Football: Chelsea rewarded for their persistence

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. . .1

Chelsea. . . . . . . .2

BOTH teams were without their target men, but in the end Chelsea's aim to close up on the Premier League leaders was fulfilled late in a frenetic game at White Hart Lane which was eventually won with two late goals from Eddie Newton.

If Chelsea can score such victories as these when they have selection problems, they surely have a chance to achieve more than most people would have predicted at the start of the season.

Seven wins in nine games, including the significant if untidy one against Leeds United last Sunday, and Chelsea were thinking trophies. They seemed to have mastered the invaluable knack of winning even when playing badly, but whether they could maintain the momentum when injuries began to nag at their confidence was central to yesterday's game. They had to adjust to the suspension of Mick Harford whose abrasive and effective leading of their attack had taken them into the top six.

Tottenham were even more profoundly wounded yesterday, losing Gordon Durie, Paul Allen, Steve Sedgley, Andy Gray and David Howells. That profusion of disadvantages seemed likely to cost them dear when, from the start, the confident midfield controller Andy Townsend urged Chelsea forward in a succession of attacks. Having only Robert Fleck as a fully-committed central striker, Chelsea had to offer support from behind. At least Tottenham had the effervescent Nick Barmby supporting their striker, Teddy Sheringham.

Townsend's ideas apart, there was little pretty about much of the football but it was nevertheless compulsive, fierce, fast and industrious stuff - end to end with not much time for thought in the middle. Having survived their initial worries, Tottenham had the better opportunities. Neil Ruddock sliced over the top from 10 yards. Vinny Samways had a snatch shot well held by Kevin Hitchcock who also gripped two other dangerous attempts from Kevin Watson and Sheringham. Chelsea withdrew slightly and began to rely on threatening breakaways.

Tottenham, with Gary Mabbutt re-established in the centre of their defence, are less likely than they were to be caught out by opponents who break down their attacks and, in response, thrust forward at speed. Mabbutt's calmness is a priceless asset. Here he shepherded Fleck while at the same time directing the Spurs' defence in a way that, at times, must have been disheartening for Chelsea. The interceptions were always incisive and one midway through the first half against Fleck saved an almost certain goal.

While Chelsea made commendable attempts to gain the ascendancy in midfield, that remained the area most ignored. It all added to the impression of earnest activity in the attacks but there was no- one to distinguish between speed and positive progress. It would be churlish to be too critical since, after all, this was a Derby game and traditionally passionate but, in the past, has not often been as barren of imagination.

Having only Fleck to face them centrally, the Spurs defence seemed under no serious threat, but early in the second half Graeme Le Saux began to cut in more forcefully from the left side. Dean Austin found Le Saux difficult to control, particularly as he suffered from a twisted ankle and from then on was never at full speed. However, the more significant injury was to Fleck who, after an hour had to leave the field and Eddie Newton took the nominal striker's role.

Tottenham attempted to find a way through the hectic confusion by introducing 18-year-old Sol Campbell and Darren Anderton and certainly they dominated the last quarter of an hour, yet Chelsea profited by the incisiveness of their quick counter-attacking.

After 76 minutes Graham Stuart made ground quickly on the Tottenham left and sent Dennis Wise away. Wise slammed the ball across the Tottenham goal and Newton slid the ball gratefully over the line at the far corner. Within ten minutes Newton repeated his goal and Chelsea's persistence, rather than any other quality, was fully rewarded. This time Wise released Stuart and his long pass into the Tottenham goal area saw Newton again push the ball over the line - a goal that made Campbell's consolation two minutes from the end merely remind Chelsea that their progress this season is all hard work.

Tottenham Hotspur: E Thorstvedt; D Austin, J Edinburgh, V Samways, G Mabbutt, N Ruddock, J Cundy, N Barmby (D Anderton 68 min), Nayim, T Sheringham, K Watson (S Campbell 68 min). Sub not used: K Dearden (gk). Manager: D Livermore.

Chelsea: K Hitchcock; G Hall, F Sinclair, A Townsend, D Lee, M Donaghy, G Stuart, R Fleck (C Burley 61 min), G Le Saux, E Newton, D Wise. Subs not used: E Johnsen, N Colgan (gk). Manager: I Porterfield.

Goals: Newton (0-1, 76 min); Newton (0-2, 85 min); Campbell (1-2, 88 min).

Referee: L R Dilkes (Mossley).