Football: Boro slow the slide as Spurs are frustrated

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Middlesbrough 0

Tottenham Hotspur 0

Attendance: 34,687

MIDDLESBROUGH slowed their free fall a little by dragging Spurs down to their lowly level, but because this was just the third point they have taken from the last 24 they are still anxiously staring at the drop zone beneath them.

With just one goal in 1999, it took them until the 57th minute to force Ian Walker into a serious save and by then they had reduced Spurs, who had powerfully dominated the first half, to playing like them in hitting long and hoping hard.

"I'm just pleased to take something out of the game after the run we've been on," Bryan Robson said. "We are getting drawn towards relegation. We had conceded eight in our previous two games so it was important to defend properly."

But they didn't really and, as George Graham pointed out, Spurs should have been two up by half-time.

In just the third minute, Les Ferdinand's flick found Steffen Iversen whose back heel presented Mauricio Taricco with a yawning opening. Coolly, probably too coolly, the Italian-Argentine passed the ball beyond Mark Schwarzer but Steve Vickers intervened before it could roll over the line.

But it stirred Spurs. Middlesbrough defenders wilted like daisies before Ferdinand's physical presence and David Ginola's cunning brought free- kicks from all and sundry. When the home side were allowed the ball, Sol Campbell brushed their lightweights from it with ease.

Paul Gascoigne became increasingly frustrated. His mood darkened in the seventh minute when he over-hit a first-time ball allowing Walker to reach it before Alan Moore. He then became embroiled in a crude contest with Steffen Freund and inevitably was booked after half an hour for scything Stephen Carr. "I think referees look for him and the booking was harsh," Robson said.

Spurs had nothing to show from their first-half dominance because Ferdinand's close-range stab in the 41st minute had been from an offside position and Ramon Vega's 45th-minute header had hit the post.

Ferdinand did not reappear for the second half because of concussion and Chris Armstrong never presented the same threat. Middlesbrough dug deep, taking the midfield by the scruff of the neck, and throwing Spurs into disarray. Ginola's influence also spread as players plummeted theatrically to earth.

Then, in the 57th minute, a surprise: a flowing move. Gascoigne slipped in Andy Townsend whose toe-end allowed Robbie Stockdale to nip around Taricco. Mikkel Beck bounded in and forced Walker to tip over Stockdale's cross for Middlesbrough's first corner.

Although a distant drive from Iversen warmed Schwarzer's fingers, Spurs could not raise their game to reply until the 75th minute. Ginola made inroads down the left and swung over a teasing cross. Armstrong threw himself at it and his header grazed the side netting as it whistled wide.

Three minutes from time Gascoigne at least proved his fitness with a 40-yard run from the half-way line. But, running out of steam, his tired shot bounced wide limply.