sports blog by andy shenk

Can Spurs Finish Third?

In Tottenham Hotspur on May 12, 2012 at 9:08 AM

Tottenham Hotspur welcomes Fulham to White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon. The match kicks off at 3 PM local time, in synch with all other nine English Premier League games, as is tradition on the final day of the season. Spurs sit fourth in the table, one point back of Arsenal, and one point clear of fifth-place Newcastle United. Though the lads could still gain Champions League qualification in defeat to Fulham, a victory opens the door to third place and the club’s first league finish above Arsenal since 1995, should Gunners slip up in their away match to West Bromwich Albion.

The wildcard, in regards to Champions League qualification, is Chelsea and whether they defeat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on May 19. Even if Spurs finish above Newcastle in fourth, a Champions League title for Chelsea would give them the EPL’s fourth and final spot in next year’s competition, bumping Spurs down to the Europa League for a second straight year.

The 2011-2012 EPL campaign has proven a bumpy ride for Spurs. The season began in dismal fashion: zero points and seven in the hole on goal differential following two spankings from the Manchester clubs.  Nineteen matches and five months later Spurs had only lost once more, rising from the bottom to second in the table, just in time to face league leaders Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on January 22.

In that game, Spurs fell behind 2-0 early in the second half, then struck back immediately to level the score at 2-2 with twenty-five minutes still to play. Manchester City had won ten consecutively at home entering play, yet Spurs refused to settle for the away draw, attacking freely despite the risk to their own goal. Finally, in the first minute of stoppage time, Spurs got their chance: a pulsing cross in from the left wing from Gareth Ball landed in the path of onrushing Jermain Defoe. Defoe stretched, but agonizingly came up short, skittering the ball just feet wide of the gaping net. Three minutes later, just thirty seconds from full time, disaster struck. Ledley King laid out Mario Balotelli in the box, who calmly stepped up, converted the winner and kept City tops in the league.

Though Spurs secured seven points in their next three matches, the away loss to Manchester City began a stretch of thirteen games in which Spurs took only thirteen of a possible thirty-nine points. Coupled with a demoralizing 5-1 loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup semifinals near the end of this poor run, the squad had only four matches left to return to form and secure a top-four finish and a place in next year’s Champions League. At one time ten points clear of fourth-place Arsenal, Spurs sat in fifth at the end of April, and Chelsea only a point behind.

Luckily, the level of competition for Spurs at the end of the season set them up nicely for a positive finish. Two home matches with second-to-last Blackburn and 9th-place Fulham bookended trips to relegation-threatened Bolton and Aston Villa. Spurs capitalized in the first two, beating Blackburn and Bolton handily. Following Arsenal’s draw to Norwich, Spurs entered the penultimate match of the season with a third-place finish theirs, provided they could win the last two. Away to Aston Villa, however, they dropped a goal early and after Danny Rose got sent off in the 50th minute for a reckless challenge, the men did well to salvage a draw, thanks to Emanuel Adebayor’s 60th minute penalty conversion.

So, Fulham and their boss Martin Jol, former Spurs gaffer, come marching into White Hart Lane tomorrow, looking to play spoilsports to the hosts’ season. Though it is unfair to pin the blame or attribute all credit to this one match, tomorrow’s two hours of wall-to-wall Premier League football  will surely encapsulate the emotions of this volatile season. Spurs’ fate, much of it beyond their control, balances on the edge of a knife. Herein lies the fatal attraction of sports to so many millions of fans around the world: one final chapter to be written in the Premier League season and no one has a clue how it will end.

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