Football: Spirit willing, finish weak

Norman Fox argues Graham's Spurs need to be more ruthless
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The Independent Online
TOTTENHAM WERE 3-0 ahead. Any remaining fire in FC Zimbru's defiance had faded to an ember. A few Spurs fans near the dug-outs at White Hart Lane amused themselves by chanting, "Georgie, Georgie give us a wave". Obviously, they missed the point.

After almost a year in charge George Graham may be enjoying his idea of fun by making tongue-in-cheek remarks about Tottenham's new-found entertainment value, but when it comes to what he does best, humour has no place. While the home crowd tried to emulate famous old white-hot nights (Thursday was more of a drizzly, all right night) by extravagantly cheering every pass in Spurs' eventual possession play, the manager continued his bellowing, seriously urging more goals rather than glossy exhibitionism. And that is exactly why there was no response to the crowds' request for a hint of joyful emotion, and why the Spurs of the new era can overcome problems that two years ago would have seen them retreating behind the white flag of submission.

Of course, the Moldovans were no more than a hard-working, moderately inventive side. They spent most of the time transfixed by past-match action on the huge screens at either end of the ground. But, as every British manager likes to say, "there are no bad teams in Europe any more". Yet average sides in Tottenham's not so distant past have embarrassed them. Even without Campbell, Anderton, Vega, Scales and Ferdinand, they were never embarrassed.

Graham's most significant contribution has been that, whether cruising or catching up, Spurs never lose sight of his expectations. No one can hide from his relentless cajoling. "I know we need more players," he said. True, but an age-old ploy to make those you have got stay on their toes. "We've got to take more of the chances we've been creating, but we've only got three strikers in the squad. At least we're in there making them," he said. "Against that, in recent matches the man of the match has usually been the opposition's goalkeeper, which shows we're on the right track."

A win today against struggling Coventry should see the club on course for Graham's season's ambition which is "to finish wherever we need to be to qualify for Europe next season. This club has to be in Europe".

He is delighted with the ever-improving defensive work of the dominating, though only 5ft 8in, Chris Perry, who needs European experience if he is to become an England international. He was confident enough against Zimbru to score a goal and found European football "a lot slower than in the Premiership, so I had more time on the ball".

Perry, bought from Wimbledon for pounds 4m, is proving a more than adequate cover for the injured Campbell and could present Graham with a dilemma. Can he think of selling Campbell for the sort of money that these days is required to buy one of the world's top strikers? "That's not the problem; it's finding the strikers."

Was he tempted to join in the fans' celebration at seeing Spurs win their first match back in Europe after seven years? "Not really... I've been in this business too long." And what does he think has been the biggest change since he arrived a year ago? "Simple... team spirit."

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