Van der Vaart rescues draw
Rafael van der Vaart (AFP)
London - Tottenham midfielder Rafael van der Vaart rescued a 1-1 draw against Stoke on Wednesday but that wasn't enough to stop his side slipping out of the top three for the first time in three months.
Harry Redknapp's side trailed to Cameron Jerome's second half strike until Dutch midfielder van der Vaart headed home deep into stoppage time at White Hart Lane.
That stopped Spurs suffering a fourth successive defeat, but the draw was damaging enough as north London rivals Arsenal moved ahead of them into third place after a 1-0 win at Everton.
Ever since Redknapp was linked with the England job, Spurs' league season has gone into freefall and it was another dispiriting evening as football returned to White Hart Lane four days after Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba's horrifying collapse.
No Spurs player took the option of sitting out the game in the wake of Muamba's cardiac arrest in Saturday's FA Cup clash between the sides, while both teams warmed up and entered the field of play sporting T-shirts which read "Get well soon Fabrice".
There was also a minute's applause before kick-off, both for Muamba and the medical staff who saved the 23-year-old's life.
Van der Vaart mustered the game's first shot on target in the 17th minute of what was his first league start since January.
The first real chances then arrived, near carbon copy efforts missed by Luka Modric in the 18th and 22nd minutes.
Both were supplied by threaded balls from Gareth Bale, but Modric screwed each of his finishes narrowly wide.
Spurs almost broke the deadlock from distance six minutes before half-time when Louis Saha's snapshot was tipped over by Asmir Begovic.
There were sporadic chants of "Fabrice Muamba", as if the home fans were hoping that might inspire their heroes, but Redknapp took more direct action, sending on Jermain Defoe for Niko Kranjcar at half-time.
They were almost gifted a goal when Stoke's defence presented the ball to Bale but recovered in time to deflect his shot behind.
Defoe then failed to punish an absolute howler from Begovic, the keeper getting his punch all wrong from Ryan Shawcross' miscued clearance and being rescued only by the narrowness of the angle.
Redknapp threw on misfit Giovani Dos Santos for Saha 19 minutes from time and it almost paid off moments later when Bale crashed a dipping 30-yarder against the bar.
But they were behind in the 75th minute when a Jermaine Pennant free-kick was flicked on by Robert Huth for Jerome to poke home from point-blank range.
Van der Vaart might have equalised but scuffed his finish after collecting Assou-Ekotto's cross and his frustration soon boiled over when he was booked for blasting the ball at the advertising hoardings.
However, it was Bale and Van der Vaart who combined as Tottenham snatched would could yet prove a crucial draw, the latter glancing in the Welshman's pinpoint cross.