CHELSEA and Tottenham managers Rafael Benitez and Andre Villas-Boas expect the battle to qualify for the Champions League to continue to the final game of the season, after both suffered nervy afternoons yesterday.
Tottenham required an 87th minute equaliser to draw 2-2 against Everton at White Hart Lane, while Chelsea avoided a shock in Paolo Di Canio’s first game as Sunderland boss, coming back from a goal down at Stamford Bridge to win 2-1.
The results keep both sides in the top four, yet Arsenal are only two points behind, with a game in hand over Spurs.
“I don’t think it will be possible [to secure a top four place before the end of the season] because Tottenham and Arsenal, still they are pushing, and Everton [too] – so I think we have to carry on until the end,” Benitez said.
A Cesar Azpilicueta own goal gave Sunderland the lead yet Chelsea were ahead 10 minutes after the break after an own goal from Matt Kilgallon and a deflection off Branislav Ivanovic. However, the win was soured by an ankle injury to key striker Demba Ba, who had to be substituted at half-time.
“When you have to change a player at half-time it’s not fine, but it’s too early, he has a problem with his ankle. It was a heavy tackle,” Benitez said.
Villas-Boas echoed Benitez’s cautious sentiment, after witnessing Spurs drop points for a third game in four.
Emmanuel Adebayor opened the scoring on 35 seconds, but Everton levelled through Phil Jagielka before Kevin Mirallas scored a fine individual goal, but Gylfi Sigurdsson earned Spurs a share of the spoils.
“We had an advantage that we lost, but the positive aspect is we’ve been in this position before, chasing, and we’ve done well,” said Villas-Boas.
“It could go down to the wire. I think it will depend on our results against Manchester City and Chelsea.”
At the bottom, Queens Park Rangers are seven points adrift of safety after Wigan’s Shaun Maloney cancelled out Loic Remy’s strike in a 1-1 draw.
“It’s going to be hard [to stay up] now,” said manager Harry Redknapp. “The players are very low, They didn’t deserve it and the fans didn’t either.”
Elsewhere, West Ham moved six points clear of the relegation zone after holding Liverpool to a goalless draw, while a last-minute goal from Papiss Cisse earned Newcastle a 1-0 win against Fulham.
Julian Harris, Josh Richards