blocked a couple more in the area and generally made himself a mini-wall in front of Friedel's big wall.
Little wonder they are finally taking notice of him in his own country. "Everyone in Spain seems to be saying I will be going to the World Cup finals," said the uncapped former Scottish Footballer of the Year.
What chances of Michael Dawson doing the same? Well, if he can maintain this form then not as forlorn as they might appear. Former England squad regulars Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate will certainly not be expecting to skip straight back into the starting XI when they recover from their respective groin and knee injuries. Fabio Capello's assistant Franco Baldini was at Villa Park and must have passed on good reports. If Dawson's equalising strike was sweet then his defence was, at the very least, solid. His efforts were only overshadowed by those of Niko Kranjcar.
"Ledley and Woody are both England internationals, Sebastien [Bassong] is an international – and I want to be one," he said. "It has been hard not to play much recently but, when you get a chance, you've got to make sure you do well. Today, it was important for us. To go away disappointed not to get all three points shows how far we've come. We are striving for that top four." There was no simply getting away from it.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Beye, Dunne, L Young; Milner, Petrov, Reo-Coker (Sidwell 71), A Young; Agbonlahor, Carew (Heskey 75). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Downing, Delph, Gardner, Clark.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Huddlestone, Palacios (Jenas 66), Kranjcar (Keane 78); Defoe, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Hutton, Bale, Bentley, Rose.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Man of the match: Friedel
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