Harry Redknapp reckons Tottenham are in with a decent shout of winning the league and he's right. By the same token, however, there's also a strong risk of them missing out on a top four finish, which, like a teenage fumbler in the back row of the cinema, would give their season an anti-climatic feel. Victory at Villa today is obviously not a must, what with us not even having reached the campaign's half-way point yet, but it would be, well, quite handy – indeed, that goes for both sides, for Villa are in danger of being sucked into a relegation scrap. Gérard Houllier, like Alex McLeish across the city (and Mark Hughes at Fulham), will presumably be looking for a decent striker in January, amongst other things, but will Randy Lerner given him any lolly? The American was once lauded as the ideal club-owners but he hasn't spent a penny in 2010, and that's a hell of a long time to go without using the toilet. Ahem. Seriously, though, Lerner's recent stinginess suggests Houllier and Villa are paying for the profligacy of Martin O'Neill.
Villa: Friedel, Warnock, Collins, Cuellar, Lichaj, Downing, Delph, Hogg, Albrighton, Heskey, Agbonlahor.
Subs: Guzan, Pires, Delfouneso, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Clark, Bannan.
Spurs: Gomes, Hutton, Kaboul, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon,
Palacios, Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart, Defoe.
Subs: Cudicini, Jenas, Pavlyuchenko, Crouch, Bassong, Kranjcar, Corluka.
Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire)
Upcoming mentions of snoods: None, because no one cares.
Twitter, in case you care about that: @paul_doyle
5:20pm: Wise move to drop Crouch today, as he'd pose less problem to Collins and Cuellar than he might to others. So the more wriggly Defoe starts with Van der Vaart for the first time. As for Villa, it'll be interesting to see Delph from the start. Houllier has picked him up in the pre-match interview and Glenn Hoddle, parked in Sky's studio, reckon it might not be sensible man-management to put so much pressure on the young lad. Hoddle, of course, was a master man-manager ...
5:26pm: Out toddle the teams, with Bale drinking from a plastic cup ... but drinking what?
1 min: 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... we have kick-off! Tottenham knock it straight back to Assou-Ekotto, who wallops it upfield. Total football.
1 min: Villa threaten within 50 seconds! They launched a freekick from halfway into the box and Collins won the header, sending a dangerous ball across the face of goal. Dawson didn't deal with it properly and Albrighton forced a good save from Gomes.
3 min: Here's a curious reversal of what you might have expected: Palacios is down receiving treatment following a reckless lunge by Albrighton.
4 min: Great save by Friedel. After being put through brilliantly by Lennon, Defoe attempted to dink the ball over the keeper but Friedel's right arm popped up quickfast to thwart him. This is a pleasantly open game so far ... and in that instance the officials contributed ... by not pulling Defoe up for being offside.
6 min: Penalty! No! The ref doesn't give it but he should have. That was an exact replica, almost, of Gomes's challenge on Ramires at Chelsea. This time Heskey was the victim and Gomes is very, very lucky to have escaped unpunished for that. He's having a strange season, the Brazilian, mixing the bonkers with the brilliant. "I'm intrigued by the way the media seems to have done a turnaround on Ged Houllier," trills Steve Graves. "Week in week out at Liverpool he was given a kicking and pilloried as an Inspector Clouseau-style blunderer. Since coming back to the PL he's getting nothing but sympathetic coverage. Not that I'm saying either view is necessarily wrong, or, as a Liverpool fan, that there's some sort of bias at work. I just think it's interesting - is it to do with age, maybe, and the fact he increasingly comes across as a kind of avuncular uncle who'd get a round in but still have the sense to get off to bed before the night kicked off properly? Or the fact he seems much less negative in his tactics than during his time at Anfield?" I reckon it would be premature to start slagging him off at Villa now. He hasn't been there long and has had to contend with a slew of injuries. Having said that, I still don't understand why Kevin McDonald wasn't given the job given all the young players they're trying to bring through.
9 min: Defoe gets away from the centrebacks again but as he lets fly from the edge of the area, Cuellar recovers sufficiently to deflect his shot out for a corner.
11 min: Bale attempts to Warnock but over-runs the ball, giving Villa goal kick.
13 min: Snappy break by Villa. They sweep it out quickly to Downing on the left. He could centre for Agbonlahor, but instead turns on to this right foot and has a blast from the edge of the box. Easy save for Gomes.
15 min: Disallowed goal! Van der Vaart lofted a freekick beyond the back stick. Hutton pulled it back and Kaboul spanked it into the net! But the officials rule that the ball had gone out of play before the cut-back. The replays are inconclusive. "I thought it might be interesting to see what the average age of the Villa XI s (thinking it'd be about 7), but even if you take Friedel out of the equation the average age is just over 25," notes my astute colleague John Ashdown. "And there's only one teenager in the 16, and three 30-somethings."
18 min: Heskey nods the ball through to Agbonlahor, who uses his speed to race away from the pursuing Spurs defenders. And then shoots straight at Gomes Agbonlahor. That's Agbonlahor in a nut shell. With better finishing and offiaciting we could have had three or four goals already here. Still, it's a exciting stuff.
19 min: Downing swings in an inviting cross by Kaboul excels to get between Collins and Agbonlahor and head to safety.
22 min: Kaboul errs at the back but Dawson bails him out by nicking the ball off Albrighton, who was poised to shoot. "As you note, Villa, Fulham, and Brum need goal power, but who could they buy given the sellers' market?" wonders Lou Roper. "How about for Villa, El-hadji Diouf and Djibril Cisse? For Fulham, Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy? And for Brum, Kris Boyd and Peter Lovenkrands. Since these players have all worked with their respective managers, there should make a relatively quick adjustment. Also, they should be available for reasonable fees."
GOAL! Villa 0-1 Spurs (Van der Vaart 24') Modric switched play with a raking ball out to the right. Hutton scampered down the line and served up a low centre that eluded Collins and was turned in by Van der Vaart from eight yards. That won't be the last goal in this game, for sure.
25 min: No chance of Spurs sitting on this lead. They continue to apply pressure, and win a corner as Colins is forced to head a dangerous Van der Vaart delivery behind. The corner, however, comes to nothing.
27 min: Defoe sent off! The ref rules that he elbowed Collins in the face. The replay confirms that he did indeed lead with his arm, though there was no thrusting motion and it probably didn't hurt much. Maladroit rather than malicious, then. So as I said, it was wise to start with Defoe rather than Crouch today. Ahem.
30 min: Downing is one of the best crossers in the league. He has just served up another delicious delivery from the left and Gomes did very well to charge off his line and punch it off the head of Agbonlahor.
32 min: Bale's control lets him down on the left. ruining a Spurs' counter-attack. He's been off-colour so far, the Welshman. "Defoe is a plank," moans Phil Wainwright. "You cannot leap like Kevin Davies these days and expect to get away with it like Kevin Davies does. Word is Harry is losing patience with all the strikers including Defoe, and I am beginning to understand why." Who would you have him bring in?
34 min: Kaboul fires a low swirler towards goal from 25 yards, bringing an awkward save from Friedel.
36 min: Hogg booked for a clumsy foul. "Is Lou Roper insane?" thunders Peter Bowler. "Boyd and Lovenkrands for Brum? Christ on a bike. I know we are supposed to be skint but bloody hell, we can probably do a bit better that the bargain bin at Aldi." Can McLeish really do better? His record of signing strikers is not very impressive.
37 min: This is an entertainingly helter-skelter game, full of enterprise and errors. And on that note, the ref declines to award Spurs a corner after Friedel dives full-length to tip a Palacios blaster wide.
39 min: Villa are applying strong pressure now, penning Spurs back, though the visitors remain determined to counter with speed whenever possible. Villa haven't quite shown enough invention to prise the defence apart so far, so Downing elects to take a more direct route, sending a rocket towards Gomes. Well, not quite towards Gomes, as it flew inches wide.
40 min: Villa substitution: Heskey, who has played well, has picked up an injury so is replaced by Delfouenso.
41 min: Delfouenso makes a positive first impression, dodging his way past Dawson before, well, skying his shot from 20 yards.
42 min: Dawson lands a brilliant pass at the feet of Lennon, who delivers a decent cross. Collins clears.
44 min: Spurs are just knocking the ball around now, trying to deflate Villa's vibrancy.
45 min: Bale is released down left ... but again his control lets him down and runs the ball out of play.
45+2 min: Spurs are doing a fine job of frustrating their hosts now, circulating the ball crisply, making Villa chase in vain.
Half-time: An engaging game remains finely-poised. Spurs are deservedly in front but are down to 10 men and Villa have shown that they remain dangerous. There have been thrills, there have been spills, and there are 45 more minutes to come. You'd be mad to miss it. How's that for a Richard Keys impersonation?
46 min: Villa get the second half going, having introduced Stilyan Petrov for Hogg. No sign of Stephen Ireland, of course: be interesting to know what's gone on between him and Houllier ...
48 min: Panic in the Spurs box following a Villa corner. But Petrov can't get a proper connection to his header. Reprieve.
50 min: Villa have made a decent start to the second period and Delfouenso has just stung Gomes's hand with a rasping drive from the edge of the box.
52 min: Villa are having more of the ball than in the first period but Spurs do not look especially ruffled and remain apt to counter with pace ...
54 min: Good foraging by Albrighton down the right and then he digs out a decent cross. Delfouenso twists in the air like a miniature sperm whale but does not make a telling connection. "Paul, do you think Robbie Keane will come to Villa and solve our problem of not scoring enough goals?" asks Jeff Watt. No. Because (1) I doubt he's had encouraging reports of Houllier from his compatriots at Villa, (2) I doubt Lerner will pay his wages and (3) his form recently does not suggest he'd score any more than the current strikers.
57 min: Hutton concedes a corner rather than allow an Albrighton cross finds it way to Downing, who totters across to take the corner. It's cleared.
58 min: Another good cross from Downing. Cuellar can't direct his downward header on target.
60 min: Villa are playing well, right up until they reach the box. They created a crossing opportunity for Warnock just now with style and the full-back fizzed it to where a striker should have been but wasn't. They've got a man more than Spurs but can't get enough into the box at the right time for some reason.
63 min: Yet another fine cross by Downing. But Cuellar's header from 10 yards is feeble.
66 min: Lennon, making a rare incursion into Villa territory, win a corner. They only send three men into the box ... so Collins clears with ease.
GOAL! Villa 0-2 Spurs (Van der Vaart 67') That is a textbook counter-attacking goal! Bale lead the charge, flying down the right before cutting across and slipping in Lennon, who had come in off the far flank. Lennon cleverly pulled it back to Van der Vaart, who placed a low shot into the far corner from 18 yards. Perfection. "Bale bale bale!! Fifa-like counter attacking play!!" gushes Tom Huddlestone on Twitter. (@thuddz)
70 min: Gomes plams away a decent Warnock cross. Then Dawson dives to head an Albrighton in-swinger behind for a corner. "I've never seen Villa lacking such passion," groans Leo Rose. Balderdash! There's been no lack of guts, just guile.
73 min: Here comes the Villa cavalry. Well, Robert Pires. He, at least, has guile. Spurs make a change too, withdrawing van der Vaart for Crouch. "About Spurs second goal, I believe that was van der Vaart on the edge of the Spurs' area whose flick set Bale off in the first place, and he then followed it all the way up the pitch before providing the finish - it was awesome stuff," coos Jon Allison.
75 min: Villa are pinging in cross after cross but Spurs are defending them splendidly.
76 min: Agbonlahor tries a different approach. After receiving the ball about 25 yards out in a central position, he makes space for a shot ... so shoots. Gomes plunges to his right to tip it out for a corner.
77 min: Gomes is down receiving treatment and writing on the ground like a fish out of water. Not sure what's happened him. Sky are using the break to show a replay of Spurs' second goal. It was a marvel and, as Jon Allison noted, Van der Vaart initiated it with a lovely flick deep in his own half.
79 min: Hutton booked for, um, sliding in to win the ball off Albrighton? Odd one that.
80 min: Collins seems to have permanently moved up front for Villa, which makes sense seen as how their approach continues to be to swing cross into the box.
GOAL! Villa 1-2 Spurs (Albrighton 82') Collins's influence was crucial. Albrighton cut in from the left and hit an in-swinging cross from 25 yards. Collins hurled himself at it and failed to get a touch but his presence was enough to confuse Gomes and Albrighton's delivery carried on into the net.
84 min: Dawson reacts with fury as a corner is warded against him. Gomes punches it away but Villa quickly regain possession and the bombardment resumes ...
86 min: Petrov blazes high and wide from 35 yards. He's supposed to be the wise head in the middle but that was a silly waste.
87 min: Spurs decide that the best way to resist the mounting pressure from Villa is to attack. Lennon leads the charge and is pleased to win a freekick about 25 yards from Friedel's goal, giving his side a chance to draw breath and perhaps to score too. Bale is standing over it ... and curls it just wide.
89 min: Spurs change: Lennon off, Jenas on. "Tottenham seem to be the best 70 minute team in the league," drawls Ian Copestake.
90 min: I say, here's fun: Redknapp and Pires trade insults on the sideline after the notorious French hatchetman chops down a Spurs player! The spoilsport officials come across to separate them.
90+1 min: Ohhhh! Chaos in the Spurs box. Both Petrov and Agbonlahor had decent chances to get off threatening shots but neither could get any power in their efforts.
90+2 min: Modric booked for a wild late tackle. He could easily have been sent off for that, and was perhaps spared because he seem top injure himself more than his opponent.
90+3 min: Albrighton hooks a high ball into the box. It falls for Lichaj, who, under pressure, slams it into the sidenetting. Then Gomes is booked for wasting time.
Full-time: That's a fine win for Spurs, who showed fortitude at the back and characteristic speed and flair going forward to deservedly win with 10 men. That brings their unbeaten run to seven league matches, their longest under Harry Redknapp, and confirms that they are again serious contenders for a top four place, at least. Villa lacked nous up front but, on this evidence, are far too good to go down.