Football: Sad Tottenham wilt before Flowers

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. . . .0

Blackburn Rovers . . . .2

Shearer 61, Gallacher 71

Attendance: 30,236

THE assumption that the Premiership was all wrapped up by Manchester United in time for Christmas was clearly premature. With a game in hand and two to be played before United's next League match, Blackburn could soon be looking at a gap of only four points, and United still have to go to Ewood Park.

For Tottenham, though, relegation is no longer a dark cloud on the horizon but a storm directly overhead. Never before have they suffered six successive League defeats. Blackburn's defeat at the hands of Charlton in the FA Cup earlier in the week was nothing more than a tiresome setback in comparison to the adversity that now confronts Spurs and their mild-mannered manager, Ossie Ardiles, for whom a relegation scrap is not something he seems particularly well equipped to face. Nevertheless, last night he insisted he was not considering resigning.

For many Spurs fans, last weekend's 3-1 defeat by Sheffield Wednesday signalled the end of their patience. They wanted signs of recovery and though there were hints of greater determination, Tottenham's finishing remains inept.

Blackburn's preference for a patient counter-attacking game deprived Spurs of any early opportunity to encourage those disgruntled fans. Most of the counters were founded on the much-improved Graeme Le Saux, who controlled the left side and offered Alan Shearer and Kevin Gallacher a whole series of inviting centres and passes. The two new Spurs central defenders, Kevin Scott and Stuart Nethercott, were never at ease as Shearer often cunningly dropped back from the front line to make space and Gallacher took the attention of the defenders. But this is a partnership that gathers confidence by the game.

Tottenham's few first-half opportunities usually fell to another of their new men, Ronny Rosenthal, a great tryer who can be extremely trying. Tim Flowers twice denied him bravely and with superb timing. Rosenthal is not Tottenham's answer.

Blackburn compensated well for the absence of David Batty from midfield and Mark Atkins, in particular, was outstanding. Always inventive, he played streams of penetrating passes to the front men.

Nevertheless, Tottenham gradually made some in-roads. Once Ian Walker had ensured that they remained on equal terms to half-time by throwing himself at a ferocious near-post shot by Stuart Ripley, they grew some hairs on their chests. But Le Saux remained their thorn, once hacking off the line from Justin Edinburgh. The ball returned to Nethercott, who hit his shot wide of the post.

For an hour it seemed that Shearer was going to experience two games without scoring. Perhaps he thought so, too, because it was on the hour that he was found in the centre circle regaining possession before playing a quick forward pass to Gallacher, who spread the attack wide to Ripley. By then Shearer had reached the far post and powered in a glorious header to crown a special move.

Tottenham's attack without Teddy Sheringham remains impoverished and what opportunities came their way yesterday continued to be rejected. The outcome was predictable. Atkins dismembered their midfield and after 71 minutes he played another fine through pass to Gallacher in the inside-right position, who drove in a clinical shot inside the far post.

Although Tottenham thrust themselves forward, nothing they did in the last third of the pitch was convincing and Flowers was always equal to the task.