Football / FA Cup Semi-Final: Adams plays avenger to end Spurs adventure: Arsenal battle their way to the final despite the dismissal of Dixon as Tottenham are punished for failing to trouble Seaman

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THE rock of Izmir became the Highbury avenger yesterday, Tony Adams rounding off the most satisfying week of his switchback career by installing Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

By an unprecedented coincidence, the same two teams will contest both the principal knock-out finals. Arsenal meet Sheffield Wednesday for the Coca-Cola Cup on 18 April and, with due apologies to the sponsors, for the Real Thing on 15 May.

Adams's towering header, after 79 frenetic minutes, supplied the revenge he was seeking for the semi-final defeat by Spurs two years ago. Arsenal had to survive a desperate late assault after Lee Dixon's dismissal, but scraped through seven minutes of injury time by the skin of their teeth to claim the victory they deserved.

Dixon, sent off after 85 minutes for the second of two bookable fouls, shares the fate of Wednesday's Nigel Worthington, whose caution the previous day has taken him over the points limit. Both are suspended for the Coca-Cola final.

After the race that never was, this was so nearly the match that never got started. Fast and furious, to the detriment of the football, it suffered in all respects when compared with Sheffield's invigorating domestic squabble.

The backdrop created by two sets of supporters grown blase about such occasions was not a patch on the colourful pageant of the day before, and neither team got anywhere near the composure and incisiveness of Wednesday's cohesive approach play.

Tottenham came closest in a 20- minute purple patch just before half- time but Arsenal stepped hard on the gas to dominate the second half, and should have had more to show for a clear advantage in terms of possession and chances created.

In contrast with Adams, who had also been prominent for England in Turkey, Ian Wright had his second disappointing match in five days. In Izmir he had the excuse that his service was poor; here there were no such mitigating circumstances. He had three good opportunities and fluffed them all. Ian Wright, Wright, Wright, as his fans call him, got it all wrong, wrong, wrong.

Spurs, for all their pretty football when they were hot, produced only two goal attempts of note, Neil Ruddock and Vinny Samways demanding good saves from David Seaman with head and boot.

Both strikes came in the same minute - the 38th. For the other 89, the goalkeeper who was in such distress the last time these sides met in the Cup, was utterly untroubled.

After a tense, scrappy start which gave us all that is worst about semi- finals, the tie spluttered in to life just before the half-hour mark, when Darren Anderton accelerated past Adams in midfield, and was tripped by Andy Linighan, dangerously close to the 18-yard line.

A penalty? No. The foul was committed a foot or so outside the area. Not that measurement mattered. The referee, to universal surprise, thought no offence had been committed.

Paul Merson, countered with a decent shot from improbable distance, but Spurs were playing their way into the ascendancy. As soon as they twigged that there was no profit in lofting long balls towards Adams and Linighan, and started to run at them instead, Arsenal were vulnerable.

Nayim, Samways and Anderton made promising inroads, wriggling through, and with both full-backs supplying adventurous support, Tottenham had the initiative.

Adams miskicked to let in Samways, Linighan was booked and Seaman was threatened by Samways and Sheringham as something close to panic set in before him.

Equilibrium was restored by moving midfielders into closer order in the inside channels, relieving pressure on the central defenders, and in the second half Arsenal took charge.

A double save of the highest order was needed to thwart Ian Selley and then Wright, but Erik Thorstvedt had no more than a prayer when Merson charged down the left before crossing accurately to Wright. The Norse gods were kind, and the Premier League's leading scorer pushed a feeble shot wide of the far post.

When Wright had a subsequent piledriver touched over, George Graham feared that it was not to be his day. Enter The Hero.

Justin Edinburgh was forced to concede a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area to halt Ray Parlour's determined surge, and Merson lofted the ball to the far post, where Adams climbed above Ruddock to score with a firm, downward header.

Dixon, booked earlier, went for a second bad foul on Edinburgh, but Arsenal's 10 men held out in the face of desperate late pressure.

Praise for the matchwinner had Graham smiling. 'Suddenly, Tony Adams is a hero, but he has been my hero for six years,' he said.

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Hillier, Linighan, Adams, Parlour, Wright (Morrow, 87), Campbell (Smith, 85), Merson, Selley.

Tottenham Hotspur: Thorstvedt; Austin, Edinburgh, Samways (Barmby, 81), Mabbutt, Ruddock, Sedgley (Bergsson, 81), Nayim, Anderton, Sheringham, Allen.

Referee: P Don (Hanworth Park, Middlesex).

(Photograph omitted)

Villa on top, page 33

Reports and results, page 32

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