FOOTBALL: Ginola's exit tests Graham's beliefs

Middlesbrough 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1
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The Independent Online
IT IS one of the game's ironies that "The Stroller" and "Captain Marvel" should have, somewhere along the managerial road, exchanged courses and philosophies.

George Graham now has an innate distrust of the whimsical and exotic, while Bryan Robson, a man who ran through brick walls for club and country, entrusts his reputation with players who import fantasy and risk in equal measure.

Graham's faith in David Ginola has always been brittle and it broke in the face of Middlesbrough's vibrant recovery from a nervous start at the Riverside. For the second half the mercurial Frenchman was withdrawn, making way for the prosaic Justin Edinburgh.

It was, Graham explained, a necessary ploy to counter the penetrating runs of Juninho. So what happened? The Brazilian ran rings around Spurs instead. And, to compound the dizziness, he had a running mate in Christian Ziege. Long before the end Graham's team were run ragged. They lost their discipline as well as the points, when Allan Nielsen incurred the ultimate wrath of the referee for two bookable offences.

All Graham's subsequent complaints about the referee sounded like a feeble attempt to throw up a smokescreen around the day's worst decision, the withdrawal of Ginola.

There was little surprise when Spurs went ahead from Ginola's delivery and Ramon Vega's header. The combination had almost produced a goal two minutes earlier. Just before Boro's equaliser, Chris Perry met another exquisite cross with a menancing header.

In the second half Spurs had nothing to offer against the rising graph of Juninho's ebullience except the dour mediocrity that now characterises the team. The one-time glory, glory club are devoid of charisma, ingenuity and it seems, ambition without Ginola.

Robson might have been forgiven desperate recourse after stuttering performances in the Premiership and the ignominy of consecutive defeats at the hands of lower league clubs in the two domestic cup competitions. But he is smart enough to recognise the lifeline when he sees it and, with Juninho and Ziege at his disposal, he will always have a hope.

On his return to his original European home, the little gem, Juninho, had struggled to rediscover the familiar sparkle. However, aided and abetted by the perception of Ziege, he was able to buff up his impish, elusive skills as good as new.

Ziege, who scored Boro's equaliser after running on to Juninho's meticulously placed return pass, ought to have had another just before the break. To his glaring discomfort, the chance arrived on his right foot and he fluffed it.

Moments earlier his reliance on that splendid left foot could have conceded a goal to Spurs, when he needlessly put his goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, under pressure with a difficult back pass, But he more than atoned for that aberration and it was another demonstration of his prowess with the left foot which directed more trouble Walker's way and led to Brian Deane's winning volley.

Goals: Vega (0-1) 8; Ziege (1-1) 35; Deane (2-1) 67.

Middlesbrough: (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Stockdale, Festa, Vickers, O'Neill; Maddison, Mustoe, Juninho, Ziege (Summerbell, 89); Ricard (Armstrong, 84), Deane. Substitutes not used: Beresford (gk), Gavin, Marinelli.

Tottenham Hotspur: (3-3-1-3) Walker; Perry, Vega, Campbell; Young, Freund (Sherwood, 32), Nielsen, Taricco, Ginola (Edinburgh, h-t); Armstrong (Fox, 80), Iversen. Substitutes not used: Baardsen (gk), Dominguez.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Vickers, O'Neill. Tottenham: Ginola, Taricco, Young, Sherwood, Nielsen. Sending-off: Tottenham: Nielsen.

Man of the match: Juninho.

Attendance: 33,129.