Football Commentary: Venables' shadow over sorry Ardiles

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The Independent Online
'YOU'VE ruined this club Ardiles. Resign.' Two wins in 21 games - half a Premiership season - and the natives are getting restless at White Hart Lane. Terry Venables, preparing his first England team, would not be human if he did not allow himself a wry smile at Tottenham's plight since they ditched the cleverest football brain in the country in a moment of midsummer madness.

An injury-time equaliser from Jason Dozzell spared Alan Sugar and company a full-blown demonstration, but suffering supporters had cringed, then grown increasingly irate, at the sight of Sheffield United's relegation ragbag outplaying Spurs for long periods on their own ground.

United, 21st in the table and sinking fast, were within seconds of their first away win of the season when Dozzell's only contribution of note tied it up at 2-2. Their manager, Dave Bassett, was greatly disappointed, Ossie Ardiles hugely relieved, which says it all. Spurs, who have not won at home in the League for more than five months, are now grateful for the odd point against teams they spanked at will in Venables' day.

'Are you watching, Sugar?', Disgusted of Edmonton bellowed at the directors' box. 'Get your money out.' In fairness, he has, and Ardiles has wasted a great deal of it. Kerslake and Calderwood, Scott, Dozzell and Rosenthal. Not one of them would have got anywhere near Spurs' Cup- winning side of 1991. The anaemic team Ardiles has assembled bears stronger resemblance to the one Keith Burkinshaw took down in '77. For Scott, Calderwood and Rosenthal read Lacey, Naylor and Moores.

Too good to be relegated? They were saying that 17 years ago, and then they had Jennings, Hoddle, the trusty John Pratt and John Duncan, an accomplished striker who would have fetched millions today.

Optimists draw comfort from the fact that Spurs are still five points clear of the bottom three, in 16th. Those of more realistic bent will appreciate they have played two and three games more than five of the six sides below them, that they are without a win in 1994 and, as Bassett pointed out, history has taught us that one team usually sinks like a stone in the second half of the season, and often ends up relegated.

Ardiles has been saying for weeks that he is worried about the situation, and that he knows the worst could happen, but knowing is one thing. Preventing it is quite another. Events at Newcastle United, who were heading for the old Third Division until he was sacked, support the popular theory that this most mild-mannered of men does not have what it takes to drag a team out of the mire.

He is not what he calls 'a sergeant-major type'. Not for him the flying cups and up-against-the-wall aggression. He prefers reasoning to rollocking, which would be fair enough if the players were responding to what he had to say. Unfortunately, there is little sign of that, and it seems a little less Blanchflower and a little more Mackay is required. Hence talk of a change of hats which would see Ardiles and his more forthright coach, Steve Perryman, swap jobs.

For the moment, it is no more than talk, but Sugar will not allow the television nest-egg which comes with Premiership status to slip away without trying everything, and a last throw of the dice is inevitable.

Amid much dross and depression, Tottenham do possess one gem of a player entirely in keeping with their more prosperous past. If Darren Anderton does not make his debut for England on Wednesday, Venables will have made his first mistake.

On Saturday the young winger teased and tormented United with the full panoply of his exciting talent, running past them at the drop of a shoulder or bisecting them with his passing or dead ball expertise. He was, by the length of Tottenham High Road, the best player on the pitch - a new Chris Waddle for the crowd to savour.

In the first half his penetrative prompting made Spurs much the better side. Four times he set up others - Barmby, Sedgley (twice) and Rosenthal - with inviting goalscoring opportunities, and when he had a go himself it took a top-class save from Alan Kelly to touch over his strong 15-yard shot.

United were up against it but, as we have learned to expect from 'Harry' Bassett's teams, they dug in, then hit back with commendable spirit. A clever corner routine enabled Brian Gayle to prod them in front from a Glyn Hodges cross, and with Jostein Flo threatening to double their advantage the Tyke choir was in good voice.

'Ooh-ahh, Franz Carr' may suffer by comparison with the original, but the pace of the retread winger exposed Spurs' defensive shortcomings, and throughout the second half it was the Blades who were sharpest.

Scott's headed equaliser, from an Anderton free-kick, seemed to be no more than a temporary setback when Nathan Blake thumped in his first goal since joining United from Cardiff City for pounds 500,000.

Ardiles and Sugar were getting fearful stick until, with the clock showing 91 minutes, a mis-hit shot from Rosenthal was diverted in by Dozzell for a desperately late reprieve.

Bassett was 'very disappointed', and saw it as a case of two points lost. 'There have been times this season when we've played crap, but not today.'

Games were running out, he said, and he would rather be in Spurs' situation than his own, but his players were experienced relegation warriors, and knew what was required of them.

Someone mentioned England. Did he share the prevailing mood of optimism about the Venables era? 'I'm more concerned about my club. Other managers won't say it, but the clubs are their bread and butter, and the national side are of secondary importance.'

And Ardiles? He was happy that Anderton's form boded well for Wednesday. Mr Nice Guy to the last. Unpatriotic or not, Spurs supporters would probably prefer a bit more of battling 'Harry's' single- mindedness.

Goals: Gayle (57) 0-1; Scott (63) 1-1; Blake (86) 1-2; Dozzell (90) 2-2.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin (Caskey, 33), Mabbutt, Scott, Campbell; Anderton, Dozzell, Samways, Sedgley; Barmby, Rosenthal. Substitutes not used: Day (gk), Gray.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kelly; Bradshaw, Gayle, Tuttle, Whitehouse; Carr, Kamara, Gannon, Hodges (Gage, 89); Flo, Littlejohn (Blake, 77). Substitute not used: Tracey (gk).

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster).

(Photograph omitted)