Football: Graham the real drawcard

Di Canio faces long ban after pushing over referee
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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Leeds United 3

Vega 14, Iversen 71, Halle 4, Hasselbaink 26,

Campbell 90 Wijnhard 61

Half-time: 1-2 Attendance: 35,535

BY GEORGE, do Spurs need a new manager? The question, after a stirring second-half revival, which fired the passions of a virtual full house, was not necessarily rhetorical. A little more of this rumbustious, spirited stuff, with Sol Campbell's equaliser arriving in the third minute of added time, under previous management and there would have been no need for a squalid week of "Will he, won't he?" "Oh no, he can't", "Oh yes, he can", more suited to the pantomime than two of Britain's most illustrious football clubs.

In the event, the man at the centre of the intrigue blew in not so much like Hurricane Georges, but like a gentle breeze. He spent the first half in the directors' box, directing any commands down to his assistant David O'Leary, and after the interval appeared on the bench, though in relatively restrained mood, given the circumstances, even as his team contrived to allow a two-goal advantage to escape their grasp.

The Tottenham crowd appeared not to know what to make of it all. To resurrect the glory, glory years, they positively ache for a glory, glory knight. Just not this particular Sir Lancelot, though.

Until February 1995, when he was unceremoniously ditched by Arsenal, following the infamous "bung" enquiry, the manager of their despised rivals would have been the very last man that Spurs fans would turn to in a crisis. Feelings run deep, and when you read the conclusion of his autobiography - "I will always have red blood running through my veins" - it is small wonder they are such an unforgiving lot and that their responses to his apparent impending arrival ranged from ambivalence to incredulity, to outright scorn.

Before the game, the Leeds chairman, Peter Ridsdale, was still fighting a rearguard action, definitely claiming: "We expect George to honour his contract, which takes him up to June, 2001." It was delivered with all the authority of a King Canute, but afterwards, it was evidenced that this farcical situation will drag on, at least until after Leeds' Uefa Cup trip to Madeira to play Maritimo.

Graham was in typically mischievous mood. "Brilliant game," he enthused. "Thank God it ended 3-3, and not 0-0." He added: "There was a lot of commitment from Spurs - I wonder why - but having said that we defended very poorly when we were 3-1 up."

All he would reveal on the point everybody wanted to hear about was that the two chairmen (Alan Sugar is away on business in the United States) will talk again, following Spurs' initial enquiry last Wednesday, after the Maritimo game. "And they must make their decision," Graham said. Before he could leave the press conference, somebody lobbed him a grenade. "What team would you rather manage, Tottenham or Leeds?" But the man who won two championships with Arsenal in his nine-year tenure, was too cute to be caught out by that sort of ploy. "Good one," he mused, "I'm the manager of Leeds," before departing. His counterpart, David Pleat, who will have to make way for him should the deal proceed, though he shows no inclination to do so, becomes more eccentric with age, but if he has to leave, he is doing so with a touch of humour. "There could be dialogue again this week, but there might be problems over all kinds of things. George might not agree to our terms. We might not offer him the right car. He might not even fancy our team after today. George must decide if he can finish higher than seventh with Leeds, and only he can know the answer to that."

Pleat is evidently obtaining a good response from his team in his role of caretaker head coach, though whether they were playing yesterday for the man on the opposite bench is a moot point. Pleat derides such a suggestion. "The players just perform for themselves and for the team, no other reason," he scoffed.

With David Ginola absent, suffering with a hamstring, it did not go unnoticed that this was one of Spurs' more convincing performances, and Pleat remarked, none too obliquely: "Everybody was singing off the same hymn sheet. Our play seemed much quicker, we got the ball forward much faster. The challenge is for whoever comes in to integrate Ginola into that sort of play." If Graham is to move south, few doubt he would make the Spurs defence his utmost priority, and that point was emphasised after just three minutes when the Norwegian international Gunnar Halle, the manager's first signing when he arrived at Elland Road, was presented with a free header to score the opener from Ian Harte's corner. "Georgie, what's the score?" was the reaction from the disgruntled Leeds faithful who would dearly love him to spurn the Tottenham overtures. But it required only 10 minutes for Darren Anderton to provide the perfect corner for Ramon Vega, not the most popular with Spurs fans because of his perceived defensive weaknesses, to hit home.

Leeds played with an abandon that suggested they realised the home rearguard was there for the taking. So it proved when Clyde Wijnhard crossed for his fellow Dutchman Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to beat the defenders Vega and Stephen Carr to the ball and score from close range.

Worse was to follow for the home club. It was double-Dutch again on the hour - appropriate, given that there's been more than enough of that spoken on the Graham issue all week - when Hasselbaink's ball found Wijnhard. He rounded the wretched Vega and forced the ball home under goalkeeper Espen Baardsen.

Tottenham rallied with a vengeance, seemingly inspired by the introduction of Steffen Iversen and Jose Dominguez, the former volleying home Carr's cross seven minutes after coming on. Leeds remained resolute until the third minute of added time when they failed to clear a Tottenham attack and Allan Nielsen crossed for Campbell to head the equaliser and restore the fans' faith in their team.

"Maybe the club's not the ailing giant everyone's talking about," Pleat insisted. "There has only been one inferior performance recently and that was against Middlesbrough. Otherwise we've shown spirit and played good football. I was delighted, we got what we deserved in the end." Whether Tottenham will in the long term is, of course, quite another matter.

Andrew Longmore, page 3