André Villas-Boas hailed John Terry's performance in Chelsea's 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur that included an added-time goalline clearance in his first game since the Crown Prosecution Service decided he has a case to answer for his alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand.
Terry was constantly booed and had abusive chants directed at him during the match. After Daniel Sturridge's 23rd-minute goal had cancelled out Emmanuel Adebayor's earlier one, the Chelsea captain walked to the travelling fans at the end to offer thanks for their support, handing his shirt to a fan.
Villas-Boas claimed that Terry's play has got better since the incident with Ferdinand which occurred on 23 October during Chelsea's visit to Queens Park Rangers. The Portuguese said: "Since the situation he has improved. He has grown in terms of performance. He's a reference point for this team. It shows his character and strength and personality – his effort for the collective is extraordinary."
Asked how Terry's mood had been since Wednesday when the CPS decided to press charges and if he had spoken with the 31-year-old, Villas-Boas said: "We speak all the time. What happened, his level of performance increased. His commitment and concentration increased as well. His performances have increased since the incident happened. His commitment, quality and talent are never in doubt. He's completely focused to the cause of this football club."
Adebayor appeared to have won the match for Spurs at the end but Terry raced back to clear the ball. "He anticipated the situation at the end," Villas-Boas said of his captain's intervention before praising his side's display. "It was a big opportunity for Tottenham but we had massive opportunities before from the ball that hit the bar [by Didier Drogba], from the situations we had around their penalty box. Our second half was brilliant. Tottenham, on this run in this morale, are extremely difficult. For us to impose ourselves as we did is extremely gratifying."
Chelsea are now 11 points behind Manchester City, the leaders. But Villas-Boas believes his club are still in the title race. "I think so. If we take the six points from the home fixtures, against Fulham [on Boxing Day] – a team that has revolted from this last result against United, and another emotional derby – and Aston Villa [on New Year's Eve], as we expect, we are pretty much in it.
"We came to Tottenham, a side who are title challengers, so it's a good point to get. We've been in worse situations before and recovered to seven points. I'm sure we can shorten the distance."
Villas-Boas called the draw a "moral victory" and added: "For me, it's a day when the result really doesn't matter. The performance was outstanding. Whatever the result, if a ball had gone into our net in the last minute, I would have left satisfied. It was an outstanding performance. We didn't lose two points. Coming here with Tottenham with the form they're showing in the league, to get a point is excellent. If you had said at the beginning of December that we'd go through these games with two wins and two draws, I'd have taken it running into the home fixtures.
"In terms of the title challenge, it keeps it alive. Today showed our character, personality, excellent levels of resilience and adaptation to circumstances. Our passing game exploded today to wonderful levels: it's fantastic to watch this team play when they find each other in possession as they did and create opportunities. It's remarkable. Outstanding. A fair result, it should have been a Chelsea win."
While he will be without Branislav Ivanovic and John Obi Mikel when Fulham visit due to hamstring problems picked up in the game, Tottenham also lost Younès Kaboul and Rafael van der Vaart to the same injury with Harry Redknapp saying that the latter will miss the remainder of the festive programme.
Regarding his side's champions aspirations the Spurs manager said: "Man City and United are red hot favourites, as they were at the start. Look at their results [on Wednesday]: United winning 5-0 at Fulham was incredible. City keep doing it [3-0 against Stoke City]. They'd have the squad for sure, the favourites. But United won't be far behind them. But there's another half of the season to go. Anything could happen, still. It's very very close.
"For us to have 35 points at this stage after losing the first two games is incredible. It's going to be tight. The top four will be very close."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Vladimir Maiorov