Football: Graham defends `genuine' penalty appeals by Ginola

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The Independent Online
GEORGE GRAHAM has said he believes Tottenham and David Ginola are victims of the "diver" reputation, which the charismatic Frenchman insists is unwarranted.

As the Spurs manager leads his team into their FA Cup confrontation with Wimbledon at Selhurst Park today, he makes no apology for furthering the debate which has lingered on since last week's goalless Premiership draw between the two sides.

Graham saw Ginola denied four penalty claims in that match and has admitted the referee Mike Riley could well have been right on three of those occasions after studying video footage of the match.

But Graham insists: "There was certainly one clear case for a penalty in the first half and I believe the appeals in the other three incidents were also genuinely made.

"When I give an opinion it is always based on fact - and the fact is that Tottenham have not been awarded one single penalty in the Premiership this season.

"If we had been given six or eight penalties then I could understand people saying that Ginola is diving around, but to me the proof of the pudding is that we've had none at all.

"I'm careful never to comment on other teams and what their players do and so I am disappointed about what's being said about Ginola."

Graham insists the onus is on defenders not to make contact with players like Ginola, who are expert at running at them with the ball.

"Wimbledon also have a player, Michael Hughes, who is very good at that and you have to accept that if you dive in at him and make contact there's every chance that he will be knocked off his feet," he said.

The Wimbledon manager, Joe Kinnear, who was one of Ginola's chief critics last week, admits he is concerned about what might happen if a similar incident were to occur today. "We have to be very careful and not make silly, rash challenges," he said.

It is unlikely to be the only key issue in a confrontation between teams who meet again in the first leg of the Worthington Cup semi-finals at White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

On the notoriously heavy pitch at Selhurst Park - much different now from the grassy surface on which the Dons beat Spurs 3-1 on the opening day of the season - establishing control of midfield is likely to be a decisive factor.

Graham believes it is a great opportunity for Steffen Freund, his new German signing, who will be making only his third Tottenham appearance after moving from Borussia Dortmund.

"Freund has already shown his worth and I believe we've got him at a fantastic price at just pounds 750,000. He will soon be rated here in the pounds 4m class," Graham said.

"He's strong and very competitive and can also pass the ball well. He's just the sort of player we've needed."

Graham will also have Darren Anderton back, after the England man missed last week's game with a calf muscle injury. Les Ferdinand is also fit again, and may displace either Chris Armstrong or Steffen Iversen up front.

Conditions could dictate but Graham said: "We are not worried about the prospect of a heavy pitch. We've been working out all week on a quagmire at our training ground and it is not a problem."

Wimbledon's John Hartson, however, will miss today's game as well as the Worthington Cup tie on Wednesday. The pounds 7.5m signing is cup-tied, having played for West Ham in both competitions.