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Apr 2, 2011

Spurs' goal drought continues

Perhaps Tottenham should have interpreted it as a warning. Maybe it was merely an unwanted reminder. Either way, the presence of Peter Ridsdale in the directors' box at the DW Stadium illustrated that success in the Champions League can be fleeting for the outsiders.

A decade ago, under the seemingly progressive and temporarily popular chairmanship of Ridsdale, Leeds were the bold adventurers in Europe, exceeding expectations, exciting onlookers and upsetting the established powers. As Tottenham prepare for their marquee clash against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu on Tuesday, the parallels are inexact but unhelpful. Leeds were semi-finalists in Europe's premier club competition, but one-season wonders. Spurs are quarter-finalists whose chances of another campaign are receding.

Comparisons only go so far - Ridsdale constructed Leeds on sand and the financial foundations soon gave way, while meltdown is implausible at White Hart Lane - but it was an inability to secure a second season of multi-million pound television revenues that sent Leeds spiralling into decline.

Tottenham, like Leeds then, have beaten AC Milan and drawn Real. Yet it is becoming ever more probable that to ensure an immediate return to the Champions League, they will have to win it. They are stationed in fifth place, the result of their inability to overcome their supposed inferiors. A quartet of fixtures against Blackpool, Wolves, West Ham and Wigan offered boundless possibilities, but brought little reward: three points, to be precise.

Typical Tottenham? Perhaps. The glamour clash might appeal to their sense of the occasion rather more. Even last season's fourth-place finish came in spite of unexpected setbacks. This was a potentially costly one, even if Harry Redknapp derived an unexpected benefit. "I think the Real Madrid scout has gone home scared stiff," he remarked. If lulling Real into a false sense of security was the aim, then Spurs may have succeeded.

Wigan are more likely to visit Brighton and Barnsley than the Bernabeu next season yet it was hard to dispute the view of their manager. "I think we edged it," Roberto Martinez said. If anything, that downplayed it, as the three clearest chances of the game all fell Wigan's way.

Michael Dawson executed an outstanding block to thwart Hugo Rodallega while Heurelho Gomes tipped away a fine effort from Tom Cleverley and held his nerve in a late one-on-one with Conor Sammon. "He had a great afternoon," Martinez added. "Tom Cleverley's shot; that was a world-class save."

In comparison, Tottenham were uncharacteristically muted. With Gareth Bale injured and Aaron Lennon benched for three-quarters of the game, Redknapp adopted a new tactical ploy. "I just decided to go with [Rafael] Van der Vaart and [Luka] Modric coming in off the line to play in the holes. I thought we could cause them some problems but we didn't really."

It deprived Tottenham of width and became, effectively, 4-2-2-2, the formation beloved of Brazilians but used rather less frequently elsewhere. Spurs' quasi-samba stars were unconvincing, while the Brazilians to impress did so defensively, Sandro anchoring the midfield in a manner that led Martinez to describe his display as "phenomenal" and Gomes sparing his side defeat from between the sticks.

Instead, the consequence was back-to-back 0-0 draws. Tottenham are fast becoming a contradiction: admired for their adventurous spirit and attacking style but strangely goal-shy. It is a surprising statistic that both West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool have outscored them.

It can be simplistic to blame the strikers alone if a supply line is non-existent. Yet that is not the case at Tottenham and forward failings account for the drought. Peter Crouch was the most threatening in a cameo appearance, but his domestic return is woeful: two goals in 28 games; Jermain Defoe was anonymous and remains stranded on 99 goals for the club; Roman Pavlyuchenko was more involved but rarely a danger. Collectively, they have a mere 11 league goals, a sum Defoe had comfortably exceeded on his own 12 months ago.

Martinez credited his charges, saying: "Defensively the whole team kept Spurs very, very quiet." Yet he should be able to empathise: it is the absence of a clinical touch that ensures Wigan prop up the league.

The relentlessly positive Spaniard often has the air of a man who hasn't looked at the league table all season, but amid the praise for his players, he recognised the need for results. "We have to be realistic," he added. "We are in a position where we are [trying to] catch up."

So are Spurs. The Championship may beckon for one and the Champions League might not for the other, but time is running out.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ben Watson - A man who didn't initially figure in Martinez's plans has become a key member of the side. He and James McCarthy limited the space available to Modric and Van der Vaart and combined effectively.

WIGAN VERDICT: In many ways, it was an all too typical performance. Impressive on the ball, they possess a level of creativity that should be the envy of others. But the lack of a regular goalscorer explains why they have drawn too many games in which they have played well. With five of their last seven games away from home, their six-year stay in the top flight seems to be nearing an end.

TOTTENHAM VERDICT: As Redknapp admitted, they didn't play well. If the strikers have underperformed all season, the problem is that the catalysts are either absent or off their game. Van der Vaart endured perhaps his most anonymous display for the club and it was unsurprising he was substituted. The popular perception is that football is a 90-minute game. Not for the Dutchman, however: he has only completed the 90 minutes on eight of his 27 matches for Spurs.

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