There’s no more time for messing about, and even less room for error. It comes down to this: if Tottenham Hotspur are to finish in the top four and secure Champions League football next season, they need to win their two remaining games, starting with Sunday’s vital trip to Stoke City.
Never mind the fact that Spurs are just one point behind Arsenal in fourth place and, mathematically, a top-four finish is possible without taking maximum points from two games.
Let’s be realistic: Arsenal are on a fine run of form and for Andre Villas-Boas to have any hope of achieving his long-stated season objective, the White Hart Lane outfit must take six points from six.
Still, the point Spurs won in midweek, even if it put their fate out of their own hands, could yet prove vital.
There were pundits who claimed that Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday didn’t do them any good, but that is far from the truth.
A defeat would have meant that Arsenal could afford to drop two points from their last two matches, but with just a one-point advantage the Gunners need to win both of their fixtures to guarantee they finish above their north London rivals.
That is, of course, presuming Tottenham do their bit, which is easier said than done at Stoke. But a win for Spurs would move them into the top four before Arsenal face Wigan Athletic on Tuesday, which puts pressure on the Gunners.
But at 39/50, I’m not falling over myself to back Spurs. That said, I’m not too wild about the 5/2 on the draw or a home win at 7/2.
Stoke don’t win many matches, and in fact, they have taken three points just nine times in 36 games all season – only Reading, QPR and Norwich have won fewer matches.
So you’re crazy if you are thinking of backing the Potters, especially when they don’t need to win now they are effectively safe on 41 points.
But Spurs have been ropey on the road in this calendar year, and their draw with Chelsea in midweek extended their run to just three wins in 12 matches away from home in league and cup, during which time they have failed to beat QPR, Leeds United and Wigan, among others.
And despite Stoke’s struggles, they have still lost just four games at the Britannia Stadium all season, even if three of those have come in their last five games.
So what I will do is play the 6/4 that Spurs score more goals in the second half than they manage in the first half.
There have been just 18 goals in 18 first halves at the Britannia this season, so I would expect a cagey start given what is at stake.
And what’s more, Tottenham tend to strike in the second half. A whopping 67% of their goals have been scored after the break, and their 42 goals plundered in the second half is more than any other team in the Premier League.
Their 22 goals after the interval is also the most any team has scored on the road, and rather than back Spurs at a short odds-on price, it might be better to bank on them doing what they tend to do – hit more goals in the second period – and that’s the bet at 6/4.