Football: Graham off-loads his red and white baggage

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Newcastle United 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online
GEORGE GRAHAM is Tottenham's 10th manager since they last won the League title, Ruud Gullit is Newcastle's 19th since the championship trophy was seen at St James' Park. These respective triumphs were 37 and 71 years ago yet both Graham and Gullit know, that whatever they may achieve in cup competitions, they will eventually be sacked if they fail to deliver the League.

Indeed, so impatient are the modern fan, boardroom and media, they will be under pressure within months if their early fortunes fail to suggest such a challenge will soon be forthcoming.

It is a daunting prospect as, without the benefit of a pre-season, they attempt to impose their personality and philosophy on someone else's squad. "Fans have high expectations and that is their right but you can't expect the team to go `whoosh' after just a couple of months," said Gullit after his team had subsided rather easily at White Hart Lane on Saturday. "That is impossible," he added.

"When a new manager comes in he has to look at the total picture when he is formulating plans," said Graham, "who's leaving, who's coming in. But he has to get results while doing that."

Easier said than done and Graham probably needed this result more than Gullit. He has arrived at Tottenham with a lot of red-and-white baggage and it was noticeable that there was no chanting of his name on his home debut, even at two up.

Graham, though, was content. "As long as I didn't take any stick I was happy. There's been things written about my receiving hate mail and having bodyguards but there's been nothing like that. I've not had a problem with the fans."

Tottenham fans certainly seemed happy on Saturday. There was a vibrant atmosphere in the ground and victory was greeted with rapture. The first caller on Radio Five Live's Six-O-Six called the team "brilliant" which was stretching it but, after the drudgery and trauma of the last few years, his joy at merely seeing competence was understandable.

Graham's second selection as manager was illuminating. The hapless Ramon Vega was dropped and the midfield reshuffled to create a more solid centre with Colin Calderwood and Allan Nielsen fulfilling the roles played by Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit across North London. Darren Anderton was on the right, but as a midfielder rather than a winger, much like Ray Parlour. On the left David Ginola took up the Marc Overmars role though he is clearly not yet direct enough for Graham.

The result was a more compact Spurs, one which was better equipped to cope when Newcastle eventually applied pressure and after Calderwood was dismissed for collecting two silly cautions. Part of this strength was mental. Said Graham: "One of the big assets all my teams have had is mental strength. If I have good technical players with that mentality I'm on the right track. There's always been talented players here but they have under-achieved.

"When they have the ball they are nice to watch but I've got to work on the other side, being competitive when the opposition have the ball. Their response has pleased me."

Some players will find this easier than others. Nielsen, noted Graham, "has a great attitude, with him it's his passing we need to work on". Others might struggle to maintain their new-found commitment. Graham would not be drawn into the penalties for backsliding but his views were clear when he said: "It is a sad indictment if anyone has had to try harder simply because the manager is more demanding."

Gullit is not noted as a hard taskmaster but he has a different motivational factor at Newcastle: competition for places. At the latest count he had 28 senior professionals, almost all of whom have been capped at full or under-21 level, and he wants to sign even more. The consequence was a game of break-neck pace and fierce commitment.

Quality was less evident but Steffen Iverssen showed it twice when it mattered to secure Spurs victory. Having come on for the injured Les Ferdinand (ankle) he produced a cool finish when Justin Edinburgh's cross, neatly flicked on by Chris Armstrong, reached him via a tackle on Anderton. He was equally composed when seizing on a miscued back pass by Andrew Griffin.

The best of the rest was from the goalkeepers. In the first period Shay Given stood tall to deny Armstrong early on and later leapt athletically to save from Ginola. After the break Espen Baardsen twice made fine saves from Norbert Solano and also made an exceptional one to frustrate Alan Shearer.

The England captain, watched by Glenn Hoddle, looked out of sorts. This was partly because of another majestic display by Sol Campbell, partly due to a lethargy which suggested there may yet be substance to the constant speculation over his Newcastle future. Gullit appeared to criticise him for his lack of success in the air afterwards but backtracked when asked to clarify his remarks. Selling Shearer would leave Steve Howey as the only Geordie at the club and put Gullit's relationship with the Toon Army under considerable strain.

But, while supporters can play a part in a manager's fate Graham outlined the reality when he noted, of the manager's lot: "Results will win anybody over. If you don't get results you still go even if they love you."

Goals: Iverssen (40) 1-0; Iverssen (76), 2-0.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Baardsen; Carr, Scales, Campbell, Edinburgh; Anderton, Nielsen, Calderwood, Ginola (Clemence, 87); Armstrong, Ferdinand (Iverssen, 19). Substitutes not used: Vega, Fox, Walker (gk).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Griffen, Charvet, Pearce, Serrant; Solano, Lee, Batty, Glass (Speed, 55); Dalglish (Guivarc'h, 55), Shearer. Substitutes not used: Perez (gk), Barton, Hughes.

Referee: G Barber (Tring).

Bookings: Tottenham Calderwood, Scales, Nielsen; Newcastle Dalglish, Ginola, Lee. Sending-off: Calderwood.

Man of the match: Campbell.

Attendance: 36,047.