Michael Dawson says self-belief can keep Tottenham above Arsenal

Michael Dawson savoured the feeling of derby day revenge over Arsenal and reflected the belief inside the Tottenham Hotspur dressing room that it would be the prompt for a Champions League finish.

The club captain, who has gone from fifth choice centre-half to first-team mainstay, repeated the call of the manager, André Villas-Boas, for focus over the final 10 games of the Premier League season.

Tottenham are seven points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal after Sunday's 2-1 home win over them, which atoned for the 5-2 defeat at the Emirates Stadium last November, but they are mindful of how they squandered a similar advantage last season, which cost them qualification to the Champions League.

Tottenham have a demanding run-in, which includes away fixtures at Liverpool on Sunday, Swansea City and Chelsea, and home games against Everton and Manchester City. They also remain alive in the Europa League and have the last-16 tie against Internazionale, the first leg of which is at White Hart Lane on Thursday. But Dawson cited the hard-fought derby triumph as evidence of why Tottenham were primed to enjoy a happier ending this season.

"We've definitely got more belief this year," he said. "We didn't have much of the ball for the first 20 minutes against Arsenal but we showed grit and determination. And after we gave them the goal back so early in the second half, we showed the fighting spirit and commitment that you need to win matches.

"It was a nice feeling to beat the rivals. It wasn't so nice at the Emirates ... getting beat like we did hurt us. I know it hurt the fans. But we savoured this moment. It was a massive three points and I'm sure the fans enjoyed it as much as we did. There's still a lot of football to play and we have got some tough games coming up but this has put us in a good position."

Dawson's story this season has highlighted his indefatigable spirit and passion for the club. He began at the bottom of the pecking order behind Younès Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, William Gallas and Steven Caulker, and Villas-Boas told him it was probably best he found a new employer.

Tottenham accepted a £9m bid for him from Queens Park Rangers yet Dawson turned down the move to stay and fight. Against Arsenal on Sunday, he starred alongside Vertonghen and he finished the afternoon by hurling his shirt into the crowd. Personal turnarounds have been a theme for Tottenham, with Villas-Boas, too, back on the up after his travails at Chelsea last season.

"Football is a funny thing," Dawson said. "I didn't play for the first three months and now I am playing. The manager had a hard time at Chelsea, he has come here and things have gone great. Long may it continue."

The goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who signed last summer from Lyon, revelled in his first experience of a derby at the Lane and he noted how Tottenham's superior defending had been decisive. "All the players made great performances but maybe the difference was the defensive work," he said. "We were OK and it's good for the rest of the season.

"The atmosphere was fantastic. When we scored our goals, the stadium was on fire and it was again at the end of the game. The season is not finished, we have to keep our concentration but, of course, it's better to be in this position than Arsenal's."

It was a familiar story for Arsenal, and the post-match comments from their dressing room could have come after any of their defeats this season. "We were good in the beginning but we need to maintain that level and that's what we are lacking all the time, that consistency over 90 minutes," said the defender Per Mertesacker. "We switched off [on the first-half goals] and you can't switch off at any time.

"After we scored, we couldn't put them under the pressure needed to score again. It was very disappointing the way we played after we scored. It wasn't enough. You have to put more in."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Hytner, for The Guardian on Monday 4th March 2013 22.59 Europe/London

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