Tottenham Hotspur, with tiring legs and limited options, stumbled again yesterday as they rounded the final bend of an exhausting season.
They needed a Gylfi Sigurdsson equaliser with three minutes left to rescue a draw which left them still in fourth place in the Premier League but precariously so. Chelsea are ahead, Arsenal close behind and, on the evidence of this performance, Everton will continue to fight too.
Spurs fans may sense worrying echoes of last season’s late collapse, but their manager Andre Villas-Boas insisted: “We don’t look at ghosts in the past.”
This was a game entirely befitting the stakes, with everything anyone could ever want from a Premier League match. There was an early goal, a controversial goal, a brilliant goal and a late goal. Both sides held the lead.
The football was quick, tense, muscular and competitive; there was even a contested drop-ball.Given the timing of their second goal, Spurs could not be too disappointed with their point. But, having lost their last home league game, a win was really required.
“It is important for us to salvage a point because, against teams who fight for the same objectives, the only thing you cannot do is lose,” Villas-Boas said. “It was a good performance but not the result that we wanted.”
Spurs, after Thursday’s 2-2 draw with Basle, have now struggled at home twice in four days. There is a real sense, though Villas-Boas denied it, that there is not an awful lot left in the tank, with the midfield pair of Scott Parker and Mousa Dembélé increasingly weary.
This was Tottenham’s first game since the injuries to Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale and they were desperately short of pace and width for much of the afternoon. It is banal to say Spurs missed Bale but, as they trailed for 34 second-half minutes, they looked like a side waiting to be saved by their heroic No 11.
There was a lanky, explosive winger with that number on his back and he scored a brilliant goal, but it was Kevin Mirallas and he was playing in blue. Mirallas, like every other Everton player, performed with courage and focus. He also provided the game’s singular moment of quality, eight minutes into the second half.Mirallas received the ball from Victor Anichebe, who was unplayable throughout, just inside Spurs’ half on the right. He breezed past Parker, cut inside Steven Caulker, went back outside Caulker and shot low across keeper Hugo Lloris and into the far bottom corner to put Everton 2-1 up.
“Mirallas scored a Gareth Bale goal,” said the Everton manager, David Moyes. “He scored one the other week against Stoke too. Or maybe Gareth Bale’s been scoring Kevin Mirallas goals.”
Everton had done well to pull themselves back into the game after conceding after just 35 seconds. Spurs were keen to impose themselves quickly and scored with their first movement, Emmanuel Adebayor connecting with Jan Vertonghen’s perfectly curled cross from the left wing.
But just four weeks after their evisceration at home by Wigan Athletic, Everton have rediscovered their essence and even without Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini they got straight back up. “It was great credit to the players they never buckled after the first goal,” said Moyes.
Phil Jagielka headed in their equaliser, clambering over Vertonghen at the far post from Leighton Baines’s corner. Once level, Everton were far tighter, with Jonny Heitinga and Darron Gibson working hard in midfield. Dembélé, Clint Dempsey and Lewis Holtby shot wide from distance late in the first half but Spurs could not create anything better.
Everton started the second half stronger and, once ahead, they defended their lead smartly. Tim Howard turned a Dembélé shot onto the bar but Everton could repel most of what Spurs might throw at them. The home crowd was anxious and when Dembélé was taken off for Tom Huddlestone they were far from impressed.
It was left to Kyle Walker, taking responsibility and finally providing some width, to bring Spurs’ equaliser. With three minutes left he burst past Baines down the right and swung in a cross. Dempsey left it, Adebayor controlled and shot against the post, Sigurdsson tapped in the rebound.
Bookings: Tottenham Dempsey. Everton Mirallas.
Man of the match Anichebe.
Match rating 9/10.
Possession: Tottenham 62%. Everton 38%.
Attempts on target: Tottenham 7. Everton 4.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands).
Race for top four: Key encounters
16: Arsenal v Everton
After a good weekend for Wenger’s men, Arsenal could put more pressure on Spurs, who do not play again until the following week.
21: Liverpool v Chelsea
Liverpool would slip out of contention with a defeat, while a Chelsea win would ease their concerns.
4: Liverpool v Everton
The Merseyside derby could be pivotal, though a battle for a Europa League spot is more probable.
TBC: Tottenham v Chelsea
The rearranged fixture may be decisive in the race for fourth.
Newcastle v Arsenal
Chelsea v Everton
Tottenham v Sunderland
Liverpool v QPR