By Ewan Roberts
Twice Tottenham went behind at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, twice they fought back to level the scores. For the home fans it was a rare site indeed: an Andre Villas-Boas-led team fighting for their manager - and a far cry from the limp and meagre performances once phoned in while the Portuguese was in charge at Chelsea.
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Tottenham, led up front by an inspired Emmanuel Adebayor, looked hungrier than their opponents, even flooding forward in search of a winner in the closing stages. The work rate was phenomenal and, for once, Spurs did not rely on multiple Player of the Year Gareth Bale, but instead it was a collective team performance that saw the side leave west London with a point.
The side scrapped and fought, dug in when they needed to and burst forward with speed when the situation required. Their heads never dropped. Adebayor's resurgence, a player who has been roundly criticised by everyone except his protective manager, typified the work rate and attitude. If Spurs were to lose to Chelsea, if they were to lose out on Champions League football, they would at least go down swinging, fighting for their Portuguese bannerman.
How different Villas-Boas' Tottenham is to the Chelsea he left just over a year ago. The atmosphere then was poisonous, both in the stands and the dressing room, as poor form and a lack of support from his players ended his promising tenure at the Blues prematurely.
So much had been made of the Portuguese's return in the build-up to the match, with Villas-Boas alluding to the lack of support he received from dressing room power brokers – not least Frank Lampard, who was dropped for Wednesday's tie in favour of the youth and exuberance of David Luiz and Ramires.
How Villas-Boas must have dreamt of leaving his old and ill-fated stomping ground with a win, a two-fingered salute to the players and fans that had given him so little time to prove his worth, but instead what he left with was something even more galling for Chelsea: a vision of what might have been had he only he been given a chance.
While the travelling support were filling Stamford Bridge with a cacophony of noise, singing for their manager – though, admittedly, things have not always been so rosy on their own turf – the home crowd were still booing interim boss Rafa Benitez, jeering his substitutions.
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The Tottenham players fought for their Portuguese manager in a way that the Chelsea squad never did, the Spurs fans sung for him with an affection the Blues support never allowed to foster.
For Chelsea there's a continued sense that this is a club still on the precipice of transition, not quite ready to leap in head first. Villas-Boas was not given the backing required to enact the overhaul, Roberto Di Matteo was ruthlessly dispatched and Benitez has been vilified and attacked since the moment he arrived at the club.
The difference between Chelsea and Tottenham was stark. The north London side are pulling in the right direction, united. There's a burgeoning identity and soul at the club that Chelsea have yet to nurture – and you suspect won't exist until the return of Jose Mourinho.
But Spurs would do well to learn from Chelsea's errors. Far too often at White Hart Lane this season there have been moans of discontent and boos of disapproval. Tottenham are building something, rallying behind Villas-Boas, whereas Chelsea are ever-so-slightly treading water, no longer in the title equation, but waiting expectantly for the Special One.
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