Pool sunk as Spurs plead the fifth

IF Harry Redknapp was looking for inspiration to mastermind Tottenham’s fifth place finish, and to secure a Europa League spot, then he found it here.

Prior to the season’s penultimate Premier League game, a shootout to make Europe’s second-tier competition, the Tottenham manager warned his players they would be returning early from their summer breaks due to being top of the Fair Play League.

A mischievous move or not, it proved the trick.

Because this was meant to be the poisoned chalice, the competition nobody wanted to be appearing in next season.

But on this showing, you would never have guessed Tottenham weren’t playing for a place in the Europa League.

Europe’s most derided tournament it may be, but nothing could disguise Redknapp and his side’s delight at winning here against their main rivals for fifth spot.

If that wasn’t enough, this was the day when Liverpool were meant to mark the permanent return of Kenny Dalglish to the managerial hot-seat.

Confirmed as the full-time manager earlier in the week following his arrival in January, Anfield as one rose to the Scot.

Yet the script wasn’t written. And the party-poopers tag was well and truly sealed thanks to Rafa Van der Vaart and Luka Modric’s controversial second-half penalty to win for the first time here since 1993.

“I scared them to death before the game and it did the trick,” revealed Redknapp.

“We are top of the Fair Play League which means they would come back in two weeks and would be playing again in June.

“I wonder why Fulham got eight bookings the other night?

“But we are not fighting for the Europa League, we are fighting for fifth to finish as high as you can and win as many games as you can.

“It’s not ideal — but if we play in it we will. You play Thursday night and then Sunday.

“It’s a big win for us. We had to win to finish above Liverpool and we’ve given ourselves a chance now.”

Redknapp has spoken of his reluctance to play in next season’s competition given the impact it can have on the Premier League form.

But you wouldn’t have known that the booby prize was up for grabs given Spurs’ showing here.

Ironically on the day of Dalglish’s coronation after signing his three-year deal, it was a man named Rafa who did the early damage in the ninth minute.

Man-of-the-match Modric’s corner was only cleared where the lurking Dutchman sent his shot home, via a slight deflection off Glen Johnson, from 20 yards out.

Anfield was silenced and it took a while before they found their voice.

Andy Carroll should have got the home fans singing once again but headed horribly over after meeting Martin Skrtel’s cross before Luis Suarez was off target with a free-kick.

Off colour and lacking ideas, the last thing they needed was a hotly-disputed referring decision to go against them. John Flanagan appeared to have gone shoulder to shoulder with Steven Pienaar but referee Howard Webb claimed the South African winger was shoved over, even if the initial contact appeared to be outside the box.

Modric did the rest from the penalty spot in the 56th minute and Liverpool never look likely to find a way back with Ledley King, making his first appearance in seven months, defying his chronic knee problem, ensuring the deserved shutout.

Tottenham know a win over struggling Birmingham on the final-day will secure their European spot for next season.

But for Dalglish, he was left ruing his side failing to turn up when it mattered most.

“We feel we short changed the fans by not getting the result,” he said.

“Maybe it was too much of a fairytale. They started better than we did and we didn’t play for 30-35 minutes, and then they get the second goal which gives them a foothold.

“We never played as well as we can and that’s disappointing for the players.” On the spot-kick, the Scot said: “I’m not here to sponsor the FA. It’s unhelpful to everyone you can’t express your true thoughts and officials don’t explain their thoughts.”


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