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Jan 31, 2012

Wigan provide a welcome distraction

Training your focus on Harry Redknapp has generally been a decent pastime on transfer deadline day down the years and the Tottenham manager is unlikely to forget what may prove to be his final such occasion as a club boss.

As he continues the fight to clear his name in a tax fraud court case that could well dictate whether he becomes England chief next summer, last-minute additions to his squad and a vital Premier League fixture were thrown into the mix for a visibly exhausted Redknapp.

It is quite a workload for a man approaching pensionable age and who underwent heart surgery a few weeks ago, yet as he finally got time to draw breath on a hectic final day of January, Redknapp could reflect on a victory against Wigan that has unlocked the door to his prime ambition for 2012.

While Tottenham's title challenge may have suffered a fatal blow in their unfortunate defeat against league leaders Manchester City in the last round of league matches, Redknapp's stated aim all season has been a top four finish and that target moved a giant step closer on this bitterly cold North London night.

Chelsea's late leveller at Swansea may have brought cries of despair from Spurs fans who were hoping to open up an eight-point gap on their nearest rivals in the race for a top three finish, but their advantage over Andre Villas-Boas's team and local foes Arsenal is now substantial enough to feel confident that Champions League football will be returning to the Lane next season.

This game felt like a Redknapp testimonial in many ways as Tottenham's shivering supporters did their bit to warm the chilled heart of their troubled manager by constantly chanting his name throughout this one-side contest, with the regular acknowledgments from Redknapp in the direction of his adoring public confirming he appreciates their support in his hour of need. "The fans were great to me tonight and it meant a lot to me," he later confirmed.

Such affection is well-placed as Redknapp has transformed the mindset of this club during his three years as Spurs chief, with this victory against a Wigan side who were outclassed from start to finish never in doubt once Gareth Bale and Luka Modric established a two-goal advantage for the home side inside the first 34 minutes.

The aura of class Redknapp has helped to instil during his time at the helm means games such as this are no longer the banana skin their once used to be for a Tottenham side who tend bully modest opposition into submission with arrogant ease and thus was the case once more as the always impressive Bale led their charge to another three point haul on home soil.

As the only Premier League player named in UEFA's Team of 2011, Bale could lay claim to being the finest player currently plying his trade in this most celebrated of domestic championships. From start to finish, Wigan had no answer to his pace and power every time he touched the ball and his goals after 23 and 63 minutes were clinical pieces of work from this magnificent footballer.

The win was enough to lighten the gloom that has been hovering over Redknapp in recent days and as he made a surprise appearance in front of the media his familiar charm shone through once more. "It was great to get on my feet and walk around a bit tonight as I've been doing a lot of sitting down the last few days," he quipped, referring to his courtroom battle.

"Yeah, it's been a hectic day one way and the other, but winning this match was all important. I look at the 13-point gap we have on Arsenal and the seven point gap on Chelsea and it is looking good for us. With Manchester City losing, I suppose we are back in the title race as well, but I'm still looking to keep teams behind us if we are being honest.

"We have picked up a few injuries tonight and that is a concern. Rafael Van der Vaart has done his calf again, Manu Adebayor has tweaked his hamstring and Kyle Walker has picked up a knock as well. Still, we have a good squad here and they will all play their part now."

James McArthur's consolation for Wigan came as Spurs struggled to maintain their concentration late on the visitors even had chances to add a second goal, but such gloss would merely have served to flatter Roberto Martinez's well-beaten side.

"We were not good enough in the first half and made it far too easy for Tottenham ad Gareth Bale in particular to enjoy his football," said the Wigan boss. "You could see the difference when we started to play as we should do in the second half as we had chances and pushed Spurs back, but the game was gone by then."

That Spurs won this game without even needing to shift out of second gear and with classy players such as Aaron Lennon, Michael Dawson, Sandro and Steven Pienaar not needing to flex their legs confirmed a freshly-installed powerhouse of London football are here to stay.

Amid all his troubles, architect Harry Redknapp can take much of the credit for their stunning rise.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Gareth Bale

The Welsh wizard is no longer merely a wing raider as he came inside time and again to torment Wigan. He was far too good for them to handle.

BAD HAIR DAY: Spurs full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto clearly felt the best way to combat the sub-zero London temperatures was to sport an explosion of a haircut that was a wild as it was ridiculous.

MARTINEZ MOANS: Wigan boss Roberto Martinez suggested Assou-Ekotto should have been sent off for a late challenge on Franco Di Santo, while he insisted Premier League games should not be scheduled for transfer deadline day.

WIGAN VERDICT: Tottenham's faltering concentration allowed Wigan a minor flourish late in this game, but they looked like relegation fodder for most of this game. It is hard to see them getting enough points to beat the odds and survive the drop once again.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: A host of circumstances will dictate whether Redknapp stays in charge to add the finishing touches to this Tottenham project, but with a new training ground opening later this year and a sparkling new stadium edging ever closer, it seems as if the London football landscape has a new top dog.

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