Football: Anderton leads the way back

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. .2

Scott 64, Dozzell 90

Sheffield United. . 2

Gayle 57, Blake 86

Attendance: 25,741

WHILE Tottenham Hotspur's wounds were healed a little with an injury-time point yesterday, Darren Anderton might have been forgiven for thinking that all that mattered was getting through a tough match unscathed, which he did. Next Wednesday this wispy winger is almost certainly going to be part of the new England era, thanks to his old manager, Terry Venables, and a maturing ability to look like Chris Waddle with a sensible haircut. But is he that good?

Venables has not only put Anderton in the squad for the match against Denmark but has dropped substantial hints that he will be in the team. Tottenham favouritism? Not if you watched Anderton growing up while Spurs have declined, or saw his contribution yesterday.

After a lot of headline-winning praise when he was at Portsmouth, it took months for him to settle into top-division football and overcome the burden of the pounds 1.7m Venables paid. There was a shyness about his game that belied his ability and restrained his progress.

For Spurs, the pity of this season has been the long absence of Teddy Sheringham, for whom Anderton was such a valuable provider. But Anderton has remained consistent despite Tottenham's problems and, as Venables says, he is adaptable and has an instinct for knowing when to put over early crosses.

Yesterday no one looked better, though the combined talent of both teams hardly amounted to a magic box. Pace was everything but Anderton seemed to stroll. He tried both flanks, and direct approaches down the middle. From any angle he looked a class act.

Switching early from right wing to left, he straight away brought a high ball under control with rare certainty. His sixth sense in choosing when to centre or to hold told him to cross directly to the foot of Ronny Rosenthal, who was well placed in the goal area but had little of the winger's instant control.

The agility and alertness of Sheffield United's goalkeeper, Alan Kelly, frustrated a lot of Spurs' good work and particularly Anderton's ingenuity. When Anderton found a gap in which to insert a gorgeous pass to Nick Barmby, the ensuing shot was goal-worthy yet Kelly somehow turned the ball away.

Anderton's timely first-half centres unnerved United. One that came after a shrug of the shoulders that sent two defenders on false trails was weakly spurned by Steve Sedgley though at least he made some compensation later when heading firmly to space at the far post. Kelly again plugged the gap. A thumping first-time shot by Anderton just before half-time again saw the goalkeeper gymnastically push the ball over the top.

Kelly's efforts were proved worthwhile when, after 57 minutes, a corner played short by Glyn Hodges was neatly back- heeled by Franz Carr; Hodges knocked the ball into a crowded goal area, from where Brian Gayle thrust the ball in.

Spurs took six minutes to restore the balance. A free-kick driven high beyond the far post by Anderton found Kevin Scott in space and he comfortably headed the equaliser.

It was appropriate that Anderton had a foot in the goal since he had a hand in most of an uncompromising game's more innovative moments. A similarly composed and mature performance at Wembley could secure an England place for some time to come. But his performance still failed to stop Spurs falling behind again. With four minutes left Nathan Blake, the United substitute, took up a fine flicked pass from Hodges and slammed a shot high into the net.

In injury time, however, a back-header by Gayle was met by Barmby, who slipped the ball to Rosenthal. When he attempted a shot, luckily for Spurs and cruelly for United, it turned into a pass to Jason Dozzell, who drove the ball in.

(Photograph omitted)