TOTTENHAM 0-0 ASTON VILLA
The events of the past week have confirmed the gloomy scenario Aston Villa fans have been preaching for many a year.
Harsh though it is to dismiss the contribution made by Villa chairman Dough Ellis over the years, the reality is that he has overseen the demise of a club that was challenging for the top honours in Europe when he took over and pulled them down to the point where they cannot even afford to hang onto loan player from, of all teams, Leeds United. The same club that could barely afford to pay the milk bill just a couple of years ago were delighted to welcome Eirik Bakke home on Wednesday, yet Villa boss David O'Leary was less than pleased.
Ellis has, of course, has got used to being at the cutting edge of abuse from long suffering Villa fans who rightly believe they should be one of the powerhouses of English football. With a magnificent stadium and a proud history, there is no reason why Villa should not be tussling for a place in the Champions League this season, yet instead they are on-hold; waiting for a change of owner to give them the impetus required.
O'Leary has long been lambasted for his insistence on blaming everyone other than himself for the failings of his team, yet it is hard not to have some sympathy with the elegantly presented Irishman just now. After a less than impressive start to the season, the time has come to splash the cash and brighten up a side that may not be as far away from success as some may think.
Thomas Sorensen, Milan Baros, James Milner, Olof Mellberg and Gareth Barry are quality performers, so adding a few more star names to their ranks at this point in the season may be enough to propel Villa towards a European challenge. Instead, they are being forced to trim their numbers at the insistence of a chairman whose delay in selling to what we are led to believe is a host of potential buyers for Aston Villa.
As Sven Goran Eriksson allegedly said to the News of the World's fake Sheik last week, Ellis is a 'sick old man' and you can only hope that he can end his reign as the figurehead of Aston Villa with a little bit of dignity intact. Most Villa fans gave up on him many years ago, but selling-up now would at least allow him to say his farewells with a touch of style.
In terms of potential, these two clubs should be evenly matched, yet a glance at the Premiership table confirms one is now in a different league. Tottenham are a club whose ambition has taken them towards a Champions League spot, while Villa's lack of it has left them as also-rans.
And from the moment referee Graham Poll blew his whistle for the first time here at White Hart Lane, it was not hard to identify the side who are carrying all the momentum on and off the park. With Edgar Davids pulling the strings for Tottenham in the midfield, their patient build-up kept O'Leary's men on their toes in the opening half and hour and if it were not for a fine save from keeper Sorensen, the home side would have earned a deserved lead.
The Villa players and managers who have battled away under the restrictions imposed by Ellis over the years have done so with determination, yet when you are up against sides who have invested far more money than they, the realities of the game generally catches up with them.
The sight of Jermaine Jenas being stretchered off moments before the interval should have given Villa some morbid encouragement, yet the arrival of Aaron Lennon from the bench provided yet more evidence of gulf in class between these two squads. After all, Lennon has been one of the stars of the Premiership season to date, his pace a threat to the best of defenders.
In the end, it needed a series of stunning saves from Sorensen to secure Villa a point they barely deserved on a day when they failed to create a single scoring chance of note. Yet it was David O'Leary's post-match press briefing that gave the most vivid insight into the frustrations being felt by all at Villa Park.
'We came here today and did our best against a side that has benefited from heavy investment in the last year or so,' he began. 'I am a big admirer of Tottenham. To be fair, they have bought a lot of the players I would have liked to have signed for Villa. Lads like Dawson and Lennon are real quality and while I knew all about them before they came here, I'm not in a position to sign players like that.
'Spurs have gone down a route I would like to follow. Signing quality young English players and they have bought enough to make sure they have some success. They have probably bought eight players and if a few of them haven't worked out, they have got them out the door and brought in some money for them. It's an investment rather than a gamble if you look at it that way and they have every chance of qualifying for the Champions League as well.
'At any club, you will have a boss and my boss tells me at the moment that I'm not allowed to sign anyone. It is frustrating. It's especially frustrating when I'm working with Eirik Bakke on Tuesday morning and then I receive a phone call from the chairman telling me he isn't prepared to pay his wages any more and I have to send him back to Leeds. I will let you guys write up how I feel about that because if I say anything else on the Eirik Bakke issue, it will be turned into another story that suggests I am making up excuses.
'We hear talk of takeovers and new investors coming into Aston Villa, but until anything happens, we just have to get on and do the job as best as we can. It's not easy, but we'll get on with it.'
You got the feeling that O'Leary was itching to bark out what he really felt about the chains that have been placed around his ankles during this transfer window, but he went on to speak with great eloquence about the trials of working under Ellis.
'I knew this would be a tough job when I decided to take it on and it has been,' he continued. 'There is great expectation around this club and people think that because Villa won the European Cup a long time ago we should be doing the same every year. All I ask is for people to have a realistic look at what we are doing here.'
Tottenham boss Martin Jol believes his side blew their chance to take a giant leap towards Champions League football as they dropped two points on home soil. 'When you look at Arsenal losing, it was a great chance for us to put some daylight between us, but we just couldn't put the ball in the net,' moaned the Spurs manager.
'Bolton and Blackburn won today so they have gained some ground on us and it would have been very nice to sit back tonight in the knowledge that we had a good gap between the team in fifth. That's not there now, so we have to battle on.'
If David O'Leary had the same problems Martin Jol is encountering he would be a happy man. So long as Doug Ellis is Aston Villa chairman, his woes are likely to continue.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Thomas Sorensen.
If it were not for the Villa keeper, Spurs would have run out comfortable winners in this game.
FOOD WATCH: A rather lovely chicken stew was on offer before kick-off and we were even given goodie bags featuring mugs and mouse-mats - just a showbiz party but with less valuable presents!
THE SIDE SHOW: Those of us in the press boss were treated to a hilarious display from Villa assistant boss, Roy Aitkin. Pacing the touchline and berating fourth official Steve Bennett at every opportunity, manager O'Leary spent much of his time trying to keep him quiet.
VILLA VERDICT: They did little to suggest a revival is just around the corner. Their front two of Milan Baros and Juan Pablo Angel lacked quality service all afternoon and they clung on for dear life at the back. A couple of new signings might help, but that would be asking too much.