Rovers in pack biting at Hotspurs' heels
LONDON: Tottenham Hotspur face intense pressure in the fight for fourth place in the Premier League and must win at relegation-haunted Birmingham City on Saturday to keep their rivals for a Champions League berth at bay.
Spurs, fourth on 49 points, are two points ahead of Arsenal, who entertain Charlton Athletic in a city derby, three in front of surprise contenders Blackburn Rovers and four clear of Bolton Wanderers.
Mark Hughes' Rovers have edged stealthily into the race much in the way that their quick Welsh striker Craig Bellamy nips behind defences, winning five games out of seven since the beginning of February.
One of only two defeats in that period was 3-2 at Spurs 12 days ago, but the gap between the two is back to just three points after the London side lost last weekend at Chelsea and sixth-placed Rovers beat Aston Villa.
Rovers are at home to Middlesbrough, who have overcome a patch of poor form to keep their heads above the relegation zone and their new-found confidence was boosted with their elimination of AS Roma from the UEFA Cup on Wednesday.
"The ball is in our court now. If we play like we have been doing in the last few weeks there is no reason why we can't get into that top four," Rovers midfielder Steven Reid told the club's official website.
"Middlesbrough have picked up since we played them over Christmas; they look a different side," he added by way of caution. Rovers beat Boro twice away in six days in December in the league and League Cup.
Seventh-placed Bolton must pick themselves up from their extra-time defeat at West Ham United in their FA Cup fifth round replay on Wednesday night, although they should beat bottom club Sunderland at home.
First option on Spurs' fourth spot, however, is in the hands of their bitter rivals from across north London, Arsene Wenger's improving Arsenal who will be looking for a third successive league win since they lost at Blackburn last month.
Wenger pointed to some complacency early in the season that allowed Arsenal to slip out of the leading positions when he said: "I feel that for a while, we thought a little bit OK, we will get into the Champions League position.'
"But now we realize we really have to dig deep We are in a situation now where we know we cannot drop points, nor neglect any point we can grab in the Premiership."
Liverpool, who meet Newcastle on Sunday, are nine points clear of the tight race for fourth place, looking secure in third although they have played one more game after their 5-1 rout of Fulham on Wednesday night.
It was a key win for Liverpool, who lost 2-1 at Arsenal last Sunday and whose strikers had been firing blanks. Robbie Fowler led the way with his first goal since returning to Anfield.
Fulham have lost their last four games and sunk dangerously close to the relegation zone, leaking 14 goals in the process, and they will be hoping they can recover their better home form for Sunday's visit by champions Chelsea.
In greater danger of relegation are West Bromwich Albion, who entertain second-placed Manchester United, and also improving in the run-in with Wayne Rooney in effervescent form.
(China Daily 03/18/2006 page11)
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