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Updated: March 7, 2006
Glory, glory or same old story?Norman Hubbard
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The balance of power in North London may be changing. Arsenal, a fixture in the top two over the past eight seasons, lie fifth, one place behind Tottenham. But are Spurs really the season's surprise package - or not even fulfilling their potential?

Overachievers?

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Martin Jol: Adding consistency to English football's serial underachievers.Alone among the seven clubs who are ever-presents in the Premiership, Tottenham have never finished in the top six. Spending much of the campaign in fourth place, therefore, already has novelty value. Martin Jol's side are on course for their best league finish for almost two decades.

Despite Spurs' status among, historically, the big five, underachievement and unpredictability have been regular features of past seasons. This year, in contrast, they have only been beaten five times, a record bettered by just the top two teams. Under Jol, they have discovered the consistency that previously eluded them.

Indeed, the likeable Jol is affecting a radical transformation in the club's reputation. In-fighting - apart from a training ground bust-up that Edgar Davids contrived to present as constructive - has been consigned to the past.

Tottenham, once a lucrative last post for the injury-prone and the retiring, has become a byword for burgeoning talent. Davids apart, it is a team brimming with youth and conspicuously lacking the senior citizens favoured by George Graham and Glenn Hoddle.

So Spurs, whatever their achievements this season, may have also laid the foundations for a spell of sustained success. Unlike the other ambitious teams emerging from mid-table, they have assembled a core of players - including Ledley King, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Paul Robinson and Mido - who the quartet who have become accustomed to dominating English football could conceivably covet.

And Tottenham are making a persuasive case to patriots. Five Spurs players finished England's friendly against Uruguay. Four others - Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone, Wayne Routledge and Aaron Lennon - have played for the Under-21 team this season.

Yet of those nine, only Defoe and Jermaine Jenas cost more than £4 million. Chequebook management is an accusation that has dogged many a successful side but, after their January sales, Spurs' net outlay over the last 12 months is around £5 million (a fondness for undisclosed fees makes it difficult to be more exact).

A lofty league position is, in part, a reflection of the flowering of individual talents; for at least half a dozen Tottenham players, this must equate to their finest season to date.

The nomadic Mido finally looks settled - a triumph for Jol's management - and as capable a target man as the Premiership possesses; Robbie Keane is allying magical touches to consistent top-flight goalscoring; Lennon's jinking solo runs and sudden bursts of acceleration have made his acclimatisation to the Premiership a swift and happy process; Carrick, living proof that Jol's regime is preferable to that of the unlamented Jacques Santini, is very much a rarity, a playmaker at the base of the midfield; Dawson's dominance in the air and understanding with King could have brought a World Cup call-up but for England's enviable strength in the centre of defence.


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Robbie Keane, having perhaps his best season at Spurs, scored two against Blackburn on Sunday.Either side of that central defensive pair, Jol's recruitment of two full backs made few headlines outside Canada and South Korea, but Paul Stalteri and Lee Young-Pyo have responded to their attacking brief with verve.


And, as Everton discovered last year, fourth is the realistic summit of the ambitions of much of the Premiership, only heightening the competition to be best of the rest.

Clubs who know Chelsea are uncatchable target the team in fourth, because of the promise of wealth it offers. Breaking the cartel, as Alan Pardew has described it, of those who enter the Champions League on an annual basis, should not be underestimated. And Tottenham are on course to do that.
Underachievers?
Arsenal are not Tottenham's only cause for concern in the battle for fourth.

They are only six points ahead of Blackburn and just seven clear of West Ham and Bolton, who have one and two games in hand respectively; win those and the table will make much less comfortable reading at White Hart Lane. The Lancastrian upstarts and the insurgents from the East End, moreover, have smaller squads constructed with lesser budgets.

All have had lengthier seasons, too. Cup exits to Grimsby and Leicester were not merely embarrassing - especially as Jol fielded virtually a first-choice side in both matches - but a reason why Spurs should prosper in the Premiership, unaffected by fatigue or fitness problems commensurate with lengthy cup runs.

Indeed, while injuries have crippled Newcastle and Arsenal, Spurs have escaped relatively unscathed. While others consult medical bulletins before finalising the teamsheet, Tottenham have had a surfeit of potential substitutes.

But among them, the trio who grasped at the short straw of a transfer to Portsmouth, Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes and Noe Pamarot, had cause for complaint in their limited opportunities. Andy Reid and Wayne Routledge have been other underachievers this year.

Still more wasteful is the presence of Defoe on that list; accommodating both his finest finisher and the impish Keane has proved beyond Jol.

Yet Defoe, at his clinical best, could have given Tottenham a greater cushion in fourth place.

That they have drawn 10 times so far this season is an indication they lack a ruthless streak. So, too, was a run of one win in six games before overcoming Blackburn on Sunday.

Chances to pull away from the chasing pack were squandered, especially at Sunderland, where the bottom club were presented with an equaliser. Jol's squad rotation backfired horribly at West Brom, another winnable away game; conviction, in some key games, has deserted them.

An allegation long levelled against Tottenham - that their football is pretty but ultimately ineffective - may be endorsed by a glance at their scorers; for all their passing ability, only Jenas of the midfielders has mustered more than one goal.

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Arsenal's young team remains the greatest threat to Spurs' holy grail of 4th place.And if Tottenham owe fourth place to an unforeseen meltdown in Arsenal's Premiership form, their closest rivals have the chance to reclaim it.


The Gunners, so fragile on their travels, play six of their last 10 games at home; Spurs, only beaten once at White Hart Lane, play six more away games.

And ultimately, the final league table will determine the verdict on Spurs' season. Finish fourth and enter the Champions League and it will be an unqualified achievement.

Fifth or sixth would be a Premiership best and bring European football, albeit qualified by thoughts of the Champions League place that was there for the taking.

Any lower, and Tottenham will have flattered to deceive. Again.

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