Tottenham Hotspur’s challenge for the Premier League title gathered pace as a 2-0 win over Everton moved the north Londoners within three points of leaders Manchester City on Wednesday.
Harry Redknapp’s side are now level on points with second-placed Manchester United and hot on City’s heels after goals from Aaron Lennon and Benoit Assou-Ekotto shattered Everton’s resistance at White Hart Lane.
England winger Lennon opened the scoring in the first half and Cameroon leftback Assou-Ekotto sealed the points with a majestic strike after the break.
Spurs — now nine points ahead of fifth-placed local rivals Arsenal — have lost only one of their last 18 league games and must be regarded as genuine contenders for the English title for the first time in more than 20 years.
“We’re up there,” Redknapp told Sky Sports. “Who knows? Nothing’s impossible, you have to keep believing, and apart from that I enjoy the way we play. If you don’t enjoy the way we play, then you shouldn’t be watching football.”
This fixture was originally scheduled for the opening day of the season in August, but it was postponed as a result of the London riots, presenting Tottenham with a valuable game in hand on their title rivals.
After decades without even a sniff of a challenge at the top of the table, it was a real test of Tottenham’s mettle and they passed it with flying colors.
There was an early sign of nerves when Spurs defender Younes Kaboul made a hash of clearing Landon Donovan’s cross and Louis Saha pounced on the loose ball, only to drag his shot just wide, but that narrow escape seemed to focus Redknapp’s players and they enjoyed almost total control of possession for the rest of the first half.
The hosts probed intelligently and should have been ahead after Rafael van der Vaart started a blistering counterattack with an incisive pass to Gareth Bale.
Bale’s clipped ball presented Emmanuel Adebayor with a clear sight of goal, but he miscued his attempt to flick over Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and the chance was gone.
Tottenham were pressing hard and Adebayor poked a half-chance wide from close range, before van der Vaart’s superb first-time effort from 20m curled just over.
Everton were beginning to wobble and some sloppy defending from Leighton Baines unhinged the visitors as Spurs took the lead in the 35th minute.
When Assou-Ekotto swept a long pass toward Lennon on the right flank, Baines should have snuffed out the danger. Instead, the leftback allowed Lennon to wriggle past him and the winger took full advantage as he cut into the area and evaded Sylvain Distin, before clipping a cool finish past Howard for his fourth goal of the season.
Bale showed his lung-bursting speed five minutes into the second half when he surged toward the Everton penalty area from deep inside his own half and drilled a shot that Howard did well to save after a deflection off Johnny Heitinga.
Everton had a rare sight of goal when Marouane Fellaini headed over from Donovan’s cross, but the visitors suffered a blow when French centerback Distin limped off to be replaced by the inexperienced Shane Duffy.
There was no time for Duffy to settle before Spurs increased their lead in sublime style in the 63rd minute.
Assou-Ekotto appeared to pose little threat when he received van der Vaart’s pass 30m from goal, but the leftback advanced unchecked, before smashing a ferocious drive that glanced off Tim Cahill as it flashed past Howard.