Tottenham's momentum stalls as Wolves hang on for draw

Talk of a first title in more than half a century has only intensified the nervousness of some Tottenham fans, who have been brought up to expect let-downs in the league. This draw may not, then, have come as a surprise.

However, although it did slow the Spurs bandwagon, it does not necessarily herald a crash ahead of next Sunday's showdown with Manchester City. What is certain is that a point was fair reward for Wolves, who staged a well-planned and well-executed ambush.

The visitors arrived here a six-match winless run having left them in relegation trouble. Rumblings of discontent from the club chairman, Steve Morgan, did not augur well for the manager, Mick McCarthy, although he insisted that his employer's comments about the campaign so far "not being good enough" did not mean his position was in jeopardy. Either way, McCarthy had a plan for arresting the slump and it worked, especially in the first half, as the visitors' dynamic five-man midfield prevented Tottenham from finding the attacking verve that has brought them into contention for the title.

Luka Modric shot just wide from the edge of the area in the third minute but, other than that, was able to exert little influence on the first period as Karl Henry led Wolves' smothering operation. Gareth Bale was similarly stifled and so, although they dominated possession, Spurs seldom looked dangerous and were often slovenly.

It was still a shock, however, when Wolves took the lead from their first attack. Kyle Walker allowed the ball to run for a corner, believing it had taken a touch off an opponent, and that set the stage for the goal. Roger Johnson outjumped Michael Dawson to head Matt Jarvis's delivery towards danger. Modric managed to block it on the line but Steven Fletcher, who played the lone striker role to perfection all match, reacted more quickly than any defender to poke into the net form from close range.

"He's one of those rare commodities – a really talented footballer who works hard for the team, scores goals and runs about to make thing difficult for defenders," said McCarthy of the Scottish striker, who has nine league goals this season.

Spurs' stars were not shining. The first reminder of Bale's presence on the pitch did not come until the 26th minute, when he drifted infield and fed Rafael van der Vaart with a subtle flick, but the Dutchman blasted over from 25 yards. Bale then miscued in embarrassing fashion from the edge of the area after being presented with an invitation to equalise by Emmanuel Adebayor. The best chance to score another first-half goal fell to Wolves, when, from their second meaningful attack, Jarvis found Dave Edwards 12 yards out, but the midfielder sliced wide.

Harry Redknapp cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines, the Spurs manager's fury boiling over even before half-time when he berated the Wolves' goalkeeping coach, Pat Mountain, for not returning the ball quickly enough after it had been kicked out of play. "I thought that was a bit childish so I said 'come on, old chap, give us the ball back,"' paraphrased Redknapp.

Only a second-half transformation would stop belief in a Tottenham title challenge from haemorrhaging. It did not look like coming when, soon after the break, Bale ballooned another shot way over the bar and then McCarthy's men moved down the other end and carved open the hosts. It took a magnificent save from Brad Friedel to prevent Wolves from extending their lead, the American diving to his right to push away a fierce volley from Emmanuel Frimpong, the Arsenal loanee whose every touch was booed by the home crowd.

Instead of being two down, Tottenham were soon level. After skilful play by Van der Vaart down the right in the 51st minute, Bale rolled the ball to Modric, whose low shot from 20 yards flew under Wayne Hennessey and into the net.

Suddenly Spurs rediscovered their swagger. The visiting defence started to be seriously stretched. However Tottenham's uncharacteristic lack of precision was summed up by more wild shooting, as Bale, Walker and Van der Vaart all smashed efforts way off target. The game seemed ripe for the introduction of Jermain Defoe, the predator who wants to leave White Hart Lane to get regular starts and was left on the bench until the 73rd minute. Shortly after his introduction he almost made his mark with a swirling low drive from 18 yards. Hennessey saved awkwardly with his feet. That was as close as Spurs came. They are still in touch with the top.

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