Football: Ginola spurs stuttering Tottenham

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 2

Armstrong 59, Nielson 69

Nottingham Forest 0


IF George Graham is going to add a bristled square chin to Tottenham's aesthetic good looks, he has got to beat the daylights out of clubs like Nottingham Forest. But Spurs took an awful long time yesterday to see the light against 10 men at White Hart Lane and he admitted: "We won without playing well." Forest's Dave Bassett insisted, with justification, that the game turned on the decision to send off Steve Stone which "incensed my players for its injustice."

For Graham this was an opportunity to put a little more distance between himself and the controversy over his move from Leeds. Taking Spurs to his spiritual home of Highbury the week before must have been a soul-searching experience, but yesterday he just wanted to get on with the job of ensuring that Spurs would revive, take home advantage against a struggling team and still play some of the decorative football that used to distinguish them from his old club down the road.

Forest seemed set up for some typical Graham ruthlessness, but Spurs are not ready to be merciless. There was an urgency about their approach that had been absent before Graham arrived, but the urgent need for Forest to do something about their declining season led to an abrasive edge.

Stone, the rough hewn Forest wing-back, had been allocated the job of making David Ginola take a bruise for every touch of the ball, and almost inevitably that led to his early caution. Equally inevitably, Ginola's skill on the ball regularly left Stone hacking at shadows. After one escape, Ginola's precise centre was well anticipated by Chris Armstrong, though not so well headed when a goal seemed certain.

That was enough to bring Graham stamping down from his seat in the stands to impart some cutting training-ground culture which had no special effect. In fact, Forest ought to have taken the lead and would have done so had Dougie Freedman's first touch been as efficient as the long ball from Pierre van Hooijdonk that arrived on his foot.

If that seemed wasteful, Tottenham suffered from inefficient finishing. Steffen Iversen attempted to backheel an inviting ball from John Scales, then Armstrong blasted a shot across the face of goal when he could have done better. Nevertheless, the difficulty for Spurs of penetrating a crowded Forest defence was understandable.

Stone's continuing battle with Ginola saw him fortunate not to have a second caution long before he did. He was also lucky to escape the referee's attention when catching the ball in an attempt to control it within the Spurs penalty area. Ironically, when, in the opening minutes of the second half, he was finally sent off it was only on the second opinion of a linesman and after some comparatively mild pushing and pulling, which ended with him and Ginola sitting on the grass together. According to Bassett, even Tottenham's Colin Calderwood pleaded with the referee not to dismiss Stone.

Spurs had to face a Forest defence further reinforced by Christian Edwards, making his first appearance. Stephen Carr attempted to overcome the problem with a crackling shot that brushed the crossbar, but eventually it was a typically neat short ball inside the penalty area near the by-line that broke the Forest guard. Armstrong turned quickly and his shot rebounded off the unfortunate Edwards and in, a deserved goal but painfully slow to arrive.

Once the barrier had been cracked, Spurs relaxed a shade and after 69 minutes they achieved security when Darren Anderton's free-kick was glanced past Dave Beasant by Allan Nielsen. That Forest found themselves even more troubled was as much the fault of lax discipline as being ill-equipped for the task.