Harry Redknapp enjoyed a wry smile when it was pointed out to the Tottenham Hotspur manager that he goes into the final weekend of the season hoping that the man that pipped him to the post for the England job can do him a favour. Roy Hodgson's West Bromwich Albion host Arsenal on Sunday, and Spurs will have one eye on events at the Hawthorns after they squandered the chance to put their destiny in their own hands in the race for third place.
Arsenal's slip‑up at home against Norwich City on Saturday opened a window of opportunity for Spurs against a depleted and out of form Aston Villa side, but Redknapp's players were unable to capitalise on an afternoon when they were forced to play almost the entire second half with 10 men, following Danny Rose's dismissal for a reckless lunge on Alan Hutton, his former White Hart Lane team-mate.
With Spurs also a goal down at that point, after Ciaran Clark's deflected 30-yard shot in the 35th minute had left Brad Friedel stranded, there was a sense that things were conspiring against the visitors until Richard Dunne conceded a needless penalty when he brought down Sandro, as the midfielder was going away from goal. Emmanuel Adebayor converted from the spot to haul Spurs level and provide them with the platform from which they could easily have gone on to win the game.
Indeed it was a measure of their dominance in the final half hour that it felt like a trick of the imagination that it was Spurs, rather than Villa, that were a man down. Yet for all Tottenham's pressure in the closing exchanges, they only forced Shay Given into one notable save during that period, when the Villa keeper denied Gareth Bale with a routine stop in the 82nd minute, meaning that Redknapp's players had to settle for the point that leaves them fourth going into Sunday's home fixture against Fulham.
"Of course [there was frustration]. A win today and we were guaranteed fourth place but it's all to play for still, there's one game left and look at the permutations," Redknapp said. "It could be Chelsea, it could be us, it could be Arsenal, it could be Newcastle – it's just impossible to tell. We've all got tough games next week. No one has got an easy game, so it will be an interesting last game of the season.
"Fulham will be a hard game [for us]. Arsenal have got no gimme, West Brom away. Newcastle go to Everton. If Chelsea go and win at Liverpool and beat Blackburn, we'll have to win. A draw won't do you. So we need to win. But Martin Jol won't be coming back to Tottenham wanting to help us, that's for sure. And Fulham are a decent team."
Redknapp talked about how Arsenal "have gone off the boil a bit" and reeled off a few of their recent results, although the Spurs manager needs no reminding that his side have hardly been an unstoppable force over the last few months. This, on paper, looked like a benign fixture for Spurs – Villa came into the game without a win in eight and only one home victory in six months – but Clark's fortuitous strike, which deflected off William Gallas's shoulder, and Rose's sending-off gave the visitors an uphill task.
Rose's moment of madness came three minutes into the second half, and Redknapp admitted he had no complaints with the referee Lee Probert's decision to brandish a straight red card. "It didn't look a great tackle," Redknapp said. "I've just looked at it again. He caught Alan Hutton, there's no doubt about that. I don't know if he got pushed by Charles N'Zogbia. But it's not like Danny, he's not a nasty player. He didn't go in with two feet; it was one foot, but he did catch Alan Hutton. It leaves us with a problem at left-back now because Benoît [Assou-Ekotto], my regular left-back, has had an operation on his shoulder."
Hutton was unable to continue, although Alex McLeish said that the full-back's "badly bruised shin" was nothing like as bad as the medial ligament injury that the Villa striker Andreas Weimann picked up after replacing Emile Heskey. It was a bruising afternoon for Villa and although they were grateful to pick up the point that has secured their Premier League status for another season, discontent quickly surfaced at the final whistle, when chants of "Sack McLeish, my lord" rang out from the Holte End.
"Normally they give me all the grief here," said Redknapp. "This is the only ground I come to where I get slaughtered non-stop and today I think they forgot I was here. It was fantastic."