Chelsea are the flag-bearers for England in this season's Champions League but there have to be grave doubts about their capacity to return to the competition next time out. This was a match that they sorely needed to win yet they fell short in insipid fashion.
Although Juan Mata hit the base of an upright with a second-half free kick, Chelsea failed to make a mark on a fixture that they traditionally dominate. Brad Friedel, in the Tottenham Hotspur goal, was called upon to make his only save, a routine one, in the 86th minute, from Frank Lampard's long-range shot. It is lost on nobody, including the players and staff at Tottenham, that Chelsea must still visit Arsenal and Liverpool. They remain five points off the Champions League pace, although if they were to win the competition this season they would re-enter it at the expense of the team that finish fourth.
There was a gloominess about Roberto Di Matteo afterwards, which contrasted with Harry Redknapp's contentedness, even if the Tottenham manager knew that his club ought to have won. In a game that crackled to life in the second half, they had the chances.
Rafael van der Vaart should have scored in first-half stoppage time and, in the second period, Kyle Walker drove into the side-netting; William Gallas fluffed a free header; Emmanuel Adebayor had a shot cleared off the line by Gary Cahill and Gareth Bale thumped the crossbar and forced Petr Cech into a smart save from a free-kick. Tottenham have not won here since 1990 but if this was as close as they have come, it was tempting to suggest that it felt like a victory.
"It was an important point for us," Redknapp said. "We edged it and Chelsea were happier to hear the final whistle. It's in our favour now and six wins out of eight should do it. I think third place is still there, too. It's by no means a given that Arsenal will be third."
The challenge for Di Matteo will be to lift his players for the Champions League quarter-final first-leg against Benfica in Lisbon on Tuesday.
They looked leggy, as if the effort of their epic victory over Napoli had taken a toll. They failed to move the ball with any pace and Tottenham were comfortable at the back, where Redknapp decided not to risk Ledley King but saw William Gallas, the deputy, play well alongside Younès Kaboul.
"It's going to be difficult," said Di Matteo, the interim manager, when he considered Chelsea's hopes of a top-four finish. "But the day that I was appointed, we always knew it was going to be a difficult task. Fourth spot is very important for the future of our club and that stays at the top [of the priorities]. We might have to win all eight of our remaining league games."
Spurs would have taken the draw beforehand and Redknapp set his team up to be solid and disciplined, with Sandro coming in to make a three-man central midfield. They gave Bale, Adebayor and even the overlapping Walker the platform to play. The manager reserved praise for Adebayor, who led the line in robust fashion. "He looked back to his best," he said.
In tactical terms, Redknapp got it spot on, and it sounded rather weak when Di Matteo complained about Tottenham keeping men behind the ball.
After the midweek defeat at Manchester City, Di Matteo had to do something to force the issue. The two matches would have done little to advance his claim for the job on a full-time basis.
The first half was underpinned by caginess but Tottenham enjoyed the big chance when the impressive Luka Modric cut back for Van Der Vaart who, eight yards out and in yards of space, had to be fancied to score. His side-foot, though, lacked conviction and it was directed straight at Cech, who parried. Van Der Vaart tried again, from close-range and, this time, Ashley Cole blocked on the line. Adebayor headed the second rebound on to the top of the net.
Chelsea lamented a couple of penalty appeals that were overlooked. Gallas cut across Lampard in the 27th minute; he did not get the ball and he made contact with his former Chelsea team-mate. He technically ticked a lot of boxes for the concession but Di Matteo was more passionate about the flashpoint in the 65th minute, when Benoît Assou-Ekotto tangled with Ramires. "Assou-Ekotto just pushed him down," Di Matteo said.
The second half was more exciting. There was needle as the intensity of the challenges ratcheted up. Tottenham raged when Chelsea played on as Kaboul lay injured and the game was stopped only when the visitors conceded a free kick. From it, Mata curled against the post.
But apart from a Daniel Sturridge half-chance and Lampard's effort, that was as good as it good for Chelsea. Tottenham advertised the winning goal. Gallas's reaction pointed to the knowledge that he should have done better and Adebayor had done the hard part in rounding Cech before he was thwarted by Cahill. Bale, too, went agonisingly close. The point, though, carried value for Tottenham.