Redknapp: Dodgy knee, the flu? No bother, Ledley’s still King

HARRY REDKNAPP likes a flutter, and when he tells you to stake your life on Ledley King going to the World Cup with England, you better believe him.

Arry’s Orse, Redknapp’s racehorse, did not make it to the stalls for the 2000 Guineas because he was declared unfit the day before, but the Spurs manager has another thoroughbred into whom he is putting his faith.

King is that rare breed of footballer who defies all expectations. Sometimes it is a surprise to see him on the pitch at all, given the chronic knee problems that mean he is unable to train or play more than one game a week.

But what amazes most observers, including Redknapp and Fabio Capello, is just how well he is still performing given the huge handicaps he carries. Like Paul McGrath 20 years ago, King is a colossus on the pitch, easily the best defender on view and probably the best in the country when his knees, or other problems, allow him to play.

King put aside ‘flu as well as his usual knee trouble to help Spurs get the three points that means they can guarantee fourth place and Champions League football if they win at Manchester City on Wednesday.

Tom Huddlestone scored the only goal – and a rocket it was, too, seven minutes before half-time – but it was King who caught the eye again with another majestic display under the gaze of Capello’s assistant Franco Baldini.

“Ledley’s never 100% because of his knee, but he wasn’t well today, either,” said Redknapp. “He was really ill and the doctor was at his house this morning, but he said: ‘I’ll give it a go’ – that’s how he is.

“He’s a great guy and a fantastic player. Imagine what he would be like if he had not had these injuries. It’s frightening. But his knee blows up like a balloon every time he plays and it takes days for it to settle down.”

Yet Capello has told Redknapp that England’s schedule in South Africa should be enough to make him worth a place in the squad.

“Fabio always asks me; ‘How’s Ledley?’ and when we spoke recently he said six days is enough, meaning England have six days between each game. So I told him it would not be a problem. He’s a certainty to go to the World Cup – you can bet your life on it. What a great player to have, even if you don’t start him every time.”

Redknapp has to work out how best to make sure King can work, rest and play. Spurs would not need to win at Burnley on the final day of the season if they can win at City, but they had to overcome a bright and battling Bolton side to be in that position, which is why Redknapp needed his number one defender.

“I said to him before this game, if we get two or three goals up and comfortable I would take him off, but it wasn’t like that so we had to leave him on. Bolton were dangerous. Kevin Davies is a threat, he can out-muscle anybody, and I just thought I needed Ledley with his power and strength to stand up to him. Obviously I listen to Ledley. He wants to play as much as he can, but he wouldn’t play unless he is sure he can get through a game.”

So the race is on to see if he will be fit in time to face Carlos Tevez and co at Eastlands on what is effectively a Champions League play-off, though with one more point, Spurs can lose and still hope to overtake Roberto Mancini’s men on the final day.

What are King’s chances for Wednesday? “I don’t know, it depends what it looks like on Monday,’’ Redknapp said. “The physio will look at him and see if they can settle it down. It’s a gamble. If we hadn’t won today, Wednesday would have been even bigger. If we can win on Wednesday, Ledley can rest on Sunday.”

Redknapp’s other problem may be in goal after Heurelho Gomes pulled up with a groin injury in the closing minutes. Spurs did not complain when City got special dispensation to sign their former keeper Marton Fulop from Sunderland when Shay Given was injured last week, and Redknapp is happy to go with reserve keeper Ben Alnwick. “I’ve got no problem with Ben, he’s a good goalkeeper. I’m happy with my number two,” he added.

“City have got good players and their forward line will always be a threat, but we have good forwards, too, and we can cause them problems at the back hopefully.”

Owen Coyle, meanwhile, can take comfort from the fact that he has secured survival for Bolton and made them a much more attractive side since taking over from Gary Megson earlier this year. Although Spurs dominated possession and missed a succession of chances to increase the margin of victory, Bolton had their chances too and Gomes made two great saves from Matt Taylor to preserve Tottenham’s advantage.

“I thought it was a terrific game and it took a wonder goal to separate the teams – a fantastic strike,” Coyle said. “But we’re disappointed to be leaving with nothing if truth be told.”

MATCH RATING *** - Plenty of action at both ends, but nervy at the end for Spurs. Full credit must go to Bolton for the bright way they are playing under Owen Coyle.

REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside) 6 – It’s fine to let the game flow, but he let too many fouls go unpunished. Not the best display from a usually good referee.

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