It had always looked likely to be the run of games that would make or break Tottenham’s season.
For much of the campaign they have been the poster boys for all that was good and great about Premier League football.
Buoyed by the shrewd signings of Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor over the summer, Spurs embarked upon an 11 game unbeaten run which only came to an end in controversial fashion as Stoke claimed a fortunate 2-1 win at the Britannia Stadium in December.
Not to worry. Harry Redknapp and his swashbuckling band of merry men went another six games without losing once more.
They would extend that run to seven games before tasting defeat in the most heart breaking of fashions against Manchester City, but it was that seventh game which marked the beginning of the end for Spurs.
In the run that followed defeat against Stoke the bandwagon was well and truly rolling, dragging along Redknapp and plenty if his players along for the ride.
“We are on a real good run and if we continue the form that we are in now we will win the league.” Redknapp intoned late last year as the good times rolled, while Ledley King, Sandro and Jermain Defoe all echoed the sentiments of the man who looked capable of delivering Spurs’ first league crown in 51 years.
The height of the hysteria surrounding the north London outfit reached it’s peak somewhere between the 2-0 win over Norwich in December and their win in the rearrange fixture with Everton in early January.
William Gallas, a man with two league winners medals to his name from his time at Chelsea summoned memories of his days gone by when he told the Spurs dressing room after the win over David Moyes’ side: "We have a chance here. It's not beyond the realms of possibility. We are in there.”
The evidence was certainly there to suggest there was some substance to his claims. Aside from their excellent start to the season - their best since the ’61 double winning season – there was a new found resolve to Tottenham that carried them to victory where teams were once able to exploit any mental fragility in years gone by.
While early season wins against Liverpool and Arsenal were used as examples of Tottenham’s title credentials it was victory in games such as the 3-1 win over Fulham in November that made most sit up and notice.
This was a game where Fulham had an astonishing 26 shots on target and enjoyed the lion's share of possession but managed just one goal; Gareth Bale hailed his side’s ‘belief’ and ‘character’ afterwards while Joe Jordan, standing in for Redknapp who was recuperating from minor heart surgery put it down to the hard work invested by Redknapp since he took over in building ‘team-spirit’.
And there were more like the game at Craven Cottage. QPR’s strong second half showing at Loftus Road should have yielded a point while Sunderland and West Brom also felt as though they deserved more than they got. But they didn’t, and this was now a Tottenham team that looked the complete package.
For all the talk and suggestions they were ready after a three year rebuilding plan that took the north London side from the bottom of the table to the Champions League, hard proof was needed that they were the real deal and were capable of smashing the status-quo.
A run of games provided them with the opportunity to do just that. A baptism of fire that saw Spurs face five fellow members of the top seven (the last remaining team of the top seven, Chelsea, are their opponents later this month) in five weeks, handing them ample opportunity to claim a flagship win, preferably away from home, that would mark the start of something truly special.
However before that run were Spurs’ hopes were ultimately dashed, forewarning came courtesy of a home draw against Wolves.
Only two teams prior to the visit of Mick McCarthy’s side had travelled to White Hart Lane and walked away with points this season, Manchester City and Chelsea.
The game, following the win over Everton, came with the opportunity for Spurs to pull level on points with league leaders Manchester City and potentially move ahead of Manchester United in second place against a side struggling to keep their head above water at the wrong end of the table.
The 1-1 draw was devastating. Carrying the weight of public belief that they were, on form, the best side playing in England. Spurs struggled to muster much in the way of attacking intent; it marked the moment the tide that carried them to the precipice of a full-blown title tilt began to turn on them and drag them under.
Since then it has been a tale of controversy, bad fortune and even worse defending as any title ambitions they harboured dissipated into thin air.
The 5-0 win against Newcastle lifted hopes of a revival temporarily but crushing defeats against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United not only ended their title hopes but now put Redknapp’s hopes of becoming the ‘best side in London’ by finishing in third in real danger.
Injury and fate have evidently dealt them a cruel hand. Redknapp’s off the field distractions both in the court room and in the press will have entered the minds of his players no matter how much he protests.
In the run against the Premier League’s leading sides Redknapp has been shorn of the services of Rafael Van der Vaart, Scott Parker, Gareth Bale, Ledley King, Sandro, William Gallas at various stages.
Ultimately, most telling for Spurs was there lack of experience at the sharp end; tiny flaws in the games against both Manchester clubs saw them ruthlessly exposed while naivety saw a 2-0 lead squandered against Arsenal.
The fact also remains they are perhaps just a little short of quality at the back when the going got tough. Going forward both Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto have excelled but both were at fault for goals against Arsenal and Manchester United while Ledley King and Younes Kaboul's partnership has creaked as a man who personifies stability, Michael Dawson, watches on from the bench. Against Fulham, West Brom and Sunderland they repelled attacks; against the big boys, they couldn't keep the wall erect.
Nothing can take away from Tottenham’s achievements so far this season, which is far from over.
An F.A Cup quarter final spot beckons and securing Champions League football ahead of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea who all spent heavily in the last 18 months would be a real achievement.
Few teams manage to amalgamate style and substance into one potent mix and they have come closer than almost every side in the Premier League to doing just that - one or two shrewd signings at the back over next summer and the race will be on once more next year.
But come May, when all the awards and medals have been handed out and the dust has settled, no matter what the ultimate destination of Redknapp, there will always be the feeling that perhaps the 2011/12 campaign, the season that offered hope that a 51 year itch could be scratched, was the one that got away.
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