Football: Heskey shows Leicester the way to Europe

Leicester City 3 Walsh 55, Guppy 68, Heskey 77 Tottenham Hotspur 0 Attendance: 20,683
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The Independent Online
The first time Leicester qualified for Europe, they achieved it by losing in the 1961 FA Cup final to a Tottenham side that had already won the League. This meeting proved 36 years is a long time in football.

It has taken Leicester that long to get back into European competition for the second time and for Tottenham to redefine the meaning of underachievement. The Atletico Madrid spy in the stands must wish it is Gerry Francis's side visiting Spain for Tuesday's Uefa Cup tie and not Martin O'Neill's Leicester.

All three goals - and there could have been more - came in the space of 21 minutes in the second half as Steve Walsh, Steve Guppy and Emile Heskey hit the target. Only the goal-posts had saved Tottenham from trailing at half-time.

O'Neill said: "We were brilliant. I'm delighted, I'm ecstatic. Tottenham look frightening on paper but we didn't allow them to play."

The Tottenham manager admitted to disappointment at the way his team "collapsed", explaining that Les Ferdinand failed to appear for the second half because of a stomach strain.

Ferdinand's withdrawal allowed Chris Armstrong to come on for his first appearance for nine months following an ankle injury. Tottenham have spent pounds 18m on players in that period, but they still do not look a team. And it was Armstrong, Francis said, who failed to pick up Walsh when he headed in Leicester's opening goal after 55 minutes. Garry Parker chipped a free- kick to the far post and Walsh scored unmarked.

Defender Sol Campbell, who had conceded the free-kick - and was booked for the challenge - almost headed Tottenham level moments later, but that attack did little to settle his team or raise their commitment.

Leicester attacked again and added to their lead 11 minutes later. Guppy swung in a corner that knocked about in the box before, fortunately, bouncing back out for him to finish with a powerful left-foot shot.

The same could be said of Heskey's goal in the 76th minute, when he was the first to react to a low Matthew Elliott cross and scored with a ferocious close-range effort.

A few Tottenham supporters launched into a number entitled "Francis Out" but their chant was as half-hearted as their team's performance.

Tottenham had matched Leicester briefly in the first half and created a genuine goal-scoring chance for David Ginola, who later drifted out of the game as Leicester tightened their grip on the match.

The loss of Ferdinand, who could now miss England's World Cup qualifier in Italy next month, was significant, but Tottenham still managed to force the first opening of the second half, shortly after the restart.

In fact, Tottenham were momentarily on top but Leicester seemed to know they were the better side and their spirit is not easily broken. They comfortably weathered the storm just as they had the heavy showers that punctuated this match.

Atletico Madrid will present a much more difficult prospect but Leicester appear likely to enjoy their trip to Spain. They will if they can match the standards and confidence instilled by this display.

Tottenham, as if to prove further how their fortunes have dipped, have a midweek Coca-Cola Cup tie against Carlisle. On this showing, it may not be the morale-booster they need.