Tottenham Hotspur stay in the Champions League hunt after a seven-minute surge produced three goals in a 3-1 victory over Manchester City, writes Jonathan Wilson.
It is better late than never for Tottenham Hotspur over Manchester City
Tottenham 3 Manchester City 1
Tottenham Dempsey 75’, Defoe 79’, Bale 82’
Manchester City Nasri 5’
Man of the match Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)
In seven minutes, Tottenham's season was saved.
After 75 minutes, they trailed 1-0, the result of a first half in which they had been largely outplayed. That would have extended their poor run to one win in eight games and left them five points behind Arsenal, their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League fading fast.
But a burst of three goals in seven minutes turned the game and might just have turned their season.
It was a match that strained credibility. Manchester City could easily have led by two or three at half-time as Carlos Tevez exposed Scott Parker's limitations as a pure holder, leading to the thought that the most significant absence in this Spurs slump has not been Gareth Bale, who started Sunday's match, Jermain Defoe, who came off the bench, or Aaron Lennon, who still was not deemed fit enough, but Sandro, the Brazilian defensive midfielder.
It was Tevez, charging down the right, who set up the first, finding James Milner who cut the ball back for Samir Nasri to knock in.
Nasri and Edin Dzeko both spurned one-on-ones before half-time and Tevez himself was denied a goal from a stooping, close-range header by a fine, reflex save from Hugo Lloris.
But City's tempo dropped alarmingly in the second half while Nasri, switched to the left to accommodate Aleksandar Kolarov, who had come on for Milner, faded.
Clint Dempsey levelled after 75 minutes, sidefooting Gareth Bale's cross from close range. City disintegrated utterly.
Three minutes later, Defoe drifted in from the left to curl a shot into the bottom corner and three minutes after that, Bale ran on to Tom Huddlestone's pass and dinked the ball over Joe Hart.
So frustrated were City that the assistant coach David Platt not only refused to shake the hand of the Spurs fitness coach, Jose Mario Rocha, but seemed deliberately to clip him with his shoulder as they passed each other at the mouth of the tunnel.
That seemed to encapsulate an essential truth both about the game and about City this season. Roberto Mancini, their manager, spoke of the problems of his side's "attitude" and, while Tottenham deserve credit for the way they seized on a glimmer of an opportunity, it was mystifying that City had offered it to them.
Spurs switched from 4-2-3-1 in the final half hour, a change that meant Bale switched from the centre to the right, a position in he seemed far more threatening, while adding width and preventing Gael Clichy getting forward.
Their manager, Andre Villas-Boas, though, was modest about his role in turning the game.
"When we managed to score the first goal was key to the game," he said. "You gain momentum and confidence, and the fans today were outstanding – they kept on pushing. What really improved from the first half to the second was our passing. In the second half we managed to find channels more easily. Emotionally after equaliser they were hyped up."
The challenge now is to maintain that sense of momentum over the final five games of the season, beginning next week at Wigan Athletic, who are desperate for points as they battle relegation.
Spurs trail Arsenal by two points, but a top-four finish remains in their hands thanks to the game they have in hand over their north London rivals - even if that match is against the other side battling for third and fourth, Chelsea.
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