Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Spurs knock Villa off the Champions League track

AFP , BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND

Chelsea’s Michael Essien, center, comes under pressure from Manchester City’s Robinho, left, and Wayne Bridge during their Premier League match at Stamford Bridge in London, England, on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Aston Villa’s Champions League hopes suffered another setback on Sunday when they slumped to a 2-1 home defeat against Tottenham.

Villa manager Martin O’Neill whisked his players away to Dubai last week to recharge their batteries but they looked to be running on empty as goals from Jermaine Jenas and Darren Bent hammered a dent into Villa’s ambitions of a top four finish.

John Carew produced a late consolation but Villa have only secured two league wins on their own turf since December and the optimism that had been building so steadily towards the end of last year is evaporating with each passing week.

This damaging defeat leaves Villa in fifth place, with an inferior goal difference behind Arsenal, and O’Neill must be growing increasingly worried at the alarming transformation of his side. It was only a month ago that hopes of the title were being spoken of in hushed tones around this particular corner of the West Midlands but now even a fifth place finish is under threat.

It was sweet revenge for Spurs boss Harry Redknapp on his return to the ground where earlier this season he was hit by a coin thrown by a Villa supporter, while in charge of previous club Portsmouth.

“I’m bitterly disappointed,” O’Neill said. “It’s still possible for us to finish fourth, though recent form doesn’t suggest so. I genuinely believe we’re capable but more importantly the players feel that as well. It doesn’t look as if we can do it but we’ve got nine games to go and plenty of points to play for.”

Redknapp can smell survival.

“I think we’ll need another two wins to stay up but I’ve been delighted with the players. We’ve got 33 points from my 21 games and that is a very good return,” he said.

The first goal was always going to prove crucial. Neither of these sides had lost a league game this season in which they have opened the scoring.

And just as the masses of Villa fans in the giant Holte End began to bait Redknapp, they were swiftly silenced when the visitors took a fourth minute lead.

Aaron Lennon’s cross from the right caught Brad Friedel in two minds and the goalkeeper’s attempted punch went awry, presenting Jenas with a simple header from four yards.

“Champions League, you’re having a laugh,” was the inevitable taunt from the visiting supporters.

Redknapp wants to be in Villa’s position next season but his mission for this campaign is rather more humble, with Premier League survival his only remit. They were forced to weather a substantial storm after taking such an early lead with Didier Zokora enduring a nightmare afternoon at the hands of Ashley Young, the England international winger.

Young tormented Zokora for large spells in the first half, before the makeshift defender was put out of misery by being substituted, but just could not deliver the killer cross.

Stiliyan Petrov drilled over while Gareth Barry forced a smart reflex save from the mercurial Heurelho Gomes in the 12th minute.

Spurs finally carved out another opportunity two minutes before half-time when an excellent flicked pass from Jenas released Luka Modric in the area and the Croatian’s fierce shot was palmed away by Friedel.

But Villa’s frustrations only increased in injury time when Emile Heskey rose majestically to head Barry’s volleyed cross against the crossbar. Indeed, there was a sense of sheer disbelief that Villa had failed to make their complete dominance count.

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