It Was in Spurs' Own Hands
Some will be dismissive and say that Spurs' current situation is all down to themselves, that in the early months of the year, with a strong hold on third there is no way that they should now be waiting anxiously on the outcome of next weekend's Champions League Final to know if they will be competing in next season's Champions League or Europa League. That is true but every team has a poor spell at some time in the season but unfortunately Spurs was a rather extended run which coincided with the departure of Fabio Capello as England manager and the lengthy silence from the Football Association with the associated speculation that Harry Redknapp was a cert to take over ahead of Euro 2012. Only after the appointment of Roy Hodgson did the Spurs team rediscover some of their form and confidence to produce the style of football that had so pleased the football public earlier in the season. Unfortunately, this rekindling of their form came too late to reclaim third place which they had held from late November through to the end of March.
Even in the final weeks of the season Spurs managed to spurn opportunities to redeem themselves and take advantage of others misfortune. Twice in the last month of the season, Arsenal provided them with the chance to make up lost ground but Spurs were unable to make the most of these gifts - an unexpected home defeat for Arsenal against Wigan Athletic but Spurs lost to QPR the next weekend while a home draw with Norwich meant that a Tottenham win at Aston Villa would restore Spurs to third with a single point advantage going in to the final day's matches but Spurs could only manage to take a point from the relegation fearing team.
Adebayor's Disallowed Goals
If only one of those goals which were incorrectly disallowed for off-side against Emmanuel Adebayor had been given as they should have, Spurs would have had the point they required to be ahead of Arsenal at the end of the season. Against Stoke City, Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers, three games in a five week period that saw Adebayor denied a perfectly good goal as Spurs were on the wrong end of mistakes by the officials. "These things even themselves out over the course of a season" say some, but there's no evidence that it happened for Tottenham this year.
Caution v Ambition
Over a season, depending on circumstances, a team needs to take caution in its approach while at times it has to show an ambitious streak to take a gamble in the hope of gaining some reward. Looking at this aspect of Spurs play in two games when they got it wrong on both occasions. At the end of January Spurs went into added time against eventual Champions, Manchester City, level at two goals each. Spurs were in the ascendancy at this point and Benoit Assou-Ekotto had the option of cautiously allowing the ball to go out for a Spurs throw or playing it forward in an attempt to get a winning goal. He took the adventurous option but City collected the ball and started the move which led to a penalty award and a winning goal. Spurs lost out on a point and the extra two points helped City to their first title in forty four years.
In the penultimate match of the season Spurs were down to ten men against an Aston Villa team lacking any ambition as they tried to hold on to a point to rescue them from the outside chance of relegation. Spurs had just equalised but Harry Redknapp, on hearing that Newcastle United had lost their match, appeared to take the cautious approach and decide on safety first rather than make any positive substitutions in order to try for the win. In the final minute he brought on Scott Parker for Rafael Van der Vaart, a defensive move, rather than try to seek out the win, as he settled for the point. At the end of the season, the point gained made no difference but a win would have given Tottenham third place in the final reckonings. A defeat at Villa would also have seen Spurs finish fourth, with Newcastle unable to take any points from their final match.
A Winning Mentality
When Spurs were good they were very good and often won with ease, although without the instinct to go on and score the additional goals that were frequently there for the taking. On the other hand, when Spurs were going through their bad spell they never looked capable of rescuing the situation and there was an inevitability about the result. Spurs only gained 6 points during the season from a losing position while Arsenal were the masters of the comeback, winning an incredible 24 points from losing positions, including their remarkable turnaround against Spurs at The Emirates and another three points against West Bromwich Albion in the vital final game of the season. They managed late winners in three matches against Sunderland, Liverpool and Newcastle in February and March at the beginning of their revival in fortune.
It has been a memorable season for Tottenham and as Harry Redknapp says most people would have accepted this position at the beginning of the season and especially after the first two defeats to the Manchester clubs. Looking at the season as a whole, however, it would seem to have been one of missed opportunities. Having worked their way into such a strong position in mid-January that after defeating Everton they were level with United and three points behind City, they were being considered as title contenders. That, however, was as good as it got. In a season when United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, the traditional 'big four', were well below their usual standards, there was a golden opportunity for Spurs to have achieved much more, to have set down a marker that they could compete with the very best and so avoid the unsatisfactory situation of having to await the outcome of the Champions League Final to know their fate for next season. Unfortunately, this ending to the season causes an inevitable delay on forward planning for next season and allows time for uncertainty about progress, retaining players and possible new signings to develop.
'If only' scenarios could be played over endlessly but it's time to 'get over it' and 'move on' - next season's only twelve weeks away.