Football: Samways' perfect way to rescue Spurs: Oldham subside on their own beach of a pitch as Ardiles' spritely side eradicate any fear of relegation from the Premiership

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Oldham Athletic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Tottenham Hotspur . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

TOTTENHAM overcame both Oldham and a surface resembling Blackpool beach last night to ensure that they will be heading for Old Trafford and Highbury again next season rather than Reading and Southend. For Oldham, however, even victory at Norwich tomorrow may not be enough to extricate them from the relegation quicksand.

A bruising affair that was a pitched battle in more senses than one was decided, deservedly so on the balance of play, by goals towards the end of either half by Vinny Samways and David Howells. Ossie Ardiles leapt off the bench at the end, probably in relief as much as celebration, while the result also secured Manchester City's Premiership survival.

For Oldham, the chances of repeating last May's extraordinary escape now depend on an implausible series of results. A month ago, they were 50 seconds from the FA Cup final. Mark Hughes's equaliser clearly damaged more than their Wembley prospects, for they have since taken just two of the 21 points available.

There was a steely resolve about Spurs which has been conspicuous by its absence for much of the season. Until a few weeks ago, one senses they would have taken one look at a Boundary Park pitch virtually bereft of grass and decided collectively, if subconsciously, that it was not for them. Almost at the last they have come to their senses.

Oldham's evening began badly and simply got worse. Mindful of the problems of trying to outpass Spurs, they had clearly planned to subject Erik Thorstvedt's area to an aerial bombardment. It started in the first 60 seconds, but during that attack their inspirational captain, Mike Milligan, clashed heads with Kevin Scott.

Milligan was helped away to have six stitches in his wound and took no further part in the fray. Royle considered his loss to be crucial, for it left Oldham with only one genuine midfielder, Nick Henry, to contest an area where Spurs are at their strongest.

After 39 minutes of sparring, some of it in the literal sense as players frequently squared up to each other, Spurs seized the lead. Ronny Rosenthal, a thorn in Oldham's side throughout with his powerful running, rolled a short pass to the edge of the D, from where Samways curled a left-foot shot past the static Paul Gerrard.

Oldham, who seldom found the width to justify their surfeit of strikers, wasted a good opportunity to draw level when Chris Makin side-footed over from five yards out just after half-time. The appearance of Andy Ritchie briefly galvanised them, his low cross eluding Thorstvedt before it was cleared via the base of a post by Scott.

On another occasion, the reckless challenge on Gerrard for which Teddy Sheringham was booked after a brawl involving almost every player, might have handed Oldham the moral initiative. Instead, Spurs sealed their success 12 minutes from time after a passing move in their best tradition. The keeper did well to parry Dean Austin's drive, only for Howells to pounce on the loose ball and score easily.

An emotional Ardiles said: 'This is no time to elaborate on what has gone wrong, but when that happens at a big club like ours it isn't easy to change things. The pressure has been tremendous on myself and the players. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

'At the same time I'm going to be more clever and determined in the future. I owe that to our supporters, and I want to thank them for being so patient. I can assure them that this will never happen again. It's as simple as that.'

For Royle, the torment goes on, at least until tomorrow evening. 'If we go down, we deserve to go down,' the Oldham manager sighed. 'Having said that, we haven't had a single break since that Hughes goal. Now we need a spectacular win - and a few other spectacular results too.'

Oldham Athletic (4-3-3): Gerrard; Makin, Jobson, Fleming, Pointon; Milligan, (Redmond, 5), Henry, Holden; Beckford, McCarthy (Ritchie, 58), Sharp. Substitute not used: Hallworth (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (5-3-2): Thorstvedt; Austin, Nethercott, Mabbutt, Scott, Edinburgh; Howells, Samways, Sedgley; Sheringham, Rosenthal (Dozzell, 89). Substitutes not used: Campbell, Walker (gk).

Referee: R Gifford (Mid Glamorgan).

----------------------------------------------------------------- BOTTOM EIGHT ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Tottenham 41 11 12 18 53 57 45 Man City 41 9 17 15 37 48 44 Southampton 41 12 6 23 46 63 42 Sheffield Utd 41 8 18 15 40 57 42 Ipswich 41 9 15 17 35 58 42 Everton 41 11 8 22 39 61 41 Oldham 41 9 12 20 41 67 39 Swindon (R) 41 5 15 21 47 95 30 ----------------------------------------------------------------- TOMORROW'S FINAL FIXTURES: Norwich City v Oldham Athletic; Chelsea v Sheffield United; West Ham v Southampton; Everton v Wimbledon; Blackburn Rovers v Ipswich Town. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

Ambitious Arsenal, page 38

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