LONDON (Reuters) - Tottenham Hotspur’s nightmare of agonisingly missing out on the Champions League is terrifying for their fans because it has happened twice in recent years and this season’s pursuit is again out of their hands.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw at relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic kept Spurs in fifth place with four matches remaining as they missed the chance to move into third at least for a day.
Fourth-placed Chelsea, who occupy the Champions League playoff spot, are above their London rivals on goal difference and host Swansea City in their weekend game on Sunday before squaring up to Spurs on May 8 in what could be a pivotal match.
Arsenal - in the third and final automatic Champions League spot - welcome Manchester United on Sunday and a win over the champions will put them four points clear of Tottenham albeit having played a game more than their north London rivals.
Nevertheless, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas felt their point at third-bottom Wigan was one gained not two lost after Emmerson Boyce’s late own goal handed the visitors a share of the spoils.
“It is good to salvage a point, hopefully it can turn out to be an important point,” the former Chelsea manager told the BBC.
“We did ever so well in the first half, 10 shots against their two. The problem is that when we came back on after halftime we thought we were in control and Wigan scored almost straight away and that really shook our confidence.”
Spurs fans first had their Champions League dreams dashed in 2006 when Martin Jol’s side sat fourth heading into the final game of the season but his squad were struck down by illness and they lost to West Ham United and finished fifth.
Arsenal took the Champions League place and conspiracy theories raged about the Spurs squad’s food being poisoned, all of which was disproved.
Tottenham did reach the promised land in 2010/11, excelling in the group stage and beating seven-times winners AC Milan in the last 16 before losing to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
Their success made the pain even greater last term when they again finished fourth to bag a Champions League playoff spot, only to miss out because sixth-placed Chelsea won the competition and so took England’s fourth spot as holders.
The fact Chelsea and Arsenal are the teams in their way again is all the more galling for Spurs, who thought they were on their way to an easy victory after nine minutes when comical Wigan defending handed them the opener.
Wigan goalkeeper Joel Robles dawdled and kicked the ball against Gareth Bale to send it spiralling into the net.
Boyce and Calum McManaman then put the FA Cup finalists in front before Boyce scored at the wrong end with Bale, who has now scored 19 league goals this season, lurking.
“Before we scored we were having difficulties to break them down,” added Villas-Boas, whose side struggled for width.
“It is very difficult, particularly against Wigan and against a Wigan side who when they find themselves 2-1 up, all that belief that this result can give them salvation is there.”
The draw left Wigan two points from the safety zone with four games remaining.
Editing by Ken Ferris