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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Defoe shines like a gem

Tottenham 1-1 Crystal Palace

It has been the season to be 'Jol-ly' for Tottenham fans, so the Premiership's form team and their goal poacher in chief had earned a visit from Soccernet's Insider.

The principle subject of our gaze in this game was a little man who goes by the name of Jermain Defoe. The rumours on the football grapevine continue to link the England marksman with a move to Chelsea when the transfer window opens on Saturday, but does he really justify a £20m price tag and a bloated profile to boot?

After all, this is a young man with much to prove. Having never claimed a single winner's medal, played European club football or sparked in a major international tournament, Defoe is an untested commodity in many ways, but when you get the chance to look at this brilliant forward in action, it is hard to doubt he is going to be something very special.

On a day when Tottenham were well below their best, they needed their star man to lift them from their slumber and he delivered in a grand manner with another polished and impressive display. It was not just his fine goal after 53 minutes that capped a display of supreme class as this was the performance of a striker who has it all.

With pace and power to go with quality touches and a clinical instinct to hit spectacular goals, Defoe was a constant nuisance to the Palace defence and they had no answer to his class.

Always a menace without being on the end of any clear cut chances in the first half, Defoe came to the party after the restart and his goal came with a warning for the Palace defence. His 52nd minute shot had struck the foot of Gabor Kiraly's right hand post and a minute later he was crashing a shot against the other post. This time, the ball spun back across the goal and into the back of the net.

He celebrated his 10th league goal of the season by racing the full length of the pitch to hug keeper Paul Robinson and after a half hearted display, it seemed the Spurs bandwagon would continue to roll as they targeted their sixth league win in succession.

It was a harsh turn of fate on Dowie's men and his anguish was evident to all of us in the press box at White Hart Lane. He did not sit down at any point in the match and lived every moment of his side's energetic performance, making movements to head and kick the ball throughout. The truth was if he had Defoe on his side, this game may have been over long before the break.

Hitting the target is a fundamental priority for any striker and Defoe follows that rule to the letter. Some of his efforts may be speculative and more than a little ambitious, but you do not win the lottery without buying a ticket and Tottenham's No.18 buys more than most.

His pace and skill is obvious, but it is only when you witness him at work in the flesh that his intelligent movement can be appreciated. He is still learning the game with each passing week and seems to have cured his problem of being caught offside with remarkable regularity, so the finished package is not far away.

As for Tottenham, they looked anything but being hailed as the finished package. Martin Jol has inspired a revival since his appointment as head coach, yet a good month does not banish the memory of decades of disappointment and building on their platform was the order of the day.

They never looked like finding the sort of gears that brought them 15 points from 15. It was as if Tottenham's players and fans expected to turn up for an enjoyable Christmas party, yet they should have gone into the break behind the eight ball. Andy Johnson had a goal ruled out by a linesman flag and then he managed to miss when given a free shot in the box from six yards out, with Robinson taking plenty of credit for a one handed paw to clear the danger.

Soccernet's plan of coming to this chilly corner of North London and assess the merits of Defoe and his pals seemed a little pointless after the first half as Martin Jol's men had done little more than hang onto the coat tails of one of the league's lesser lights.

Defoe's goal should have sparked them into life, but after a brief burst of attacking intent, Spurs went back into their shell, ignoring the fact that they had the outstanding player on their side and inviting Palace to fight their way back into the game. So when Andy Johnson spun a 25-yard shot beyond the reach of Paul Robinson to draw Palace level 12 minutes from time, it was hard to dispute their right to claim a point.

'We feel the manner of our first half performance meant we could and should have been two up,' stated Palace boss Dowie. 'There isn't much we could do with Defoe's goal. He is a special player and will score special goals. Could we have been tighter to him, maybe, but he is tough to stop at times.

'What pleased me was the response. We didn't deserve to be a goal behind, but we weathered the storm, fought back well and got what we deserved with AJ's goal at the end.'

Spurs coach Martin Jol had few excuses for his side's lacklustre display, but reserved some praise for Defoe. 'It was a typical goal from Jermain and he is a priceless player,' he stated. 'He always gets his shots on target could have scored two or three more today.

'But I accept it was not a great team performance. Even though Palace played well enough to win the game, we have to look at it as two dropped points because we have to win games like this at home.'

Defoe so nearly snatched the point away from them as he twisted and turned on the edge of the box in the final minute and fired a shot that took a deflection as it flew inches wide of the Palace goal. However, he couldn't carry his spluttering team to victory on his own

Dowie's men did not deserve such a kick in the teeth, but Defoe will feel he should have been a winner on a day when he proved, once again, to be a sparkling gem fit to be sold for the sort of money only Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich can afford.

MAN OF THE MATCH: JERMAINE DEFOE You have to hand him the plaudits as he still managed to shine in what was a woeful Tottenham display. He is too good for this team, but Spurs must do all they can to hang onto him in January.

FOOD WATCH: There was a time when a drop of soup and a pot of tea was all you could expect from this club, but how times have changed. A chicken curry was on offer for the meat eaters and a selection of pasta for those who prefer to something a little less chewy.

INSIDER QUESTION: The list of club dignitaries in the front of the matchday programme is common place, but how many times do you see an entry for club dentist? I'm sure Peter A. Rabin does an invaluable job.

YOU HAD TO LAUGH: With a matter of seconds gone, the ball pounded into the press box and managed to pick out the nose of Radio 5 Live's Eleanor Oldroyd. Her shocked expression brought a chuckle to all.

DEFOE VERDICT: If Wayne Rooney is worth £28m, then Tottenham should aim to secure a similar windfall if they opt to cash in on their prized asset. He looks better than Rooney and most of the Premiership just now and would be the final piece in Chelsea's title jigsaw.