Football: Jurgen lifts the burden

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Wimbledon 2

Fear 21, 30

Tottenham Hotspur 6

Ferdinand 18, Klinsmann 41, 54, 58, 60, Saib 79

Attendance: 25,820

AFTER all the fuss and worry, the season-long struggle, it took Tottenham Hotspur just five minutes to save their Premiership skins yesterday; in all but mathematics anyway. That was how long it took Jurgen Klinsmann to ease the angst by scoring three splendid goals that left Wimbledon in their wake at Selhurst Park as part of a stylish, attacking Spurs display that certainly deserves a top-flight stage.

Spurs clawed their way back from a 2-1 deficit caused by Peter Fear's first two goals of the season but thereafter staged an emphatic recovery - aided by Ben Thatcher's red card for a nasty lunge - in which Klinsmann took his eventual personal haul to four. Thus did Wimbledon have Fear, while Spurs had vier.

The German also created Tottenham's other goals either side of his tally, for Les Ferdinand and Moussa Saib. His wages when he returned for his second coming in January were reported to be pounds 40,000 a week; on yesterday's evidence alone, cheap when the pounds 10m a season cost of demotion is considered. What price, too, the clause in his contract that he cannot be dropped?

Next Sunday Klinsmann will play his last match against Southampton and it will take some conspiracy of results for it to be anything other than a celebration of his contribution to the club. If Everton do avoid defeat at Arsenal today, only a heavy Tottenham defeat, plus a big Bolton win at Chelsea, will send the North London team down.

The Spurs' coach, Christian Gross, has had his problems in accommodating a previously ineffective Klinsmann but could afford to be generous. "Jurgen was outstanding today, world-class," he said. "He looked very sharp and dangerous and had great support from Ferdinand. The fact that I took him off at half-time at Barnsley and he was on the bench for Germany against Nigeria made him think."

Gross also saw the performance as evidence of how six months of his coaching has borne fruit. "We played well early on but we couldn't keep the pace. Now the team looks fitter and sharper and able to play the type of football I would like to play."

Certainly the way Gross's attacking line-up played was in the Spurs tradition for intelligent and skilful quality. "It's just like watching Tottenham," their fans sang from the three parts of the stadium they filled. Appropriately Spurs wore all white, which gave them a sheen of style and Klinsmann the look of a knight.

A scrappy opening was enlivened by David Ginola's creative instincts on the left, where he outclassed the out-of-position Thatcher, and it came as no surprise that a flash French skill led to Spurs taking the lead.

From 20 yards he curled in a neat shot that thumped off a Wimbledon post, the ball being retrieved by Darren Anderton on the right. His cross was then met by Klinsmann who nodded the ball down for Ferdinand to touch it past Neil Sullivan.

Given Wimbledon's struggles of late - one goal in eight games - it might have been thought that it was all but game over. Spurs are not built for relegation battles, though, and have a great capacity for conceding goals. First Michael Hughes swung in a cross from the right which Ian Walker punched out to Fear some 25 yards out and he sent straight back a crisp volley into Walker's net. It was Wimbledon's first goal in 434 minutes. Then two came along all at once; typical. Again Hughes curled in a cross and Carl Leaburn leapt to head down to Fear, whose volley this time was only from 10 yards out but still a sharp strike.

As their saving grace, Spurs also have a great capacity for scoring goals and were level before half-time, Ginola again the instigator. From his cross from the left, Klinsmann darted in ahead of Chris Perry and Sullivan at the near post to touch home.

The game turned seven minutes into the second half when Thatcher bared studs at Allan Nielsen's shin and was rightly sent off. Within minutes, Klinsmann had exacted more tangible punishment when he tucked home a ball from Nicola Berti, who had been gifted it by Brian McAllister.

Soon Spurs were exploiting the greater space. Ferdinand headed on Walker's long kick and Klinsmann spun to hook home inside Sullivan's near post. Then he drove home a left-footed cross shot after being supplied by his fellow striker. Finally, Klinsmann backheeled Saib's pass into space for the Algerian to run on to and clip home. Worth every pfennig.

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