Tottenham have gone from title contenders to Europa League candidates in a matter of weeks, says Richard Aikman. Newcastle, meanwhile, are flying so it's going to be fascinating to see who finishes in the top four.
"At 2.47/5 Spurs remain better priced to finish fourth than Newcastle... "
Harry Redknapp has been doing a passable impression of an England manager over the last fortnight. Last weekend his side was humbled at Wembley after a feeble defensive display and a ghost goal, and on Saturday he witnessed defeat to a lesser light after a dispiriting display characterised by wanton finishing.
But the Tottenham manager's reaction to the reverse at relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers was admirably upbeat. I'm not worried about the way we are playing," he insisted. "I've only really seen one bad performance from us and that was against Norwich. We didn't play badly [against QPR], we had the ball all game but just couldn't get the break."
Spurs certainly had several chances to score, Gareth Bale missing two presentable chances in the penalty area and Jermain Defoe looking another gift horse in the mouth after former Tottenham man Adel Taraabt had given the hosts the lead. But make no mistake about it, Spurs are blowing up.
When his side lost 3-1 against Manchester United in early March in another display strewn with squandered chances, Redknapp said: 'I'm looking to finish third, not fourth. I'd be disappointed if we finished fourth," before adding with a smile: "I'd be even more disappointed if we finished fifth."
The 65-year-old is not smiling anymore. Fifth place is exactly where Spurs now lie. Defeats by Arsenal and United triggered a dismal run in which the Lilywhites mustered a solitary win from nine league outings. In that time Newcastle bounced back from their 5-0 defeat by the north Londoners to wipe out their 11-point disadvantage and leapfrog Spurs into fourth. Tottenham's an end-of-season capitulation is comparable to that of Arsenal's last season.
Unlike their north London rivals, however, Tottenham stand to lose out on Champions League football next season. Morphing from title contenders into Europa League players in the space of two miserable months is an unthinkable prospect for a Tottenham side whose on-loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor is set to return to Manchester City and whose playmaker Luka Modrić would almost certainly also pack his bags. The quality reinforcements needed up front and in defence would also prove harder to come by without the allure of Europe's premier club competition.
Redknapp himself is unlikely to stick around regardless of where Spurs finish, but he is doing his best to prevent heads from dropping and to leave the club in the top four. "We might have to win all four games but I'm very confident," said the manager, whose side at 2.47/5 remain better priced to finish fourth than Newcastle despite finding themselves three points adrift of Alan Pardew's resurgent outfit. "Newcastle still have to play Chelsea and I don't think they'll both win that. And Newcastle also have to play Manchester City. If we win all four of our games it won't matter what the others do."
The only problem is Tottenham have forgotten how to win matches. Redknapp talks well, but his players are not fighting the good fight; morale is fragile and the side have lost their way, appearing jaded in recent games. On paper, the matches against Blackburn, Aston Villa, Bolton and Fulham appear eminently winnable, but this is not the time to be playing sides scrapping for their Premier League survival ‒ as they found to their cost at Loftus Road, where QPR, incidentally, touched 5.49/2.
Newcastle by contrast are playing with all the vim and vigour of a side on a six-match winning run. Unlike Tottenham they are scoring freely, as they demonstrated against Stoke when Papiss Demba Cissé plundered his ninth goal in that sequence and Yohan Cabaye weighed in with two goals and an assist.
What they are achieving on limited budget has been a joy to behold for the neutral at least, and will give succour to the likes of Swansea, Norwich, Wigan and Reading, who will have taken note of what shrewd scouting, good coaching and a united front can achieve. The Toon's run-in is unenviably fierce. On their travels they face a Wigan side who have beaten Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in the last four weeks, before going to Chelsea and Everton, while their only home match is the aforementioned encounter with Manchester City.
But the Magpies will not be cowed by Roberto Mancini's mentally suspect and travel-sick side. Indeed if any side is going to win all four of their remaining matches, it is Newcastle, not Tottenham.