By Greg Stobart at White Hart Lane
Just when Tottenham appeared to be running out of ideas and heading towards a rare goalless draw against Swansea, they found a way to break the visitors’ stubborn resistance and reclaim a spot in the Champions League places.
For all the pretty passing on display, it was a a simple set-piece that decided the game 15 minutes from time, summer signing Jan Vertonghen sweeping home a half-volley from Kyle Walker’s free kick.
It was a victory Spurs deserved, but it was hard fought. After working throughout the week on his side’s concentration, manager Andre Villas-Boas was relieved his men avoided their habit of conceding in the final 10 minutes, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris coming to the rescue with a late punch that left Swansea forward Michu seeing stars.
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Ask Sir Alex Ferguson about his approach to matches in December and the Manchester United manager will tell you that his focus is all on grinding results out as the fixtures come thick and fast during the festive period.
Tottenham have struggled at times this season in this sort of game, losing at home to Wigan and drawing with Norwich and West Brow. This time they found a route to victory, putting Michael Laudrup’s men off their game with high pressing.
The chances came but never did it seem obvious that Spurs would break the deadlock, Villas-Boas praising the “patience and persistence” of his team as they moved level on points with third-placed Chelsea, still 13 points behind leaders Manchester United.
While the fight for the Premier League title is already a two-horse race, Spurs will now sense a real opportunity to create some daylight between themselves and the pack during the holiday season.
The north London side have won five of their last six and now face a run of winnable matches against Stoke, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Reading and QPR before they host Manchester United on January 20.
Given the problems at some of their rivals for the top four - not least London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea - Spurs will fancy their chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, especially if they are able to add reinforcements in the January transfer window.
Another encouraging sign for Villas-Boas will be the fact his side were able to win without star man Gareth Bale, creating chances and having 24 shots on the Swansea goal while dominating possession.
The return of Scott Parker from a long-term ankle injury as a second-half substitute also provided a welcome boost, and the Spurs squad is suddenly looking far stronger as the likes of Bale, Michael Dawson and Benoit Assou-Ekotto also prepare for comebacks against Stoke next weekend.
Villas-Boas has constantly reiterated that this is a new team and that it will take time for the players to get used to not only his ideas, but playing with each other. But the next month provides a real opportunity for Spurs to show this will not just be a transitional season, but a chance to reclaim a place in the Champions League.
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