It is the most pointless word in football. Tottenham Hotspur would be top of the Premier League if matches lasted 80 minutes, but the irritation of playing 10 extra continues to undermine André Villas-Boas' efforts at Tottenham. He went from victorious to vanquished in 88 seconds at Goodison Park.
As the clock turned to 90 minutes, Spurs had strengthened their claims on fourth place courtesy of Clint Dempsey's goal and Everton were resigned to another tale of regret. By the final whistle all had been transformed thanks to Steven Pienaar's diving header against his former club and an instinctive finish from Nikica Jelavic. Villas-Boas, who had said before kick-off that a manager can turn from hero to donkey in a supporter's eye within three games, was left aghast. The DJ at Goodison was sent scrambling through his collection for Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody.
"That was difficult to take," the Spurs manager understated. He is accustomed to the feeling. His team have lost 10 goals and 14 points in the last 15 minutes of games this season. "That has been our adventure so far," said Villa-Boas. "There are so many different reasons. It is not easy to explain as they have come from different situations, but I don't think it is a mental thing. Everton got more aggressive with their long balls at the end and it was difficult for us to deal with them."
David Moyes claimed the turnaround was no more than Everton deserved and it is true they did not leapfrog Spurs into fourth on spirit alone. Yet the swing was extraordinary. "We played terrifically well, especially in the first half through Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman, but we just couldn't find the final pass or finish to kill it off," said Moyes. "It is too early to talk about Europe but the league position doesn't shame our performances."
Until the late drama the Everton manager had been preparing another broadside at refereeing standards after Kevin Friend had denied his team two first-half penalty claims – one optimistic, the other legitimate. In truth the game had needed the controversy, and the pulsating finale, as two well-matched Champions League hopefuls often cancelled each other out.
Hugo Lloris made a crucial early stop when Jelavic attempted to take Darron Gibson's defence-splitting pass round the Spurs' keeper but was denied by a perfectly timed intervention. In the opposite goal Tim Howard was only seriously tested from Jan Vertonghen's free kick before Dempsey, starting on the left in place of the injured Gareth Bale, shot from 25 yards and his effort looped over his USA team-mate via a deflection off Sylvain Distin.
Moyes' team controlled much of the first half, with Coleman a constant outlet down the right and Gibson dropping balls over the Spurs' full-backs with the accuracy of a quarterback. But too often a careless pass or cross undermined their work and it was only when Dempsey appeared to handle Vertonghen's clearance that Goodison came to life. Dempsey clearly moved his arm towards the ball but it appeared to hit his chest.
The referee stood firm amid vociferous Everton appeals that intensified 60 seconds later when Pienaar's shot struck the outstretched arm of William Gallas. Again the referee said no, but this time Spurs were reprieved. They were also thankful to see Mirallas replaced at half-time after the Belgian reported a tightening of the hamstring that had caused him to miss the previous four games.
Villas-Boas' men dominated for a spell after the restart although Mirallas' replacement, Steven Naismith, and Leon Osman squandered good chances. Spurs almost doubled Dempsey's lead when Gylfi Sigurdsson's shot from 20 yards beat Howard but cannoned off the crossbar.
The visitors appeared to have weathered the Everton storm as the game entered its dying moments. "We had tried everything," said Moyes. "We put Baines out wide, Pienaar through the middle and those final 10 minutes were probably the poorest part of our play."
Yet they yielded two dramatic finishes. First Pienaar threw himself at Coleman's centre to equalise with a diving header, Everton's 1,000th goal in the Premier League. Goal 1,001 arrived 88 seconds later when Gibson crossed, the substitute Apostolos Vellios attempted an overhead kick, and the ball squirmed through to Jelavic who converted from close range.
Man of the match: Darron Gibson (Everton)
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