Football / FA Cup Semi-Final: Graham's mission realised by Merson

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The Independent Online
SO MUCH at stake, so much to occupy the managers and coaches, their anxiety and frustration evident in excited gestures and mostly hopeless attempts to make themselves heard above the roar of the crowd.

You could imagine what it was like down there on the benches; the bellowed admonishments, the curses, the yells of encouragement. Ray Clemence, of Tottenham, and Stewart Houston, of Arsenal, never seemed to be off their feet. Terry Venables never rose from his seat, but George Graham clearly found it difficult to conceal his feelings, occasionally standing to remonstrate with his team.

For Venables and Graham, old friends in different camps, it was an ageing experience, a repeat of the semi-final they contested two years ago when Tottenham had Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker to carry out their manager's plans brilliantly. This time they played well enough, but a mark of Arsenal's eventual superiority was that David Seaman was never called upon to make an important save.

When Darren Anderton was confidently running at Arsenal's central defenders in the first half, sometimes making Tony Adams and Andy Linighan look foolish, hope rose in Tottenham's supporters. They were further encouraged by the progress Paul Allen made after moving infield to exchange roles with Anderton. But this was not to be Tottenham's day.

Even when Arsenal were finding it difficult to suppress Tottenham's sharp movement in midfield, Paul Merson looked a real threat with his powerful surges, and the vision to take advantage of unlikely openings. Had a surprise volley been on target instead of falling just wide of Erik Thorstvedt's right-hand post we might have been celebrating the goal of the season.

Going in for the interval, Tottenham were entitled to feel that things were going their way, but soon Merson's initiative and powerful running with the ball began to be an even more decisive factor. Slightly unnerved, and uncharacteristically conceding too much space, Tottenham only just survived when Thorstvedt made a double save, first from Ian Selley then Ian Wright.

With just about 10 minutes left Wright discarded his broken right boot, causing a fresh outbreak of frenzied activity on Arsenal's bench. A messenger was sent scurrying to the dressing-room for a replacement, but Graham was not about to let his leading goalscorer play in a sock. He was hurriedly fitted with a spare. Perhaps all this affected Tottenham's concentration as they shaped up to deal with an Arsenal free-kick. In any case they failed to pick up Adams as he loped forward to score with a header.

At the end Graham shook hands with Venables, and then strode out to embrace his players. 'Because of international matches we didn't have eight of them last week,' Graham said. Again he made the point that there are too many matches, but there was a broad smile on his face.