Football: Durie checks United's title aspirations

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. . .1

Manchester United. . .1

WHITE HART LANE traditionally questions the credentials of prospective champions - the size, the atmosphere, the memories. In spite of Tottenham's present youthful navety the place is still a test. Sweat and young ambition yesterday allowed Spurs to be the equals of a Manchester United team who were technically superior without ever being incisive.

Five successive League wins and a lukewarm, though not altogether unsatisfactory draw with Torpedo Moscow in the Uefa Cup, had brought United to London with their spirits improved and the ghost of last season's championship failure quiet, at least for the moment. Expectation of United is not what it was, which can only be a good thing.

Early competition for United is coming from unlikely quarters and may not last. All things considered, this could be an even better opportunity to win that elusive championship than it was last season, but the question is still whether Alex Ferguson is going to stop fiddling, settle on a side and win matches United should win, like yesterday's.

The dictates of European football had forced changes upon Ferguson for the game against Torpedo, but yesterday he was back to the team most people would want to be the basis of a settled group.

Tottenham, lacking the busy ingenuity of Vinny Samways, were always likely to be troubled in midfield by the in-form Paul Ince whose thoughtfulness was the base upon which United built an exciting first-half counter-attacking style that dwindled away in the second.

Having the speed of Andrei Kanchelskis and the touch of Ryan Giggs on either side, it seemed only a matter of time before United's Mark Hughes would take advantage and get behind the burly Neil Ruddock. That was not to be because Ruddock remained firm under all the pressure and Spurs' best goal-worthy first-half attacks were stifled only at the last moments.

Ruddock is hardly one of football's more perceptive players but after 20 minutes his long pass from within the Spurs half was as good as you could wish, or at least Teddy Sheringham could have hoped for since it fell into his path while Peter Schmeichel was committed to an attempted interception. Sheringham's shot rebounded off Pallister.

Tottenham are far from being anything more than a young, keen bunch and several times the experienced Gordon Durie felt obliged to reinforce his hard- pressed defence, once with danger to his own team when his arm got in the way of a shot, but he was forgiven by the referee. Durie quickly returned to where he is happier to pursue a neatly played through ball by Paul Allen, though this time Steve Bruce came across to take command with an exceptional tackle.

None of this seriously altered the overall pattern. Ince remained lively, forcing Ian Walker to turn one of his dangerous shots over the bar, but it was still Giggs who was waiting to make the decisive contribution.

Young Dean Austin, the Spurs right-back, had been baffled and outpaced from the start. He hardly ever trapped Giggs, and a minute before half-time he was wrongfooted when a clearance from Schmeichel hit him on the chest, giving him no chance to take it under his control before Giggs pounced, raced by, drew Walker and calmly shot in.

What was so exciting about Giggs's finishing was his placid consideration of the situation. The angle, from the left side, was difficult yet he ignored the problem. Hardly any wonder that poor Austin was substituted at half- time by David Tuttle.

To be cruel, that helped. Tottenham's youthful determination never wavered and had its reward early in the second-half. Suddenly the United defence seemed to melt away. Sheringham strolled down the right wing and pulled the ball back across the United penalty area. Schmeichel sensed that his central defenders were going to be beaten by the pace of the low centre, and dived in an effort to deflect. The ball eluded him and reached Durie, who sidefooted in. He deserved it. Without the support of midfield experience, especially when Andy Gray was injured, he nevertheless gave United's defenders relentless problems.

Considering Tottenham's problems, the emphasis was on United to be more productive. Ferguson was forced into thinking along the same lines and took off Kanchelskis and offered Danny Wallace his first appearance of the season.

The point of that was to allow Giggs to move into the centre of the attack in an effort to break Ruddock's stronghold which was essential to Tottenham's ability to share the points.

Tottenham Hotspur: I Walker; D Austin (D Tuttle, 45 min), P van den Hauwe, A Gray (J Hendry, 64 min), J Cundy, N Ruddock, S Sedgley, G Durie, A Turner, T Sheringham, P Allen. Sub not used: E Thorstvedt (gk). Coach: D Livermore.

Manchester United: P Schmeichel; D Irwin, C Blackmore, S Bruce, D Ferguson, G Pallister, A Kanchelskis (D Wallace, 75 min), P Ince, B McClair, M Hughes, R Giggs. Subs not used: L Martin, G Walsh (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.

Referee: R Groves (Avon).

Goals: Giggs (0-1, 45 min); Durie (1-1, 53 min).

(Photograph omitted)

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