Tottenham Hotspur fans are used to this by now, but it isn’t going to make it any easier to deal with. Here we are, with the Premier League reaching its finale and the last Champions League spot up for grabs – yet Spurs welcome Sunderland to White Hart Lane on the brink of missing out in agonising fashion. To Arsenal. Again.
It has been an all-too-familiar tale at White Hart Lane over recent years, and a painful one at that.
Yes, there was the prosperous campaign in 2010 when Harry Redknapp took the club into the top four in swashbuckling style, but that success has been the anomaly, with Tottenham getting used to missing out at their great rivals’ expense.
Martin Jol’s ‘lasagne-gate’ in 2006 (not to mention his fifth-placed finish the year later) particularly hurt, but the last two campaigns have arguably been even more painful.
In both 2010/11 and 2011/12, Redknapp blew big advantages over Arsenal, allowing the Gunners to overhaul his team and finish fourth and third respectively, shunting Spurs into the Europa League on both occasions.
Last season, when the Gunners were ten points behind and 2-0 down at the Emirates to Tottenham before clambering back, was especially hard to take.
Harder still that Chelsea won the Champions League to deny fourth-placed Spurs their place in this season’s competition, and it appears that Andre Villas-Boas is about to suffer the same fate.
When Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 at the start of March, they opened up a seven-point gap to their north London rivals with just nine games left, but as the final weekend of the campaign arrives, Spurs need to better the Gunners’ result at Newcastle to finish in the top four.
That just a point separates the two sides shows there is very little to choose between them, but Arsenal’s extra nous looks like it will get them over the line.
How Villas-Boas, not to mention the fans, must bemoan both their slow start – Spurs took just two points from their first three games – and their involvement in the Europa League, which has cost them points in the immediate aftermath of Thursday encounters.
That said, Tottenham could end the season three points better off than last year yet a place lower in the table, which the former Porto boss will no doubt point to should his side fall short, as 72 points would have been enough for a top-four finish in five of the last six seasons.
It still could be this year, but regardless of what is happening on Tyneside Tottenham need to do their bit and I can’t see them failing to do that against a Sunderland side that is now safe from relegation.
AVB’s boys are 7/25 to win, and win they most definitely will. The draw is 9/2 and the away win is at 33/4, but there is no temptation to back the Black Cats here.
The decision to sack Martin O’Neill and replace him with Paolo Di Canio has been vindicated in the short term, as I think Sunderland were going down under the former Aston Villa boss.
How the maverick Italian will perform in the long run is far more questionable, as the Wearsiders have been erratic since his appointment with two wins, two draws and two defeats, and now they have little to play for I don’t see them giving Spurs many problems.
Sunderland’s tally of 41 goals is the joint-fourth-worst in the division, while only four teams have conceded more goals on their travels (34).
It is not a combination that Tottenham need to fear, but with the odds skewed massively in their favour – they are only 87/100 to win by two or more goals – the safest strategy is to bet on you know who to score.
Yes, it may be predictable, but at 11/4 we have to go with Gareth Bale to break the deadlock.
The PFA Player of the Year has had an excellent season and what could well be his last game at White Hart Lane as a Tottenham player (but let’s not go there now) can be a goalscoring one.
You don’t need me to tell you, but Bale has been in terrific goalscoring form, hitting 30 goals for club and country this season.
A fantastic total of 20 of those have come in the Premier League, and the Welshman has been unplayable so far in 2013.
Since Boxing Day, Bale has scored 20 goals in 26 games in all competitions for Spurs and Wales, 12 of which have been the opening strike of the game.
So with the value on any Tottenham win non-existent, get on their main man to set them on their way at 11/4.