Football: Not-so-hot Tottenham short of the old swagger

on Monday
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The Independent Online
These days there are not enough terrific reasons to watch Tottenham Hotspur. No great stars, hardly any of the style for which they were famous.

Now comes a rumour - dismissed by chairman Alan Sugar as "absolute nonsense" - that Gerry Francis has offered to resign, and news of Sol Campbell's reluctance to renew his contract.

Hardly surprising when Tottenham, if admittedly beset by injuries to key players, cannot be described as better than functional. An ordinary team displaying very little imagination.

Making their goalkeeper, Ian Walker, the scapegoat for recent lapses is a typically knee-jerk reaction by disgruntled supporters. The problem runs much deeper and touches on the unavoidable conclusion that many defenders in the Premier League might find it difficult to guard their front doors from double glazing salesmen.

Walker was jeered after Saturday's heavy defeat at Derby but television replays - available conveniently in the press room - showed that he could only be faulted for one of the four goals that went past him. What Walker is stuck with, of course, is a reaction to Gianfranco Zola's winner in the recent World Cup qualifying match between England and Italy at Wembley.

Derby's first goal, scored by Robin van der Laan when the ball fell nicely for him, resulted from Tottenham's failure to clear a long throw-in. The second, by Paul Trollope, who ran through unmarked on to Chris Powell's pass, caused a re-arrangement of Tottenham's defensive system. Dean Sturridge's scoring shot in the second half took a wicked deflection off Colin Calderwood. Other than failing to come for a corner from Aljosa Asanovic that led to Ashley Ward getting Derby's fourth, Walker could not be faulted. His rueful expression was therefore understandable.

Not that things went entirely Derby's way or that their ebullient manager, Jim Smith - "our safety target is 40 points, although 39 might be enough" - felt comfortable.

For example, it troubled the Derby manager no end when Andy Sinton went off injured to be replaced by Ronny Rosenthal. "Rosenthal can be a dangerous bugger and I could imagine him giving us different problems," Smith said.

Sure enough, Rosenthal cut Derby's lead, and five minutes after half- time Jason Dozzell brought Tottenham level. By then they had abandoned the idea of man marking Asanovic (first with Dozzell, then with Stephen Carr) who had been sent out to operate in the space behind Derby's strikers. It was a better idea than the alternative, because the Croatian playmaker's touch and vision turned things in Derby's favour.

A problem for Smith has been Derby's inconsistency. "We have defended quite well in a lot of our games," he said, "but we've lost in winning positions. I could see that happening again today, because Tottenham came back at us. At 2-2 anything could have happened. This was a real big one for us, one of the five we still had at home, and it's vital that we win those. Other results have gone for us and the important thing is that we are scoring."

Tottenham are safe but a great deal more is expected of them and Francis is forced to concede that Uefa Cup involvement is no longer a possibility. All this and Campbell's apparent refusal to extend his stay at the club.

History sits heavily on White Hart Lane: a burden for the management. Thirty-six years since they last won the championship and not a hint of the old swagger. Difficult times for Francis, who might not be far off concluding that he can do without the aggravation.

Goals: Van der Laan (10) 1-0; Trollope (22) 2-0; Rosenthal (29) 2-1; Dozzell (50) 2-2; Sturridge (68) 3-2; Ward (69) 4-2.

Derby County (3-4-1-2): Taylor; Laursen, McGrath, Dailly; Carsley, Van der Laan, Trollope, (D Powell, 90), C Powell; Asanovic; Carbon (Ward, 58), Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Simpson, Flynn, Hoult (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (3-5-2): Walker; Scales, Calderwood, Campbell; Austin, Dozzell, Neilsen, Sinton (Rosenthal, 26), Carr; Sheringham, Iversen. Substitutes not used: Nethercott, Edinburgh, Allen, Bardsen (gk).

Referee: S W Dunn (Bristol). Bookings: Derby: McGrath, Sturridge. Tottenham: Austin.

Man of the match: Asanovic.

Attendance: 18,083.