Football: A Berti booster for Spurs

Blackburn Rovers 0 Tottenham Hotspur 3 Berti 37, Armstrong 89 , Fox 90 Attendance: 30,388
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The Independent Online
THERE is life in the old Spurs yet and capacity still to surprise in this Premiership where the gap between top and bottom has so often this season seemed to be widening. We also saw again, in Blackburn Rovers this time, the deficiencies in title challengers unable to profit from Manchester United's stumbles.

Tottenham gave the sort of dogged display they are going to need plenty of in the coming months. After taking a first-half lead with Nicola Berti's first goal for the club, they stood firm in the face of a Blackburn onslaught and broke out past a team committed to attack to add splendid goals by Chris Armstrong and Ruel Fox.

"An excellent performance, especially after the Barnsley defeat," said a relieved Spurs coach, Christian Gross, who saw his team move out of the bottom three, at least until Crystal Palace and Wimbledon meet tomorrow night. "We were very organised and very intelligent."

It had helped, he said, staying in the North after that FA Cup defeat, analysing what went wrong and training. No doubt nearby Burnley, where Spurs trained, will be pleased with their role in the result, especially unexpected given that Blackburn had previously suffered only one home defeat, Spurs won away only once.

"They showed there is a lot of fight left in the club," Roy Hodgson, the Blackburn manager, said of Spurs, although he considered their victory fortunate. "I always thought we could step up the tempo and we did. Unfortunately it cost us two goals. There is no justice in football."

The only drawback for Tottenham - and England - was another knee injury to Les Ferdinand, which could force him to withdraw from the squad to play Chile in midweek. Rovers' goalkeeper, Tim Flowers, sustained bruised ribs and will have a scan today before deciding whether to report for duty.

One who definitely will not be is Chris Sutton, following his withdrawal from the B squad, but he showed yesterday why he is in such rich form this season, with a canny all-round display of the target man's art. However, he seemed at times to be pining for Kevin Gallacher. Between them they have scored 31 league goals this season and in his absence, Sutton's work often went to waste.

Not that Spurs will have any sympathy, having themselves lost Jurgen Klinsmann in midweek with a fractured jaw. They were due some fortune and it duly arrived here.

Fox finally got in a telling cross from the right that matched his approach work and although it eluded Ferdinand, it fell to Allan Nielsen. He was clearly seeking to control the ball for a shot himself, but instead it came to Berti, who stabbed the ball home under Flowers from close range.

It was as much as Spurs had deserved, though, and they might even have scored earlier. From Nielsen's left-sided position, he delivered a fine pass into the path of Berti, making a clever run between the Rovers central defenders Stephane Henchoz and Colin Hendry, but the Italian's finishing was lacking as he pulled his cross-shot wide.

Blackburn were also a surprise, and a disappointment. By half-time, they had come close only when Sutton headed Damien Duff's cross over the bar and Espen Baardsen saved well from Duff's deflected shot, Stuart Ripley heading the rebound into the goalkeeper's arms.

As they increased the tempo in the second half, it often became one-way traffic. David Howells cleared a header by Hendry off the line and Stephen Clemence flicked another from him on to a post. Another ball that broke to the defender was sent into the arms of Baardsen, a splendid shot-stopper if uncertain gatherer of the high ball.

They lacked an inventive figure around the penalty area, however, for all the astute organisation of Hodgson, who has them back in the solid 4-4-2 that brought them a title under Kenny Dalglish. Wave after wave foundered and in the space they left as time expired, Berti found Armstrong, whose return has been much-awaited, for a firm shot home and Fox cut inside from the left to plant a crisp cross-shot into Flowers' left corner.

The margin may have flattered, but Spurs deserved the win. Their application could scarcely be faulted and Howells marshalled them expertly from his midfield holding role. In addition, David Ginola's desire for possession sent confidence through the team. Their reaction to this will be just as important as the reaction to Barnsley.