Cup provides the requisite positive charge

Click to follow
The Independent Online
One Saturday gone, a dozen to go. Then there are all the Sundays, Wednesdays and other match days. After that, the play-offs and Cup finals, England's summer tournament, and next season.

With anticipation having given way to trepidation, it is going to be a long and anxious wait until the European Championship next summer. Neither will there be a guarantee of peace when - and if - we get there.

But while one Saturday does not save a season it can set a lead, and England's latest probation began brightly this weekend. Nearly 120,000 spectators watched five important FA Cup fifth-round ties without feeling the need to rip up their seat and make fascist gestures.

The peace even survived what seemed the ultimate test - Millwall going out to an injury-time penalty at Loftus Road. At the other end of the country unsegregated Aberdeen fans stoically accepted their shock defeat at Stenhousemuir.

The League programme, and yesterday's three ties, pushed the weekend's attendance towards half a million. For many of them it was a day to reaffirm the faith, to remind themselves that an afternoon at the footie is a ritual worth preserving.

Few will have had their belief more vigorously renewed than spectators at White Hart Lane, where Tottenham and Southampton contested a spirited 1-1 draw. It was a hectic match, rather than a classic one, but while it was tough and passionate it was never dirty or nasty. The same applied on the pitch.

A broadcast appeal for the FA's shop-a-yob phoneline was the only reminder of Wednesday as both sets of supporters concentrated on the game.

Outside, they had mingled with each other and joked with police. The atmosphere was thick, not with tension, but with the smell of hot dogs and onions. Inside, the car-park was as chock-full of Mercs and Bimmers as ever; the executive box set had not been put off by Dublin.

The only real abuse was reserved for Darren Anderton, and even that was ritualistic - he once played for Portsmouth. This was ironic, as Anderton grew up a Southampton fan, and it was only when they rejected him that he was signed for Portsmouth. The man who signed him, Alan Ball, has been forgiven his Fratton flirtation following his return to Southampton as manager.

Ball's knowledge of Anderton helped Southampton subdue him and Nick Barmby. With Francis Benali sticking to Anderton and Jeff Kenna keeping Barmby busy, everything was funnelled inside, where Richard Hall and Ken Monkou headed it clear.

In the second period, when Spurs upped their work-rate and mobility, there were several moments when the ball bobbled around Southampton's goal area but there was always a blue-stockinged leg to block or clear. On the one occasion Jrgen Klinsmann carved himself a chance, from Teddy Sheringham's pass, he hit the outside of the post.

The pair had combined for Spurs' goal, Sheringham heading on Ian Walker's goal-kick, Klinsmann coolly scooping it over Bruce Grobbelaar. Within a minute Jeff Kenna ran on to the excellent Jim Magilton's pass and was bundled over by Justin Edinburgh.

It looked outside but Spurs' players, to their credit, did not make undue fuss. Le Tissier converted the penalty. The Southampton captain also provided the game's outstanding moments, bewitching Barmby and Edinburgh with one piece of skill, chipping over Gary Mabbutt and volleying on to the bar in another.

He did not do an awful lot else and, at times, seemed to shirk the responsibility of making himself available. But that, said Alan Ball, indicated not laziness but understanding.

"As a kid my father [Alan Snr, also a manager] used to tell me `stand still, go nowhere and let the play come to you. Why chase it?'

"Matt stands still and people think he is lazy. He is not, he is making his own space. It is up to us to get the ball to him in the right areas and he will hurt the opposition."

Le Tissier's supporters argue that his time is better spent creating than destroying. One tackle, on Mabbutt, was embarrassingly poor and contrasted with the way Anderton pursued, and ultimately dispossessed, Le Tissier on another occasion. One can see why Venables is thought to prefer the Tottenham man. But the memories, on a refreshing afternoon, were of Le Tissier.

"He was very low when he came back from Dublin," Ball said. "He really wanted a big night, he wanted to do well for England and the chance was taken away from him.

"We trained on Thursday afternoon and for 15 minutes he just mooched around. Then I said: `Come on Matty, let's go to work', and he got his head down and was fine."

The same applies to the game. There is much work to be done, lessons to be absorbed, and vigilance to be observed. But it is time to enjoy what we have.

There may be a renewed sense of bitterness on some terraces, and - as was evident at Old Trafford yesterday - some fans will long be in mutual antagonism, but there is a generosity of spirit in many fans. Both Le Tissier and Klinsmann's genius was applauded by rival supporters and, at the end, Grobbelaar was given a rousing cheer as he waved to Spurs fans. His own future remains clouded, and there was something of a farewell in his gesture, but Ball is convinced of his innocence and most supporters wish him well.

It was the accusations against Grobbelaar that first tarnished a once- splendid season. The FA expect a police judgement on the allegations against him soon. It would be a significant plus if they are rebutted, a signal, perhaps, for a return to the positive.

Goals: Klinsmann (20) 1-0; Le Tissier pen (21) 1-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Campbell, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Edinburgh; Anderton, Howells, Popescu, Barmby; Sheringham, Klinsmann (Austin, 89). Substitutes not used: Nethercott, Thorstvedt (gk).

Southampton (5-2-2-1): Grobbelaar; Kenna, Hall, Widdrington, Monkou, Benali; Magilton, Maddison; Le Tissier, Heaney; Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Dodd, Hughes, Beasant (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Middlesex).