Tottenham Hotspur regained third place in the English Premier League as they were forced to settle for a point in a goalless draw away to Sunderland yesterday.
Harry Redknapp’s side lead Arsenal by a single point in the race for the final automatic Champions League qualifying spot, though their North London rivals can leapfrog the White Hart Lane club by avoiding defeat against Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium today.
Spurs, who at one stage enjoyed a 10-point advantage over the Gunners, look to have the easier run-in on paper in their remaining six games.
A point at a venue where Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool have been beaten this season isn’t a bad return for Spurs, but it leaves them with just one victory in seven league games.
It might have been different, but for a late goal-line clearance from Michael Turner to deny Rafael van der Vaart, after the Dutchman latched on to a pass from substitute Aaron Lennon. Replays showed the Sunderland defender used a hand to help keep the ball out, in a let-off for the hosts.
Redknapp threw on forwards Louis Saha and Jermain Defoe in search of a first away league win since December last year, but the visitors couldn’t find a way past the dogged hosts.
Chances were at a premium before the break as the contest failed to spark into life, Tottenham carving out the best of what few opportunities there were from two unchanged lineups.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto fired narrowly wide from long-distance after being set-up by Scott Parker and a shot on turn from Luka Modric 18 yards out saw a comfortable save from Simon Mignolet.
Both sides had half-hearted handball penalty claims turned down: Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley inadvertently halted an Emmanuel Adebayor header with his left arm; at the other end, Tottenham skipper Scott Parker went similarly unpunished for an unwitting use of the hand as he tussled with Craig Gardner for possession.
It was the same pattern of play after the break with the visitors in control, but unable to make their territorial advantage pay.
This result meant Sunderland were kept scoreless at home for the first time under O’Neill as they tried to equal their best league finish of seventh place, which they last achieved in 2001.