Football: Nielsen header caps drama

Worthington Cup final: Leicester City 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 - Dane claims trophy for Tottenham with injury-time goal after Edinburgh is dismissed
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The Independent Online
BEFORE YESTERDAY'S Worthington Cup final a group of Leicester supporters were drawing an angry reaction from Tottenham fans with the taunt: "You're just a bunch of Gooners". They may not like the comparision, but there was definitely a touch of the Arsenal about Tottenham's victory at Wembley.

It was not the sight of George Graham on the bench, or the score, "One- nil to the Tott-en-ham", they also had a man sent off and showed a resilience that used only to be associated with the red-and-white half of north London. There was even an echo of Spurs' last visit to Wembley, for the 1993 FA Cup semi-final, when Arsenal had Lee Dixon sent off but still beat them 1-0. Graham, of course, was then managing Arsenal. Following six trophies with them, he has now won seven pots in 12 years.

Tottenham's goal, scored by Allan Nielsen in the third minute of injury- time, was just reward for the more adventurous of two essentially negative teams. But if the final was disappointing as a match it did not lack drama or human interest. Nielsen, for example, has been marginalised at White Hart Lane by the arrival of Tim Sherwood (cup-tied for this game) and has been talking of leaving. He may still do so, but at least he would go with a place in the Tottenham pantheon assured.

Then there was Justin Edinburgh, the only survivor of Spurs' last trophy success, the FA Cup in 1991. Included because Mauricio Taricco is cup- tied, he had talked of wanting to remember the experience more than he had been able to as a 21-year-old. That he certainly will, but he would probably prefer to forget it as he was sent off for striking Robbie Savage after 63 minutes. He did not hit Savage hard, certainly not as hard as the Welshman's reaction suggested, but he raised his arm, made contact and could have no argument.

It proved to be the turning point, though not in the way expected.

Leicester, having already reduced David Ginola to a peripheral figure by the attentions of Robert Ullathorne, ought to have gone on and won the match. The incident came as they were gaining the ascendancy but, with Emile Heskey unfit and eventually withdrawn, they had no potency. They appeared to sit back and wait for extra time in the likelihood that Spurs would tire.

Tottenham, however, also had the extra half-hour on their minds and they took the game to Leicester, eager to win it while their limbs allowed them. They were also fired up by Edinburgh's dismissal.

Iversen, who had hit the side netting in the 80th minute, took a pass from Les Ferdinand on the right and ran at Steve Walsh, 12 years his senior. The Norwegian reached the edge of the six-yard box then shot across goal, Kasey Keller got a hand to the ball, it popped up and Nielsen, despite having three Leicester defenders around him, was able to dive forward to head it into the net.

The irony was that Savage had left the pitch just seconds earlier, substituted by Martin O'Neill for his own good - a second booking, and his own dismissal, had seemed increasingly likely.

The dramatic conclusion was in stark contrast to the match, which had been largely bogged down in midfield, especially in the first half. Tottenham looked to give the ball to Ginola at every opportunity but, once he had it, did not offer him many options. Instead they waited in vain for him to dribble his way through the blue shirts that quickly surrounded him.

As a consequence Tottenham managed only one clear attempt at goal in the opening half, an Iversen header six minutes before the break from a Darren Anderton free-kick. There was one other opportunity, created by a delightful back-heel from Ginola, but Anderton was closed down before he could shoot.

Leicester, who included five members of the team who won this competition in 1997, produced even less, failing to manage even a single shot. A Savage pass created the best chance of the half but Heskey, having got away from Sol Campbell, delayed and allowed Ramon Vega to make an excellent tackle.

That, apart from a booking for Matt Elliott for a late tackle on Vega, was it for the first half. The second began more brightly, Leicester at last pushing forward with Ullathorne leaving Ginola's side to drive in a 25-yard shot that Ian Walker initially spilled. As Tony Cottee charged in for the loose ball, the goalkeeper recovered to smother the ball bravely.

Eight minutes later Edinburgh and Savage contested a loose ball on the half-way line. Savage's clattering challenge was late but that could not excuse Edinburgh's reaction. He became the third player to be sent off in a senior Wembley final, after Kevin Moran in the 1985 FA Cup, and Andrei Kanchelskis in this competition a decade later.

Leicester, instead of capitalising, stood off, their reluctance to commit men forward underlined when Cottee went past Walker only for his cross to roll through an empty goal area. It was to be their last chance. Cottee, still searching for that first winner's medal in England, was in tears at the end.

While he was being consoled by team-mates, victory was being celebrated with glee by the Lillywhite hordes. There was still no sound, however, of a chorus of "Georgie Graham's blue-and-white army". Maybe that will come if he leads them to the FA Cup as well.

Goals: Nielsen (90) 0-1.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Taggart, Elliott, Walsh; Ullathorne, Savage (Zagorakis, 90), Izzet, Lennon, Guppy; Cottee, Heskey (Marshall, 74). Substitutes not used: Kaamark, Stuart Campbell, Arphexad (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Vega, Sol Campbell, Edinburgh; Anderton, Freund, Nielsen, Ginola (Sinton, 90); Iversen, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Young, Sinton, Armstrong, Dominguez, Baardsen (gk).

Referee: T Heilbron (Newton Aycliffe). Bookings: Tottenham: Vega. Leicester City: Elliott, Savage. Sending off: Tottenham: Edinburgh.

Man of the match: Ullathorne.

Attendance: 77,892.

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