Spurs play out thriller with Wolves as Milan wait
Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Tottenham Hotspur 3: United in mourning for the late Dean Richards before the match, Wolves and Tottenham could still not be separated at the end of a richly entertaining encounter.
Kevin Doyle and Jermain Defoe each scored twice in a 21-minute spell before Roman Pavlyuchenko looked to have clinched the points for Harry Redknapp's team. A late goal by substitute Steven Fletcher gave Wolves the draw they deserved.
Spurs were fortunate, however, not to have played the final 49 minutes with 10 men, Alan Hutton receiving the benefit of negligible doubt and incurring only a yellow card after bringing down Nenad Milijas for the penalty which Doyle converted. It looked a textbook case of a defender preventing a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Redknapp maintained he could not see the incident clearly from the touchline, yet accepted that "if Hutton pulled his arm, he's very lucky not to have been sent off". The Spurs manager was torn between the "positives" – which included three "fantastic goals" by his front two and a storming cameo from Gareth Bale on his return – and irritation at poor defending.
Bale showed no reaction after his back injury, making two of his trademark surges with the ball, and Redknapp saw no reason why he should not be in contention to face Milan at White Hart Lane on Wednesday. Spurs, of course, are fighting on two fronts, to stay in the Champions League and to return to it next season. This result means they stay fifth, but the Tottenham manager saw the potential for major twists and turns, suggesting Arsenal were now favourites to win the title; that Chelsea could not be ruled out; and that he saw fourth place as being between his side and Manchester City.
His opposite number, Mick McCarthy, was "happy" with parity, even though Wolves are still second from bottom. "There was nothing we could do about their first two goals, but their third is our own gross stupidity," he said, bemoaning slack defending. "It looks like being a high number of points to stay up, but with that spirit and commitment I still think we'll do it."
Wolves went ahead with the opening half approaching its midway point. Milijas, swung in a corner which was cleared and fed back to the Serb by Karl Henry. When the ball was returned, Doyle benefited from loose marking to score with a header.
Then came a long-range extravaganza by Defoe, a player renowned more for his fox-in-the-box attributes. His equaliser, curled past Wayne Hennessey from 22 yards, was the striker's first Premier League goal in 323 days; indeed his first this season.
The second, five minutes later, was the reward for a strong run from his own half. Reaching the 18-yard area he fed the ball to Luka Modric, who was challenged by Stephen Ward. Unexpectedly regaining possession, Defoe bent the ball over Hennessey for his 99th Premier League goal.
The pivotal moment came when Milijas, following up six yards from goal after Doyle's shot was charged down, tumbled as he was tugged from behind by Hutton. Doyle's spot-kick was assured, the right-back's continued presence on the pitch a mystery.
Home indignation gave way to exasperation as Pavlyuchenko blasted his seventh goal of the season from 16 yards to put Spurs ahead again after the break. The emotion intensified when Milijas saw Heurelho Gomes turn his 65th-minute shot behind via the far post. Then, in keeping with the way the action lurched from end to end, outrage took over as Mark Halsey spotted a foul on Gomes when Richard Stearman bundled in Milijas' free-kick with what Wolves saw as a fair aerial challenge. "Definite foul," said Redknapp. "Poor decision," argued McCarthy. It was that kind of game.
Still the mood swings kept coming. There was anguish for Spurs when the width of a post denied Defoe a hat-trick and goal No 100 with six minutes left. And relief became rapture for Wolves with three minutes remaining, Matt Jarvis' cross finding Fletcher rising between Michael Dawson and William Gallas. The Scot's well-directed header ensured a measure of justice.