Third the spur for Tottenham at Sunderland
Updated Friday, 6th April 2012
Tottenham Hotspur know they will reclaim third place in the Premier League if they avoid defeat at Sunderland on Saturday.
Harry Redknapp's side are locked in an intriguing battle with north London rivals Arsenal for a guaranteed spot in the Champions League next season.
Only goal difference currently separates the capital clubs and, whatever happens on Wearside, the door will still be open for Arsenal to go back ahead on Sunday by bettering Tottenham's result when they face Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
Tottenham are in action on Monday as well, at home to Norwich, while Arsenal next have a fixture on Wednesday, when they travel to Wolverhampton.
Redknapp is sure to rotate his squad for the two Easter games and has already confirmed that Aaron Lennon, the winger, is only fit enough to feature in one.
"Aaron will be ready for 90 minutes but you won't get two games out of him at the weekend - no chance," Redknapp said.
"He'll play one game -- whichever one I choose to play him in. He keeps getting little hamstring problems and he and the medical people would be a bit wary of playing two games in quick time."
Forwards Jermain Defoe and Louis Saha will be hopeful of being handed starts after being forced on to the sidelines by the return to fitness of Rafael van der Vaart.
Tottenham lost three of the seven games the Dutch playmaker was unable to start because of injury but have posted an unbeaten four-match run since his return.
Centre-back Ledley King's chronic knee problem means he too can only play one game a week so that will open the door for ex-Arsenal defender William Gallas.
The France international, now 34, cautioned his team-mates not to let tiredness get in the way of achieving their goal.
"We have to be strong if we want to finish third," he said. "We have to play every game with 100 per cent, and at the end of the season we will go on our holidays and feel that maybe we deserved to finish third.
"Before that we have to give everything. Before the game we have to speak together and we have to know that we are not tired, and that we can be tired at the end of the season," he told the FA Cup semi-finalists.
Sunderland have little to play for but they have become significantly more difficult to beat since Martin O'Neill replaced Steve Bruce as manager.
"It's going to be one of the toughest away games," said Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul.
"Since January, since O'Neill took the team, they have been brilliant. They were very good at the weekend against Manchester City so we need to go there with full concentration, and in good form."
Sunderland almost won at City, going 3-1 up before having to settle for a point from a 3-3 draw, but O'Neill is likely to blood some of his younger players in the final seven games of the season.
However, the former Aston Villa manager was also mindful of not jeopardising what has been a remarkable turn-around in fortunes since he took charge, when the Wearside club were in the bottom three.
"You have to be careful as a manager," he said. "If you play an experimental team, or players who are coming through or trying to show they can play a part then that's fine, but it still counts as a statistical loss if you get beaten."
Former England defender Wes Brown is still at least a week away from a return after missing the last two months with a knee problem. Skipper Lee Cattermole will play through the discomfort of a knee ligament strain.