The feeling of relief that surrounded Tottenham after their exertions in the warm west London sunshine following a month of darkness at White Hart Lane was palpable.
It may not have been the most ambitious, sweeping gesture in Spurs’ roller-coaster ride of a season but the 0-0 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge represented something of a breakthrough moment as they go in search of not just Champions League football but confirmation they have shaken free their reputation as flat-track bullies.
Both Harry Redknapp and Gareth Bale were adamant that the draw with Chelsea which helped Spurs maintain their five point advantage over the Blues with eight games of the season remaining, would prove to be a turning point after a run which saw the north London club sacrifice third place to rivals Arsenal.
“The lads all know we have stopped the rot now. I think we’ve had our blip and can get back where we belong,” said Bale after the game, while Redknapp remained adamant that he still has his sights on Arsenal, four points above Spurs in the league table.
"It can all change. We've got to keep picking up results," he added sagely, although his assertion that his side need to ‘keep picking up results’ after a disastrous run of form needs to be questioned.
Redknapp and Bale’s sunny optimism was understandable despite the fact neither were part of a Spurs team to taste success at Stamford Bridge for the first time in over 20 years – Tottenham’s recent slump has been as damaging as it has been baffling.
Since their rampant 5-0 win over Newcastle back in February – their first game following both Redknapp’s acquittal and Fabio Capello’s resignation as England boss – Spurs, previously care-free in their attacking intent, seized up and have failed to win a league game since.
Three straight defeats followed that game, the most damaging of which came in quick succession as they squandered a two goal lead against rivals Arsenal to go down 5-2 before they outplayed Manchester United only to succumb 3-1 to the champions elect.
Perhaps the low point of the run followed those three defeats and came with the draw at White Hart Lane against Stoke. A 1-0 loss against Everton the week before was palatable – both Manchester City and Chelsea have left Goodison Park with their tale between their legs of late – but at home against a tiring Stoke side coming off the back of an F.A Cup tie against Liverpool, panic set in.
“We stopped playing, stopped passing, stopped probing, when we needed to be patient,” admitted Redknapp afterwards.
"If you look the best sides, sides like Barcelona, they don't suddenly start lumping it with five minutes to go, they play until they get an opening and we went away from that.”
Although Rafael Van der Vaart saved their blushes with a late stooping header, the game marked the point where Redknapp could hide behind his straight bat approach of pointing to his side’s performances to deny any notion of a slump.
Against United and Everton the pretty patterns remained (although their tempo and direct approach may have still been absent) but their performance against Stoke was toothless, and left Potters boss Tony Pulis ruing a missed opportunity to walk away with three points from the Lane.
With Arsenal hitting their straps at the right time, Spurs’ problems seemed exacerbated and exposed. Chelsea’s purple patch with Roberto di Matteo at helm only made matters worse.
And then came the game at Stamford Bridge. It would be a mistake to presume a solid point on the road against a top four rival represents a clean slate for Spurs and their battered confidence; their first half effort gave the impression of a side devoid of any notion of how to play as they have done for much of the season.
But as their shadows grew longer and Chelsea turn-tailed and ran in the second half, there was a growing confidence that something had changed and there was still plenty left in the tank for Spurs.
Bale, fairly anonymous in the first stanza started causing danger for the Blues while the sight of Luka Modric creaking into life in the middle of the pitch having been deployed on the wing of late was one to make Lilywhite hearts flutter.
Eight games remain of this Premier League season and there is no doubt Redknapp’s men have an easier run in than Arsenal above them; the Gunners play hosts to Manchester City and Chelsea in April while also travelling to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke.
Chelsea have by no means an easy time of it either with the game against Arsenal swiftly followed by a trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool.
Tottenham don't exactly have it easy in their last eight games and their trip to Sunderland next month looks particularly treacherous, but they project the image of a team that have faced their last great challenge of the season and emerged from it with their ambitions, and crucially their five point advantage, in tact. Perhaps that, above all else, is the greatest source of the relief felt by Redknapp and his men.
There are of course complications along the way. Their F.A Cup tie against Bolton this evening will likely prove tricky for more than just footballing reasons as they come face to face with their opponents on the day Fabrice Muamba collapsed.
Chelsea meanwhile will have their energy sapped as they continue to fly the lonely flag for English football in European competition with their Champions League quarter final tie against Benfica.
For now though there has been a weight lifted, at least partially, from Spurs and they can start to look forward once more after a period of introspection and doubt.
Redknapp maintains there will be ‘plenty of twists and turns’ to come in the final chapters of another gripping season and he is correct – it's just now the Spurs faithful will have renewed optimism of enjoying the ride they bring.
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