Premier League - Jelavic strikes as Spurs slump continues
Tottenham succumbed to a third successive Premier League defeat for the first time under Harry Redknapp as a Nikica Jelavic goal condemned them to a damaging 1-0 loss at Everton.
Following back-to-back losses to Arsenal and Manchester United, Tottenham's grip on third place - which just weeks ago had seemed unassailable amid talk of a possible title challenge - was loosened further when Jelavic scored after only 22 minutes of his home debut at Goodison Park.
Everton resisted a determined challenge from Spurs in the second half to secure the win and a ninth game without defeat in all competitions for David Moyes - who celebrates 10 years in charge of the club next week and has been linked with Spurs in the eventuality that Harry Redknapp is appointed by England.
However, before claiming a hard-fought victory the Merseysiders had to endure seeing former striker Louis Saha agonisingly strike the post in injury time as the Frenchman was left disappointed on his first return to Goodison since leaving the club in January.
This defeat leaves Spurs in third and just four points ahead of London rivals Arsenal, who have a game in hand, and Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea. But while Tottenham were left to rue a third successive defeat in the league for the first time since the departure of Juande Ramos in October 2008, Everton enjoyed a victory that puts them within two points of rivals Liverpool ahead of next week's Merseyside derby.
Tottenham stuck with a 4-4-2 formation despite struggling with the shape in recent weeks, though Jermain Defoe was restored to the starting line-up with Saha on the bench. Moyes had claimed the two sides had struck a gentleman's agreement that dictated Saha would not feature after he swapped clubs on transfer deadline day, but such deals are not permitted by the authorities and Redknapp denied prior to kick-off that his team selection had been influenced in such a way.
Meanwhile, Everton handed a first start to Jelavic, the Croatian striker who escaped the chaos at Rangers to arrive on Merseyside in January and push Saha out of Goodison Park, and switched Seamus Coleman to the left wing to deal with Gareth Bale, who was stationed on the right of the Tottenham midfield.
Despite occupying the same flank as the usually effervescent Bale, Coleman was bright in an otherwise rather disappointing first 15 minutes as he dragged a weak shot wide after Younes Kaboul had cleared from a Royston Drenthe cross, before then seeing another effort deflect up into the air and into the arms of Friedel.
Tottenham continued to grapple unconvincingly with a formation that failed to bring the best out of Bale or Luka Modric - though Defoe could have won a penalty under gentle contact from Johnny Heitinga - but Everton pressed forward and saw Marouane Fellaini call Friedel into action with a smart save from a tight angle after Ledley King had climbed on Jelavic as the striker diverted the ball into the path of his team-mate.
Just two minutes later, Everton were in front. Leighton Baines was the instigator with a lovely forward pass to play in Leon Osman, who skipped away from the recklessly advancing Kaboul with a fine touch. The midfielder then cut the ball back to Jelavic from the left side of the box and the striker opened up his body as he met the pass with an excellent cushioned effort that Friedel could only divert just inside the post.
Tottenham threatened only briefly through Bale, with the Wales international going close with one ferocious free kick and testing Tim Howard with another low effort, but Spurs had to switch him with Modric in an effort to coax a more cohesive performance out of their side. It failed to work, and Everton remained the stronger side as Drenthe drilled a shot wide and Jelavic went close with a curling free kick before half time.
Perhaps Tottenham's struggles should have come as little surprise given Everton were unbeaten in eight games in all competitions coming into this contest, while Spurs had lost two in quick succession in the league, but it was still a surprise to see Redknapp refuse to tweak his formation at half time.
Defoe remained on the pitch, forcing Howard into two good saves in the opening minutes of the second half, and so it was to Adebayor that Redknapp turned when he did make a change after 55 minutes, the striker being replaced by Saha as any hint of a reputed and disputed gentleman's agreement went out of the window.
Though 4-4-2 remained, Spurs did notably improve and Modric also went close when blasting a shot over the bar when Fellaini was unable to control and clear in the box. Everton were reduced to intermittent chances, with Osman going close when testing Friedel with a firm drive from just inside the box after 71 minutes.
Tottenham appeared to be getting ever closer to an equaliser and although Defoe did hook the ball into the net on 77 minutes, he was rightly given offside when latching onto Bale's chested pass from inside the box.
Spurs threw on Rafael van der Vaart as they looked to pile the pressure on Everton and in the dying seconds they could have equalised when, with Friedel up from a corner, the ball dropped for Saha six yards from goal. However, he could only poke his shot against the post as Everton clung on for victory.