Manchester City Have Momentum in Race for Fourth

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Manchester City Have Momentum in Race for Fourth
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At approximately 3:40 p.m. yesterday, Tottenham fans around the country must have been jubilant.

At White Hart Lane, Tom Huddlestone had just thumped their team into the lead from long range. At Eastlands, John Carew's early goal had meant that, momentarily at least, Spurs had opened up a four-point gap over City in the race for fourth in the Premier League.

The joy was short-lived, as City's two main strikers Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor both found the net in the space of three minutes before half-time to set the Manchester team on its way to an impressive 3-1 comeback victory over an in-form Aston Villa side.

Back in North London, Tottenham managed to fend off late pressure from Bolton Wanderers to secure a more nervy and less inspiring 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers to maintain its one-point lead over fifth-placed City.

What this all means, of course, is that - in the words of City boss Roberto Mancini - Wednesday night's clash between the two teams is 'the biggest game probably in the last ten years for the club'.

For Harry Redknapp, Tottenham 'go into (Wednesday's match) in good shape ready for a very tough game'.

But surely the momentum in this matchup is with the Blues. On the one hand, City are finding the back of the net with consummate ease. On the other hand, Tottenham players have shown profligacy in front of goal and have struggled to turn chances into goals.

Despite all of Tottenham's possession and chances in their last three home matches against Arsenal, Chelsea, and Bolton, they have won each game by just one goal. While nine points is an outstanding return of points from such fixtures, the team's play has merited a greater reward.

In contrast, City has nearly doubled its goal difference in its last six fixtures through five and six-goal hammerings of Birmingham City and Burnley. In all, City have scored 71 goals in the league to Tottenham's 64.

While the league table would suggest that the midweek showdown at Eastlands will be full of goals, Tottenham's defense has shown unusual resolve over the last eight months, despite injuries often depleting the ranks.

In January, a run of six league and cup matches without conceding a goal was ended at Anfield. In all, the defence has managed to keep the ball out the Tottenham goal once in every three Premier League matches. Although only two of the 12 clean sheets kept have come on the road, Spurs have nevertheless conceded the fourth fewest goals this season over the course of 36 matches.

Away from home, Tottenham is no pushover. Victories earlier in the season over Blackburn and Stoke were particularly notable. The team was also a minute from becoming the first team to beat Birmingham City away from home.

Yet memories of their last two away performances must be giving their fans nightmares ahead of the team's penultimate and most important game. With six goals and five penalties conceded, the defeats to Sunderland and Man United were error-strewn, the performances underwhelming.

Manchester City is ruthless at home, with 40 points and 41 goals from 18 matches, and Mancini's troops will be bent on revenge after they were run ragged at White Hart Lane just before Christmas.

Both managers will enter the game with reasonable cause for optimism, but also with a few concerns.

Mancini will have been concerned by stand-in goalkeeper Martin Fulop's nervy debut yesterday. The former Spurs stopper is likely to be tested aerially by Peter Crouch, while Tom Huddlestone's fantastic strike at White Hart Lane yesterday proves that Spurs will not be shot-shy come Wednesday.

Redknapp will sweat over the fitness of several key players: Ledley King will need time to recover after another strong but energy-sapping performance; Aaron Lennon will be eager to increase his playing time and match up against Shaun Wright-Phillips and prove that he is the superior player; Heurelho Gomes will need to shake off a groin injury picked up late yesterday afternoon to make the starting lineup.

For Tottenham, the key will be not to try to keep the home team at bay, but rather to get the ball to Bale, Defoe and Lennon (if he plays) as quickly and efficiently as possible and give City's defenders a tough afternoon. 

In midfield, Tom Huddlestone and Wilson Palacios will need to keep the ball well and upset City's fluid passing game.

In defense, Dawson will have his hands full against Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez who possess strength and skill in equal measure.

Perhaps the crucial battles for both teams, however, will be in the wide areas.

For Tottenham, Gareth Bale will need to be at his galloping best. For City, Adam Johnson and Craig Bellamy have the chance to cause yet more problems for Tottenham's full-backs, who have been the weak link recently. They will relish the chance to unnerve Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Younes Kaboul, both of whom can lose their heads under pressure.

This season has produced more surprises in the top flight than any other in living memory. It is therefore very difficult to predict the outcome of Wednesday night's match. And while Man City and Tottenham fans sit on the edge of their seats biting their nails, it is a match to make the neutrals' mouths water.

One moment of madness or magic could decide the multi-million conundrum. Will Tottenham crack under pressure? Will Spurs see off City's money men and hand the knockout blow to the Sheikh's master plan?

Let the battle commence!

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