Allen provides key for Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Preston North End 0 Tottenham win 4-1 on agg
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The Independent Online
Even before injuries claimed a substantial chunk of their first team, the cup competitions promised, as usual, to offer Tottenham their only realistic chance of a trophy this season. As expected, their list of targets remains plural rather than singular after last night's comfortable defeat of Preston North End in the second leg of their Coca-Cola Cup tie but, if Spurs are to make any further progress towards Wembley, it will require performances of far greater merit than that which eased them into the third-round draw.

The return of Teddy Sheringham after a five-match absence plugged one of the home side's largest holes, but seemed of little consolation 41 minutes into the first half when Darren Anderton, the scorer of the opening goal and Spurs' most effective player to that point, limped off with a leg injury.

Anderton apart, Spurs displayed little vision or enthusiasm, and while the visitors were often restricted to shots from long range, neither were they afraid to build carefully from the back. Tottenham created more and better chances, but apart from David Howells' shot after 12 minutes, an opportunity set up by quick interplay between Ruel Fox and Anderton, direct threats to Bobby Mimms' goal were rare.

Preston's defenders generally kept Rory Allen and the rusty Sheringham under control, but succumbed on the half-hour to a quickly taken free- kick while the defence was still arranging itself. The ball found its way to Anderton, who stroked home unchallenged.

When Ian Walker needed almost 60 seconds to take a goal-kick with just 10 minutes of the second half gone, it seemed Spurs had already decided that victory, rather than its manner, was all that mattered. They should have suffered for it a minute later, when Simon Davey shrugged off the challenge of Allan Nielsen and found himself advancing into the six-yard box. As Andy Saville and Michael Holt charged into the box, Davey attempted a cheeky poke inside Walker's near post which trundled forlornly into touch.

Perhaps aware of how close they had come to finding themselves in a real struggle, Tottenham soon put the issue beyond doubt. The home fans were screaming for a penalty as Stephen Carr went down under Russ Wilcox's strong challenge on the hour but, while only a corner was awarded, it made no real difference.

Preston could not clear and, after a brief melee, the ball was headed past Mimms with both Allen and Sheringham trying to claim the final touch. Allen's case appeared the stronger. The visitors deserved better, however, than Allen's goal from Howells' head-down after 75 minutes.

Tottenham would argue that a 3-0 defeat of do-or-die opponents is all that might reasonably have been expected of them. Few will have left White Hart Lane in more cheerful mood, however, than the scout from Manchester United, who entertain the Londoners on Sunday afternoon.

Tottenham Hotspur (3-5-2): Walker; Calderwood, Campbell, Carr; Anderton (Nielsen, 41), Sinton, Howells, Wilson, Fox; Sheringham, Allen. Substitutes not used: Nethercott, Baardsen (gk).

Preston North End (4-4-2): Mimms; Kay, Barrick, Wilcox, Kidd; Rankine (McDonald, 28), Davey, Atkinson, Kilbane; Saville, Holt. Substitutes not used: Squires, Sharp.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).