Bongani Khumalo’s Premier League debut moved a huge step closer as his new club Tottenham fought out a fascinating 1-1 draw with Chelsea at White Hart Lane last night.
SuperSports United captain and Bafana Bafana lynchpin Khumalo, 23, was granted a work permit to complete his £1m move to White Hart Lane yesterday with Spurs boss Harry Redknapp confirming: “It’s good news. We’ve got the paperwork through for Khumalo.”
And how Harry needs a fit young centreback as his side head into the second half of a dramatic title race – and the knock-out phase of the Champions League.
Yesterday’s clash with faltering Chelsea was a riveting affair. Spurs went ahead through Russian Roman Pavlyuchenko’s well taken goal but Chelsea brought on Ivory Coast talisman Didier Drogba at half-time – and the big man promptly blasted the equaliser through the hands of Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomez.
But there was late drama when Gomez gave away a late penalty – but saved Drogba’s spot kick with a glorious leap to his left. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s regular penalty taker, had come on as a substitute after three months of injury, but was not offered the chance to take the spot kick.
That point gives Redknapp hope of grabbing a Champions League place by finishing in the top four but he is rapidly running out of centrebacks.
Former Chelsea and Arsenal defender William Gallas pulled a hamstring in training on Friday and England international Michael Dawson was forced to take his place – and the captain’s armband – after his own three-month battle with an ankle injury picked upon England duty.
Dawson lined up next to Frenchman Sebastien Bassong as Tottenham are also missing Younes Kaboul and long-term injury problems Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate.
All of which gives Khumalo a great chance to break into the Spurs squad when he becomes eligible on January 1. Lucas Radebe, like Aaron Mokoena a South African who made a career for himself at centreback in England, says: “Khumalo will be a great ambassador for South Africa. I wish him well at Spurs.”
Chelsea captain John Terry said: “I thought we fully deserved to win the game, we dominated them second half. They made it difficult at times but that was more like the Chelsea we know.
“Didier was brave enough to stand up and take the penalty. The passion has been lacking in recent weeks but we’re back now. Now we’ve got two huge games, Manchester United at the Bridge and Arsenal at the Emirates.
“We just have to hope tomorrow’s game is a draw.”
And by that of course, Terry is referring to tonight’s showdown between leaders Arsenal and Manchester United at Old Trafford. Terry said: “United and Arsenal are both playing well at the moment but we can be right up there with them.”
But Drogba’s missed penalty denied the current double-winners victory yet again, and means they have taken just six points from their last 21. Their seven-point lead has rapidly turned into a deficit since the surprise sacking of Carlo Ancelotti’s No2 Ray Wilkins six weeks ago.
Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk. And for African readers, I'll be on SuperSport HD at 8.30pm tonight discussing Arsenal at Manchester United with Terry Paine and Shaun Bartlett. Promise to be controversial. You want any points raised, just say below.