Spurs sink Everton to fire title challenge
Tottenham's surprise challenge for the English Premier League title gathered pace as a 2-0 win over Everton moved the them within three points of leaders Manchester City.
Harry Redknapp's side are now level on points with second placed Manchester United and hot on City's heels after goals from Aaron Lennon and Benoit Assou-Ekotto shattered Everton's resistance at White Hart Lane.
England winger Lennon opened the scoring in the first half and Cameroon left-back Assou-Ekotto sealed the points with a majestic strike after the break. Spurs - now nine points ahead of fifth placed rivals Arsenal - have lost only one of their last 18 league games and must be regarded as genuine contenders for the English title for the first time in over 20 years.
This fixture was originally scheduled for the opening day of the season in August, but was postponed as a result of the London riots, presenting Tottenham with a valuable game in hand on their title rivals.
After decades without even a sniff of a challenge at the top of the table, it was a real test of Tottenham's mettle and they passed with flying colours. There was an early sign of nerves when Spurs defender Younes Kaboul made a hash of clearing Landon Donovan's cross and Louis Saha pounced on the loose ball to drag his shot just wide.
But that narrow escape seemed to focus Redknapp's players and they enjoyed almost total control of possession for the rest of the first half. The hosts probed intelligently and should have been ahead after Rafael van der Vaart started a blistering counter-attack with an incisive pass to Gareth Bale. Bale's clipped ball presented Emmanuel Adebayor with a clear sight of goal but he miscued his attempt to flick over Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard and the chance was gone.
Tottenham were pressing hard and Adebayor poked a half-chance wide from close-range before Van der Vaart's superb first-time effort from 20 yards curled just over. Everton were beginning to wobble and some sloppy defending from Leighton Baines unhinged the visitors as Spurs took the lead in the 35th minute.
When Assou-Ekotto swept a long pass towards Lennon on the right flank, Baines should have snuffed out the danger. Instead, the left-back allowed Lennon to wriggle past him and the winger took full advantage as he cut into the area and evaded Sylvain Distin before clipping a cool finish past Howard for his fourth goal of the season.
Bale showed his lung-bursting speed five minutes into the second half when he surged towards the Everton penalty area from deep inside his own half and drilled a shot that Howard did well to save after a deflection off Johnny Heitinga.
Everton had a rare sight of goal when Marouane Fellaini headed over from Donovan's cross, but the visitors suffered a blow when French centre-back Distin limped off to be replaced by the inexperienced Shane Duffy. There was no time for Duffy to settle before Spurs increased their lead in sublime style in the 63rd minute.
Assou-Ekotto appeared to pose little threat when he received Van der Vaart's pass 30 yards from goal, but the left-back advanced unchecked before smashing a ferocious drive that glanced off Tim Cahill as it flashed past Howard. It was a remarkable way for Assou-Ekotto to score his first goal since August 2009 and there was no way back for Everton, who appealed in vain for a late penalty when Kaboul clipped Royston Drenthe.