Football: Cottee steals a yard to pass milestone

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 0

Leicester City 2

Elliot 43, Cottee 67

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 35,415

LEICESTER CITY'S players formed a guard of honour for the Tottenham Hotspur side as they emerged from the tunnel at White Hart Lane yesterday. That was as polite and almost as exciting as it got all afternoon.

If the gesture from the runners-up in the Worthington Cup was aimed at saluting their late, late conquerors it was welcome. If its objective was to ensure there was no repeat of the pettiness and animosity which had pervaded the match at Wembley 13 days earlier it was but moderately successful.

It might also have lulled Spurs into a false sense of security, thinking that Leicester were thoroughly nice guys after all who would not dream of indulging in spoiling tactics to secure a positive result. Spoiling tactics, of course, were all that they proceeded to use, barely countenancing a properly constructed attack, organising themselves behind the ball, daring Spurs to be adventurous.

But it worked all right and it gave them two unlikely goals, the second a notable landmark for the diminutive veteran striker, Tony Cottee. He scored his 200th league goal at the age of 34, 16 years after his first.

Martin O'Neill, Leicester's manager, willingly accepted the credit for victory. "Applauding them on to the pitch was my idea although not all the boys wanted to do it. I suppose it was a psychological ploy. It's the sort of thing that if it comes off you're a genius but if you get beaten 5-0 you're an idiot," he said.

There was no danger of O'Neill's side suffering a reversal of such proportions. Spurs were the only side which remotely resembled an attacking force but after a bright enough opening they lacked the guile to outwit Leicester.

It was Spurs' first home defeat since September (and thus their first under George Graham), a record which had lasted 18 matches in all. Graham, too, talked about psychology, though not that of O'Neill in applauding the Tottenham team. He was more concerned about the debilitating effects of parading the cup which was done without his knowledge and showing the goal that won it on the White Hart Lane video screens.

The result will have eased Leicester's concern over the prospect of being sucked into the relegation struggle. Spurs will not be pleased to have lost so close to next weekend's FA Cup semi-final but as Graham said that is a one-off match.

There were a legion of bookings. As Graham also pointed out these were for petulance rather than anything malicious or violent, but then the players might have avoided that. It was obvious Wembley was of too recent history for this to occur.

From the start the crowd baited Robbie Savage, who was deemed to have been instrumental in the sending-off in the Worthington Cup final of Justin Edinburgh, over-reacting after having a punch aimed at his cheek. Savage did not seem to mind the greeting, Edinburgh had not learned his lesson. He was the first player to be booked in the 16th minute when he tugged Emile Heskey's shirt.

The most exciting move of the opening half came from Spurs in the 35th minute when they broke from defence and moved the ball in one sweeping movement from right to left and into the centre where Les Ferdinand's header went wide.

Eight minutes later it was Leicester who took the lead. If it was not against the run of play it was certainly not with it. Steve Guppy's free- kick from the right was launched at a row of heads lined up in the box like oranges on a market stall. Matt Elliott jumped higher than the rest and his contact was firm enough for the header to elude Ian Walker. Leicester merely stuck their defence and midfield deep in their own half thereafter. Only Heskey and Cottee were in advanced positions and both played their socks off. Heskey was quick and strong, Cottee pulled players this way and that.

It was this pair who combined for the landmark second goal. Heskey's speed and power took him past Edinburgh and Sol Campbell on the right and his cross was straight into Cottee's path. The right-footed tap-in was vintage stuff and Cottee immediately changed the split size seven that was responsible. That was probably the best psychological ploy seen all day.