Football: Sherwood drops Villa like a stone

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Sherwood 88 Aston Villa 0 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 35,963
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NO ONE remembers the pacesetter. For him, it's a couple of lightning laps before sidling off into obscurity. Except, that is, for poor Aston Villa who - like a schoolboy with a stitch - are cruelly obliged to labour on in front of everyone.

Without the bodily fuel to sustain their race, John Gregory and his players are being reeled in by the very also-rans their speed off the mark created. At White Hart Lane yesterday, Tottenham, who entered 1999 12 points and 11 places behind the then leaders, joined a growing band on Villa's shoulder. George Graham, while he continues to specialise in the Cup sprint, is producing quite a kick into the final League bend. It was he - aware that his players are jockeying for a place in next weekend's Wembley line-up - who precipitated the thrust of victory with a triple substitution 11 minutes from time.

One set of fresh legs were those of Steffen Iversen, to whom Les Ferdinand had originally been preferred. Iversen's shot after 88 minutes was parried by Mark Bosnich and Tim Sherwood - ineligible for the Worthington Cup final - reacted fastest to bundle in the winner.

By then, Spurs should already have been in front by virtue not only of their general domination, but also a most valid penalty claim, turned away by the referee Peter Jones early in the second half.

Jones, considered by Graham to have had "a very poor game", failed to acknowledge Riccardo Scimeca's unsubtle shove on Les Ferdinand just as the Spurs striker was launching himself at Stephen Carr's right-wing cross. Ferdinand's prolonged protestation earned him a yellow card.

That caution followed the altogether more predictable one issued to Villa's pounds 5.5m debutant Steve Stone. As a Forest player, he had been sent off at the same venue in November after engaging in a feisty individual contest with David Ginola. Unrepentantly, he re-engaged in wing warfare and was booked for a scything challenge on the Frenchman.

From the start, Stone surrendered top billing down their shared touchline to the ever engaging Ginola, whose creamy runs and sugary crosses merited better than the fumbling finishes applied to them. Graham's only lament was that Tottenham had not won by considerably more. Ginola, no doubt, shared the sentiment after providing so much ammunition only to see it rendered blank by those whose job it is to pull the trigger. One low cross was successively missed by Darren Anderton, Sol Campbell and Ferdinand.

Ultimately, such wastefulness was of little material concern to Tottenham, who head to Barnsley and Wembley this major cup week in good cheer.

Villa's continued capitulation, however, is anything but cheery for their manager, John Gregory. Eight matches without a win, one point out of 21, no success away from Villa Park this side of Christmas, it's a sign of his desperation for any little scrap that he considered "it looked to be a classic 0-0, which would have been a bonus for us".

Gregory's continued good humour is laudable and as a looker on the bright side perhaps he'll appreciate that this rotten spring has at least eased one social dilemma.

One Villa Park season ticket holder, having received an invitation to an old friend's wedding on 8 May, was for many pre-Christmas weeks angst- ridden at the prospect that "we could clinch the title that day".

Safe to say, he can now happily RSVP ASAP and there'll be a spare seat in the Doug Ellis stand for the Charlton match. Anyone interested?

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