Football: Keen Blades whet their Cup appetite

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The Independent Online
Sheffield United . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

SHEFFIELD UNITED bounced back from this week's courtroom tribulations to prove that the verdicts which really matter are on the pitch. That Tottenham's defence were accessories after the fact should detract nothing from last night's incisive performance that lifted the Blades out of the relegation zone.

It brought a sorry end to Spurs' sequence of six successive victories, and yet they should have expected it having lost 5-0 at Leeds and 2-0 at Hillsborough earlier in the season. It proved that when Tottenham go to Yorkshire, they play like puddings.

With their boardroom struggles for once looming larger than their relegation troubles, Sheffield needed a tonic and the visitors obliged, their defensive generosity handing United their biggest victory of the season when they needed it most.

Yet Franz Carr will demand some credit for opening the floodgates with the sweetest goal of the match following United's first corner after 13 minutes. Glyn Hodges played it short to Carr, who was marked by Dean Austin and Jason Cundy. But he squirmed between them and curled a right-foot shot into the far corner beyond the stranded Erik Throstvedt.

It sparked off a devastating spell by United players clearly keen to earn their places for the FA Cup sixth-round tie at Blackburn on Saturday.

Brian Deane raced on to a through ball and seemed to have knocked it too wide, but Andy Gray got in the way of his cross and the ball deflected against the bar before bouncing into the net off the helpless Thorstvedt.

The confusion was symbolic of a back four which was punished for dismal marking and run ragged by the sort of passing game expected of Tottenham rather than the Blades.

Ian Bryson found his way through the tatters twice in a minute. First Brian Gayle opened up a defence hoping to be saved by the linesman's flag and the unmarked striker side-footed past Thorstvedt. Then, moments later, Cundy missed his kick from Deane's low cross and Bryson tapped home again.

Thirty minutes had gone and Spurs' hopes had departed with them.

Though they could hardly have done otherwise, Spurs began the second half with more ambition. Darren Anderton hit the side netting, Teddy Sheringham rolled a chance wide and Nayim achieved the unlikely feat of conceding a throw-in with a shot from 10 yards.

The substitute, John Hendry, could do no better, hitting the post, but he limped off after 70 minutes, reducing Tottenham to 10 men as they had used both substitutes.

Bryson crossed, Cundy fluffed once more and Deane swallowed the chance. Paul Rogers rubbed it in two minutes from time, tapping in Deane's cross.

Sheffield United's manager, Dave Bassett, said: 'We have shown we are capable of beating anybody in the Premier League. Now we need some consistency.'

Ray Clemence, the Spurs coach, said: 'We have come back from defeats like this before and we can do it again.'

Sheffield United: Kelly; Gage, Barnes (Rogers, 72), Hoyland, Gayle, Pemberton, Carr, Hartfield, Bryson (Cork, 81), Deane, Hodges. Substitute not used: Kite (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur: Thorstvedt; Austin, Van Den Hauwe, Samways, Mabbutt, Cundy, Gray (Sedgley, 64), Nayim (Hendry, 64), Anderton, Sheringham, Allen. Substitute not used: Dearden (gk).

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).