Football: Class of Ginola cracks United

FOOTBALL: Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester United 1
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The Independent Online
WHEN TOTTENHAM hired George Graham, his mission was to repeat at White Hart Lane the success he had enjoyed at Highbury. Last night his new charges took a big step towards emulating his first achievement as Arsenal manager with a nervy but ultimately impressive win over Manchester United.

In his first season across north London, in 1987, Arsenal won the Littlewoods Cup to begin Graham's remarkable run of success with the club.

Last night Spurs moved into the semi-finals of the same competition, now called the Worthington Cup, where they will meet Wimbledon. They were immediately installed as favourites by Ladbrokes.

"I'm delighted," said Graham. "It's about time the club had a bit of success. It is a bonus to come so quick, getting to Wembley and clearing out the treatment room are two achievements I thought would be beyond me this season." Not that either have been achieved yet. There are still players injured and, as Graham added: "Wimbledon have a habit of knocking down favourites."

The performance was neither vintage Tottenham nor archetypal Graham - a dull opening half being followed by an end-to-end second. Individual performances were equally patchy but Chris Armstrong and David Ginola produced enough flashes of inspiration to beat a decidedly under-strength United.

Armstrong scored twice in the opening nine minutes of the second period, the second following a marvellous piece of wing play by Ginola. The Frenchman, flourishing under Graham, then killed off a spirited United revival with a stunning individual goal five minutes from time. United had got back into the match through Teddy Sheringham, who marked his first match since September by scoring against his old club, and Alex Ferguson thought they deserved more.

"I'm very disappointed," said the United manager. "I don't think the scoreline reflected the balance of play. We played some good football and once we'd scored we should have done better with the chances we had."

For United this fifth-round tie was the furthest they had reached since they stopped taking the competition seriously in 1994, six months after reaching the final. With Aston Villa and Bayern Munich coming up it still represented an inconvenience rather than an opportunity. That, at least, was the club view. For the players involved it was a chance to stake a claim for a place in those matches.

Along with Sheringham, Ryan Giggs and Ronny Johnsen were also given a chance to prove their fitness, yet even with Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer included it looked a very strange United team, though Ferguson insisted: "We sent that team out to win the match - even your best team does not win every match."

For Tottenham the competition represents a chance to win their first honour since 1991 and make a return to Europe after seven years. With such a prize in sight they naturally had their strongest available side out which, for the first time under Graham, included Ian Walker in goal.

Tottenham were the dominant early force, with Ginola giving Michael Clegg a difficult time at right-back, but once United's youngsters realised there was little to fear they came into the game and could have gone ahead after 22 minutes. Clegg switched play with a crossfield ball to Giggs but Phil Neville shot over from his through pass.

It was a rare moment of excitement in a half in which Spurs' best chance came from a mistake by Johnsen on the half-hour. He slipped on the ball but, though Allan Nielsen took advantage to advance on goal, he delayed and was tackled by Henning Berg. The ball fell to Colin Calderwood, whose hapless shot high into the stand was typical of the play. The only moment of quality was a turn and shot by Ginola which curled just over the bar.

Graham brought on Ruel Fox at the interval, ostensibly to give his team a better balance in midfield. It brought an instant and unexpected reward as Nielsen crossed into the box, the 5ft 6in Fox back-headed on, and Armstrong looped a header over Raimond van der Gouw to put Spurs ahead.

Seven minutes later Armstrong scored again, this time at the near post, following quick-footed trickery and a fine cross from the left by Ginola.

Spurs looked to have the tie sewn up, but United pushed forward and after 70 minutes Sheringham revived the match when he met Neville's cross with a neat flicked header.

In response, Ginola hit a stunning 25-yard shot to clinch a Tottenham victory. While they dream of Wembley, United can now concentrate on every other competition.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Young, Campbell, Sinton; Anderton, Nielsen, Calderwood (Fox, h-t), Ginola; Armstrong (Ferdinand, 87), Iversen. Substitutes not used: Baardsen (gk), Wilson, Clemence.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Gouw; Clegg, Berg, Johnsen, Curtis (Blomqvist, 87); Greening (Beckham, 87), Butt (Notman, 71), P Neville, Giggs; Solskjaer, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Culkin (gk), Wallwork.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

More reports, page 30 Results, page 31