Football: Iversen wins Wembley reward

Wimbledon 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 Tottenham win 1-0 on agg
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The Independent Online
JUSTIN EDINBURGH has probably spent much of the past eight years telling various team-mates, who have come and gone in that time, what cup success means to a club like Tottenham Hotspur. Last night, if any of them were still in any doubt, they found out after Steffen Iversen's goal took Spurs through to their first Wembley final since they carried off the FA Cup in 1991.

Edinburgh was a part of that team and, although he was not on the pitch at the end of last night's Worthington Cup semi-final, second leg, he played his part yesterday too, before being substituted during a resolute Spurs performance that gave way to almost old-fashioned scenes of joy at the final whistle. Thousands of jubilant Tottenham fans invaded Selhurst Park in celebration, singing "Tottenham are back" and for once the refrain carried real meaning.

The club's fortunes have been transformed since George Graham's arrival earlier in the season and although there were those who criticised the appointment of a former Arsenal manager, the sound of their protests was drowned out long before last night.

"It's good for the club and the fans," Graham said, keeping his emotions in check with characteristic ease. "It's a big club and Spurs have a tradition of going to Wembley but it's come a little quicker than I expected.

"The players have been celebrating with a glass or two of champagne. I told them beforehand there were too many good players here who had never been to Wembley with their club and it was time to put that right. But it's a good night for the fans - I think they needed this badly and I'm pleased for them."

Under Graham, Tottenham have sacrificed a little flair for greater solidity in defence, and although Wimbledon rarely tested the hallmark of Graham's managerial style, there was steel to Tottenham's display that meant they never gave their opponents any encouragement.

Like the previous four meetings over the past month in various competitions between the two teams, this was by no means a classic. Wimbledon were without a win of any sort since the beginning of January and Tottenham, after just two defeats in 13 games, were entitled to approach the tie with a degree of confidence.

The atmosphere so often lacking at their home Premiership matches was there in abundance by the time Wimbledon set the ball rolling for their most important game of the season. Both goalkeepers were soon to excel themselves, Wimbledon's Neil Sullivan touching a sweetly struck shot on the turn from Les Ferdinand around the post and Ian Walker, within a minute, tipping over a full-blooded volley from Jason Euell. For a time after that the tackles flew in thick and fast as the tempo of the match was briefly raised, but before long the prospect of glory began to be submerged by the fear of failure and the game began to drift.

Then, just as it seemed a desperately needed goal was not on the cards , one arrived out of the blue. A speculative Tottenham free-kick caught the Wimbledon defenders napping and left Kenny Cunningham one on one with Ferdinand on the edge of the penalty area. Iversen was running through into a position that looked suspiciously offside but the ball broke to him off the Wimbledon defender and the Norwegian striker took full advantage of the situation, looping an angled shot beyond the helpless Sullivan from just inside the 18-yard line.

Wimbledon came out for the second half staring defeat in the face in a cup semi-final for the third time in two years. But if Tottenham's tactics of defending their lead and attacking on the break were obvious, it was still asking a lot to soak up Wimbledon's pressure and when a snap shot by Michael Hughes was deflected over the bar by Steffen Freund on the hour it seemed Wimbledon were about to stage a comeback.

As it was, they struggled to sustain their momentum, and with Sol Campbell and the re-called Ramon Vega standing firm at the heart of the Tottenham back four, the travelling fans were already beginning to celebrate a fourth League Cup final appearance by the time Marcus Gayle's late strike whistled over the Tottenham bar. When, in the second minute of injury time, Wimbledon's captain, Robbie Earle, struck the top of the bar with another rasping drive they knew that at last their time had come.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher; M Hughes, Earle, Roberts, Euell (Kennedy, 79); Gayle, Ekoku (Leaburn, 80). Substitutes not used: Kimble, Ardley, Heald (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Edinburgh (Sinton, 63); Anderton, Nielsen, Freund, Ginola (Young, 85); Iversen, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Fox, Armstrong, Baardsen (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).