Football: Hughes is better value than Hartson

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Wimbledon 0
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FOR WIMBLEDON'S supporters it was their first chance to see John Hartson, Wimbledon's newest and most expensive signing. The pounds 7.5m man committed his first foul after nine seconds, was booked after 13 minutes, spent the afternoon being booed and was substituted to the home fans' witless refrain of "what a waste of money" with five minutes to go. Yes, Hartson should fit in well at Wimbledon.

Afterwards the Wimbledon manager, Joe Kinnear - perhaps still flushed with excitement after spending all that money - was talking boldly about buying another player. Incredibly, Hartson cost the same as Dennis Bergkamp and more than three times as much as David Ginola, and while it is unfair to judge their talents on a pound-for-pound basis, it is hard to know whether this vulnerable personality will help the Dons' aspirations.

Michael Hughes was also signed from West Ham, for pounds 1.6m, and represents a better value purchase than their bully-beef centre-forward. No wonder his hernia operation is being delayed until later in the season; week after week this harrying, fetching and carrying midfielder lubricates the cogs of the Wimbledon machine with skilful, tricky play and on Saturday he was again outstanding.

For Spurs it was a familiar story; unfortunately "Ginola fell over" is a tale which referees as football-literate as Mike Riley have read before. The Frenchman showed his customary flair and wit - back-heels, feints and wonderful crosses, with which Chris Armstrong might have done more - but his eagerness to win the game led to a series of penalty-box stumbles.

George Graham's flawed post-match argument seemed to contend that penalties are awarded on a quota system. Ginola had gone down four times in or around the box: three times under challenges from left-back Kenny Cunningham and once after a block from centre-half Dean Blackwell. "If you don't get the first one you can bet you'll get the second or the third, and I thought the last was an absolute certainty," the optimistic Scot asserted.

Kinnear's post-match comments had an obvious sub-text intended for the referees of their next three matches against Spurs - in the FA Cup on Saturday and the two legs of the Worthington Cup semi-final, the first the following Wednesday. "It's something that we feel peeved about - Ginola's put the referee under tremendous pressure."

Plus ca change, then, at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Calderwood (Vega, 76), Campbell, Edinburgh; Freund, Sinton (Fox, 19), Clemence (Taricco, 71), Ginola; Iversen, Armstrong Substitutes not used: Dominguez, Baardsen (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher; Earle, M Hughes, Ardley (Kennedy, 75), Roberts; Gayle (Ekoku, 75), Hartson (Leaburn, 85) Substitutes not used: Kimble, Bakke (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Tottenham: Ginola. Wimbledon: Cunningham, Hartson, Roberts.

Man of the match: Hughes.

Attendance: 32,422.