LONDON (Reuters) - A sizeable chunk of Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium has been missing all season and the bulldozers are closing in, but in the club’s final campaign at White Hart Lane they have turned their home since 1899 into a fortress.
Premier League leaders Chelsea fell there, so did Manchester City and eight other teams.
Only Liverpool and Leicester City have escaped with honour intact, holding Mauricio Pochettino’s team to 1-1 draws.
While their away form has been mixed, Tottenham’s haul of 32 points from 12 home fixtures is only bettered by Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge record.
Yet Mark Hughes’s Stoke City will travel to North London not in trepidation but with genuine optimism, having drawn and won on their last two visits to White Hart Lane - a stark contrast to their last two home clashes with Spurs which ended in 4-0 drubbings.
Since their last game, a 1-0 home win over Crystal Palace on Feb. 11, Stoke have been enjoying warm-weather training in Dubai. Over the same period, Tottenham will have played three games after Thursday’s Europa league second leg against Gent.
Tottenham will be wary of that, and of former player Peter Crouch, as they attempt to bounce back from a 2-0 loss at Liverpool - their first defeat in 10 league games - but in all likelihood they will prevail on Sunday to get their hopes of a top-four finish back on track.
Yet as the fans enter the 118-year-old stadium that is being rapidly enveloped by the new 61,000-seater arena Tottenham will play in from the 2018-19 season, there will be nagging concerns.
Next season Tottenham begin a one-year exile at Wembley Stadium where they under-performed badly in the Champions League this season, having staged games there rather than a reduced-capacity White Hart Lane to maximise revenue.
Some suggest certain away teams might be inspired by Tottenham’s majestic temporary home and that Pochettino’s team will lose ‘home advantage’.
Former skipper Gary Mabbutt, who made more than 600 appearances for the club, does not subscribe to that theory.
”I think they can turn Wembley into a fortress too,“ Mabbutt told Reuters. ”Yeah, the first two Champions League games at Wembley (against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen) were just off days. It was nothing to do with Wembley.
”Think of the worst-case scenario next season and call the Wembley games ‘away games’ as some are suggesting. Ok, but by the way, there will be 80,000 Spurs fans in the stadium.
“To me there are no negatives.”
Tottenham are third in the table ahead of the weekend, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea and one ahead of fifth-placed Liverpool. Stoke are ninth and almost assured of a 10th consecutive season in the top flight.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by John Stonestreet