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Resilient Tottenham damage Chelsea’s title chances



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Tottenham Hotspur 4-4 Chelsea
English Premier League

Spurs fans could have been forgiven their sense of foreboding ahead of this evening’s kick-off. With little left to play for in the league and having seen their side surrender three points at Manchester City last Sunday, concern was abound that the end of their season could deteriorate as badly as it begun. Chelsea on the other hand went into this London derby all too aware of the importance of securing three points, as their fight for the Premiership title continues. Added to that was the small issue of revenge for Spurs’ Carling Cup victory over the Blues at Wembley last month.

What followed was a match that defied form and logic. A scintillating 90 minutes that served as a reminder, to even most seasoned of spectators, that the outcome of a Premiership game can never be accurately predicted. This was a glowing endorsement for the league, an encounter all about forward flair, movement and great goals, played in cauldron-like atmosphere at White Hart Lane. The 4-4 score line was celebrated as if it were a victory by Tottenham players and fans and having come back from 0-1 and 1-3 down, it certainly felt like a win. At the very least, this was a triumph over complacency for Juande Ramos’ side, marooned as they are in mid table in the Premier League.

From a Chelsea perspective, this was clearly two points lost, especially with Manchester United winning 2-0 at home to Bolton. The Blues now trail leaders United by five points. That was despite Didier Drogba heading Chelsea into the lead here on just three minutes, nodding a cross by John Terry beyond the stranded Paul Robinson in Tottenham’s goal. Jonathan Woodgate repeated his Carling Cup Final heroics just nine minutes later, levelling the scores with a firm headed goal from a Jermaine Jenas free kick. At this stage however, Chelsea still looked the most likely side to go on to secure the three points.

Just fifteen minutes into the game, Joe Cole thought he had given Chelsea a 2-1 lead, rounding Paul Robinson and slotting the ball into an empty net, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside. But it was no surprise when Michel Essien restored the Blues advantage, producing a neat finish after some excellent work from Joe Cole – a contender for this evening’s man of the match. Ashley Cole would have been the clear winner of ‘foul of the match’, had officials at White Hart Lane have been handing out such an accolade. A high and mistimed challenge on Alan Hutton was worthy of a straight red card and the England man will count himself extremely lucky to have avoided with only a booking when he watches the replay of this incident.

Juande Ramos introduced Tom Huddlestone as a second half substitute, looking for his big midfield man to make the same kind of impact from the bench that he did against Chelsea in the Carling Cup Final. The Spaniard’s alteration would pay dividends later on, with Huddlestone one of the main architects in Spurs’ unlikely comeback. A comeback that looked near impossible on 52 minutes when Joe Cole made it 3-1 to Chelsea, evading a Pascal Chimbonda challenge and forcing the ball under the on-rushing Paul Robinson.

Spurs refused to be beaten though, a far cry for their abject surrender at Manchester City last weekend. Dimitar Berbatov’s looping header from Huddlestone’s corner brought Tottenham back into the match on 61 minutes and they levelled on 75 minutes, when Huddlestone hit a powerful drive from a tight angle to make it 3-3. Even when the impressive Joe Cole made it 4-3 to Chelsea with only ten minutes remaining, the home fans still sensed an unlikely victory. Robbie Keane’s goal to once again level the scores at 4-4 was almost as good as three points for Spurs. The Irishman curled a beautiful 25-yard shot beyond Carlo Cudicini, sending the White Hart Lane into raptures with his goal of the month contender.

Tottenham almost won the game with the final kick of the game. Cudicini denied Dimitar Berbatov with a fine save from point blank range. Had that goal gone in, maybe Chelsea’s title hopes would have gone with it. As it is, the Blues live to fight another day and face a crucial game with second placed Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Failure to win that London derby, then surely Avram Grant’s side will be out of contention for Premiership trophy this season.

Tottenham have only beaten Chelsea three times in their last 44 encounters with their west London rivals. But having damaged Chelsea’s title chances by three times coming from behind this evening and also defeating them in last month’s Carling Cup Final, taking on the Blues is no longer the daunting task it once was for Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham: Robinson, Hutton, Woodgate, King (Bent 68), Chimbonda, Lennon, Jenas (Huddlestone 46), Zokora, Malbranque, Berbatov, Keane.
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Tainio, Dawson.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Ferreira (Shevchenko 90), Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Essien, Makelele, Lampard, Joe Cole (Ballack 82), Drogba, Kalou (Alex 71).
Subs Not Used: Hilario, Wright-Phillips.