Football: Barnsley face up to that sinking feeling

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Barnsley 0
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It was only October when Swindon came to White Hart Lane in the 1993- 94 season but, after four points and no wins from 11 games, it was already evident that their stay in the Premiership was going to be a short one.

Faced, early on, with the prospect of nine months' ritual humiliation the fans had clearly decided to make the best of a bad job. Throughout the day, from Swindon to Seven Sisters tube and back, they partied.

This year, after a series of heavy early defeats Barnsley's season in the Premiership sun seemed to be going the same way but, in recent weeks, they have begun to hope.

Victory at Anfield was followed by narrow late defeats by Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday and a draw with Newcastle. They were not so far adrift... who knows?

So they arrived, at White Hart Lane on Saturday, in hope of a point or three rather than expectation of defeat. With Tottenham also in trouble this match mattered. This made Tottenham's comfortable victory all the more painful. Three down after 18 minutes Barnsley were given a sharp reminder of their own inadequacies and it was not until late in the game, when this uncomfortable truth had sunk in, that their supporters gave full and magnificent voice to their devotion as they again gloried in simply being there. It must still have been a long journey home.

Barnsley are now three points adrift at the bottom and five points from safety. "I've got to believe we can stay up," said Danny Wilson, their manager, "but not playing like that." Having taken 14 points from the first 19 games they need 28 from the second half of the season to reach the probable 42-point safety-mark. It does not look likely.

Saturday's match underlined why. Tottenham had lost their last three home matches and conceded 10 goals in their last two games but they were always superior without, in truth, looking good that often. They did not need to. While Tottenham have Darren Anderton, David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ian Walker and others Barnsley can only offer Neil Redfearn's tireless inspiration and the promise of inexperienced players such as Adrian Moses, Andy Liddell, Martin Bullock and David Watson, some of whom are becoming so damaged by their struggles they are no longer in the team.

Before the match the prognosis was clear. If Tottenham were prepared to match Barnsley's sweat they would outplay them. They were. Barnsley thus needed to defend impeccably. Instead they gave away three quick goals and the match was over. The game underlined the gulf between the Premiership and the First Division. It can be bridged, as Leicester and Derby have shown. But these clubs have greater resources than Barnsley and have spent well. Danny Wilson has had to gamble, usually on unknown foreigners: of the four he signed at the beginning of the season only Lars Leese and Eric Tinkler started on Saturday and the goalkeeper made a horrible error.

That accounted for the second goal, the shot coming from David Ginola 20 yards out after Allan Nielsen's lay-back. The Dane had earlier scored the first, Darren Anderton finding him in unforgivable isolation in the area, to relax Tottenham. "We didn't give ourselves a chance to frustrate them," said Wilson.

Spurs had begun uncertainly - the kick-off was hoofed skyward at 5ft 6in Ruel Fox - but these goals gave them confidence. They began playing traditional Lillywhite football, pass and move, and the only surprising aspect of the third goal was that it came from a left-foot cross by Fox and a header by the unchallenged Ginola.

But, again, they faded with Ginola becoming preoccupied with flicks and tricks and Anderton, whose economical passing was a telling influence, tiring. If Barnsley had possessed more midfield creativity and attacking edge they could have forced a tense finish.

This was not lost on the Spurs manager, Christian Gross, who said he was more pleased to win 3-0 and fade than to have won 6-0 and mislead players, fans and critics about the measure of the task ahead. "For me it was more important that we controlled the game than we scored more goals, we still have to do a lot of work," he said.

Tellingly he picked out Nielsen for his "90-minute influence" when he was continually pressed on Ginola. "See how he worked for the team, he played an efficient game of soccer. He and Anderton are working hard for the team. Ginola is an important player for me. He worked for the team today."

At least victory meant that when, at 10 minutes to five, "Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur" rang out Spurs fans could hear the record without cringing at the inappropriateness of the sentiment. With Everton also winning it seems the slumbering giants are stirring.

It is 20 years since one of the traditional "Big Five" - Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal and Spurs - went down and, suddenly, the prospect of one of them repeating Tottenham's 1977 relegation looks slimmer. However, both have a long way to go yet - they remain in drop zone - and they must remember that a failure to match the team spirit and work ethic of the Barnsleys and Boltons will nullify any supposed quality advantage.

"We have to do a lot of work," added Gross who had his players in for training yesterday. "We may have to fight to the last game for survival but I am convinced we can escape."

Goals: Nielsen (5) 1-0; Ginola (12) 2-0; Ginola (18) 3-0.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Calderwood, Campbell, Wilson; Fox, Nielsen, Anderton (Dominguez, 67), Sinton; Ferdinand (Iversen, h- t), Ginola (Clemence, 88). Substitutes not used: Mabbutt, Bardsen (gk).

Barnsley (3-5-2): Leese; De Zeeuw, Markstedt (Bullock, h-t), Appleby; Eaden, Redfearn, Moses, Tinkler, Barnard; Liddel (Hristov, 66), Ward. Substitutes not used: Sheridan, Hendrie, Watson (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Tottenham: Dominguez. Barnsley: Appleby, Ward, Eaden, Moses.

Man of the match: Nielsen.

Attendance: 28,232.