Football: Graham in frenzy of delight and fright

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Fox 26, Carragher og 50 Liverpool 1 Berger 55 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance:36,521
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The Independent Online
PRESUMABLY, wonderful entertainment was not in George Graham's schedule for his first season at Tottenham. But yesterday, though he claimed Spurs' first-half performance delighted him, he must have hated the second for its nervous intensity and uncertainty. Yet above all this was a victory for those who remember with relish White Hot Lane.

Tottenham have measured their progress under Graham by the way they despatched an only slightly under-strength Manchester United from the Worthington Cup. That had also been a convincing indication of the way, despite most predictions, Graham had persevered with the capricious talent of David Ginola, who against United had rewarded him with a performance of such touch, balance and perception, it inspired memories of Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and John White.

So here, with Gerard Houllier aiming for his third successive win since taking over as sole manager at Liverpool, was a match between teams who, using his own word, were still "convalescing" but, on recent evidence, were decidedly recovering. But Liverpool's defensive frailty will need more than time to restore it to past sturdiness. Yesterday, even in the first 15 hectic minutes, there were numerous nervous moments in their penalty area.

Steve Gerrard, playing his first full match, was allocated the task of watching Ginola's every move, but Liverpool paid a high premium for the insurance of always having someone else to back him up. Spurs punished them with prolonged pace and plenty of good supply work to Chris Armstrong.

In familiar pattern, Liverpool looked comfortable going forward, confused in retreat. David James rescued them in the 24th minute, stretching across the goalline to tip away Darren Anderton's searching low shot, but by then he had seen Steve Staunton block another Anderton drive, also on the line, and watched a teasing centre from Ginola headed wide by the unmarked Steffen Iversen who was to suffer a facial injury that allowed Les Ferdinand to replace him shortly after Spurs scored their 25th-minute goal.

Anderton was again involved. His blocked shot went for a corner that, typically, Liverpool struggled to clear. The ball eventually dropped to the feet of Ruel Fox as he moved into the penalty area and he hit a solid shot that was deflected sufficiently for James to be moving the wrong way - a common problem in this defence.

So Liverpool were dependent on the quality of their counter-attacks, and Patrik Berger came within inches of finishing one in memorable style when attempting an ambitious shot from far out on the left. The ball drifted over the bar. He could hardly be criticised for not noticing that Michael Owen was better placed.

The cost to Liverpool of that rare missed chance was another goal conceded, and another embarrassment in defence. Four minutes into the second half Armstrong broke down the right and cut in. Jamie Carragher had half an eye on Armstrong while trying not to let Ferdinand receive the expected pass. In the event Armstrong shot hard and Carragher put the ball into the net.

Sol Campbell impeccably directed the Spurs defence, which it took a free- kick, conceded in the 54th-minute by Fox, to break down. Berger pummelled it through the gathered Tottenham defensive ranks and past Ian Walker.

Suddenly Spurs' discipline - so much better lately - left them. Passes out of defence became gifts to Robbie Fowler and Owen, midfield industry groaned, and balls into the vulnerable Liverpool rearguard dried up. For 10 minutes Spurs were pulled and stretched. Graham fumed on the touchline; the Liverpool fans found their voice and this vibrant game balanced on a cutting edge.

Although Spurs lived dangerously in the last minutes they might have added two more goals but Fox's powerful shot was eased round the post by James and a downward header by Ferdinand was scrambled off the line. For convalescing teams, the commitment and combined expenditure of energy was extraordinary.

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