Spurs show top four style
Harry Redknapp had spent his night freezing in Villa Park's driving rain - but radiated the warm glow of satisfaction after watching Tottenham emerge as prime contenders to shatter the Premier League's glass ceiling.
Spurs showed they can take candy from a baby with the best of them when they scored nine against what eventually amounted to little more than an open goal against Wigan Athletic last Sunday.
Arguably a better example of Redknapp's work in renewing Spurs, and a more reliable measure of their chances of breaking into the top four, came as they earned a thoroughly deserved point at Aston Villa, a club with pretensions on a par with their own.
It was a game in which Tottenham's hearts and minds were tested. Foul weather, fired up opponents heavy on pace and power determined to put Redknapp's men through the wringer - and yet it was classic counter-punchers Villa who were clinging on at the end.
Spurs may not have scored nine goals and claimed three points, but Redknapp may just have got as much pleasure out of how his side went about their business here as he did in the Wigan rout.
It did not start well as Villa, as potent as ever from set-pieces, were rewarded with an early goal from Gabriel Agbonlahor after James Milner's corner unlocked all manner of confusion in the Spurs six-yard box.
Spurs recovered their composure and showed great mental strength (while giving the lie to pundits who perpetuate the myth that they do not like cold and rain 30 miles outside London) to earn a draw. Michael Dawson's crashing late equaliser was the very least they merited.
Michael Dawson celebrates his equaliser with Tottenham team-mates
Villa boss Martin O'Neill was magnanimous enough to admit as much and agree that his side was hanging on at the end, such was the scale of Tottenham's eventual supremacy.
After watching Spurs disappoint at Arsenal recently, they looked more of a top five team than top four - but the way they performed at Villa Park, especially in the second half, hinted that there may yet be more on offer for them this season given the circumstances of those around them.
At Arsenal they were stripped of the pace of Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon, and chose a strategy alien to Redknapp and Spurs by simply punting the ball towards Peter Crouch's head.
Defoe and Lennon were back at Villa Park, and while neither were at their best their presence helped Spurs to play in a style that suits them best, a measured approach built on the foundations of patience and passing.
And with Liverpool suffering a crisis of confidence and Manchester City forgetting how to win football matches, it was the perfect occasion for Spurs to show they are superior to Villa, the other side likely to be in the shake-up for fourth place.
Spurs, as results have proved, are no match for Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in a long title race - but Redknapp's faith in their ability to finish fourth is justified as they showed they are, for now at least, the equal of the other contenders.
Current form suggests there will never be a better chance for an outsider to break up the Premier League's Gang Of Four. And so far Spurs look the most likely.
Whereas Villa were limited and lacking in subtlety once their early storm had blown out, Spurs shrugged off a sluggish start to make the best chances of the first 45 minutes and more or less camp out in opposition territory after the break.
And Redknapp's relentlessly positive approach was in sharp contrast to the negativity and timidity shown by Mark Hughes' Manchester City at Liverpool last Saturday. Villa simply could not get - or keep - the ball after half-time, whereas it showed no terrors for Spurs as they passed and showed commendable patience until their chance came.
Of course there will be days when Spurs disappoint, and the continuing fitness problems of Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate may yet cause trouble in time. The absence of Lennon and Defoe at Arsenal, plus the sadly-missed Luka Modric, also hinted that Spurs could have difficulties with squad strength as the campaign progresses.
But as the players departed in a deluge after a pulsating second period, they looked a much better bet for a top-four place than Aston Villa.
And this was also reflected in Redknapp's optimistic mood when asked about Tottenham's chances of staying in the top four, saying: "It's hard but not impossible. We have got some very good players at this club. We have got a chance. Why can't we?"
True, they have a chance. No guarantees but a genuine opportunity.
O'Neill was realistic, looking like he wanted to keep the lid on any expectation or false hope that might invade Villa Park as he said: "Spurs are very good indeed. Manchester City are very good, and I think if any teams are going to threaten it then those two will give it a proper go and have a proper chance.
"We're battling to hang in there" - and indeed they were for most of the second half having been gripped by negativity once they failed to build on the lift Agbonlahor's goal gave them.
Villa, as stated here before, have a top-six look about them. They are fiercely-committed and superbly well-organised at the back. The worry is a lack of variety, a lack of different strings to their bow and the stylish Stilyan Petrov would benefit from a truly commanding and creative presence alongside him in midfield.
Stewart Downing may yet emerge into that role, but for now Villa look short of top four status.
For Spurs a point was possibly less than they deserved - but it may prove precious in the months ahead after showing there may also be substance to support the style that is taken as read at White Hart Lane.
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