Football: Hunt double denies Tottenham

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Charlton Athletic 2

WITH THE Premiership table as congested as Seven Sisters Road on a match night, a place in the top six was on offer to the winners at White Hart Lane, but neither north nor south London could grasp it.

Tottenham, cruising early on, became caught up in the heavy midfield traffic later, falling behind to Andy Hunt before going into overdrive and stealing ahead. Hunt, however, pegged them back again with a 75th- minute equaliser which was hotly disputed by the home side.

That decision aside, their manager, George Graham, was happy enough with his team's performance and might just have enjoyed moving above Leeds United into ninth position.

"The quality of our football in the second half was excellent," he said. "At 2-1, I thought we were going to win the game." He was not alone, but Charlton are nothing if not resourceful and recovered to achieve another remarkable result in their annus mirabilis of 1998, carrying them back into the top half of a League that most observers thought they would be propping up by now.

They left White Hart Lane, like Highbury, Anfield and St James' Park with a point under their belt, yet without, on this occasion impressing their own manager. "We don't think we played that well," said Alan Curbishley, "but we dug in. In the first half we struggled with our game for the first time this year."

Graham made allowances for the fact that with David Ginola suspended and Steffen Iversen injured, he was forced to use Chris Armstrong as a single striker, Andy Sinton and Ruel Fox supporting, in theory, from the wings. Spurs nevertheless gave their visitors an anxious time in the first half hour, even against three centre-halves. Only when one of them, Richard Rufus, was taken off injured did Charlton prosper, finding a better balance as John Robinson came on to play on the right in a 4-4-2 formation.

Sasa Ilic, back in goal a fortnight after suffering concussion at Chelsea, saved well early on from Darren Anderton's swerving free-kick, but had his captain, Mark Kinsella, to thank for heading off the line from Sol Campbell.

"Get 'em working" was the instruction to Kinsella midway through the first half from the Charlton manager, who must have been alarmed both by how easily Tottenham were cutting through and how little forward progress his own side were making. The work-rate was duly stepped up - Curbishley like George Graham, is not a man to be disregarded - and Charlton immediately created and wasted the sort of chance that costs Premiership lives.

Danny Mills lifted a pass forward that John Scales, possibly off balance, allowed to bounce behind him, where Chris Powell, all alone, lobbed over the bar. Until that point, the Tottenham defence - a rare compliment for them- had looked impassable.

That notion was well and truly shattered as Charlton stole ahead shortly afterwards. After the ball had been patiently played around at the back, Carl Tiler sent it forward for Clive Mendonca to chest down into the path of Paul Mortimer. Mendonca took a return pass - in too much space from Tottenham's perspective - and although his shot was deflected on to a post by Sol Campbell's sliding tackle, Hunt was in the right position to score.

It was Tottenham's turn to respond to their manager's demands after the interval with two goals in 12 minutes. First, Anderton's perfect pass inside the full-back allowed Stephen Carr to cross low into the six-yard box, where Allan Neilsen's slide carried the ball home past the helpless Ilic.

Eight minutes later Andy Sinton sent Justin Edinburgh down the left for a measured cross, Fox arriving at the near post flicked the ball on and Chris Armstrong thrust himself between two static Charlton defenders to head his first League goal of the season.

But Charlton were not finished - they rarely are. In the 74th minute, the substitute Steve Jones turned Edinburgh - perhaps illegally - and carried the ball to the line before cutting it back for Hunt, who, though off balance, side-footed in the equaliser. Jones also turned Edinburgh, more legitimately a minute from time, shooting a foot wide of the far post: a miracle too far.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-5-1): Baardsen; Carr, Scales, Campbell, Edinburgh; Fox (Allen, 89), Anderton, Calderwood, Nielsen, Sinton (Clemence, 89); Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Vega, Dominguez, Walker (gk).

Charlton Athletic (3-5-2): Ilic; Rufus (Robinson, 40), Tiler, Youds; Mills, Redfearn (Brown, 82), Kinsella, Mortimer (S Jones, 61), Powell; Hunt, Mendonca. Substitutes not used: K Jones, Petterson (gk).

Referee: M Reed (West Midlands).

Results, page 27