Football: Spurs break speed barrier

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

PITY the Tottenham fan forced to answer a call of nature in the 54th minute. Delayed by five minutes and he would have missed all four of his team's goals yesterday, a crazy and remarkable sequence of rapid fire that propelled them into the record books while turning this game completely on its head.

It was a bountiful harvest that had the statisticians thumbing back through the pages of history to find a comparable achievement. Preston scored six in seven minutes against Hyde in a 26-0 FA Cup slaughter in 1887 and only John McIntyre (for Blackburn against Everton in 1922) and W G Richardson (for West Bromwich against West Ham in 1931) have claimed four in five minutes.

Four minutes 44 seconds was in fact all that separated Teddy Sheringham's headed equaliser and a delicate chip with which he made it 4-1. Some heavyweight title fights have been known to take longer. And 'gobsmacked' would seem to cover pretty accurately the reaction of all concerned. As the net bulged again and again, the Spurs supporters - the 20,098 was their lowest gate of the season - had every right to keep pinching themselves, for that was as many home goals as they had witnessed in the previous six League fixtures at White Hart Lane.

Southampton were equally dumbstruck. Sent in front in the 22nd minute by Iain Dowie's splendid left-foot execution after Matthew Le Tissier had twice opened up the defence, they would surely have fancied their chances to build on that; while creating possibilities they failed to take, Spurs were far from confident in the first half.

Then Darren Anderton, Southampton-born but taunted by the visitors' end because of his Portsmouth links, floated a perfect dead- ball delivery towards Sheringham's head. The rot had set in though television replays appeared to support Southampton's complaint that the free-kick was harshly awarded and that Sheringham and Nick Barmby were in offside positions before the 18-year-old slid home his side's second.

Celebration quickly turned to pain and dejection for Barmby, who was the victim of a high and vicious challenge from Francis Benali. The Southampton defender was sent off and Barmby was helped off with a badly bruised left elbow that will require another X- ray examination today and threatens his place in the FA Cup fifth round against Wimbledon next weekend, as does an Achilles injury that forced David Howells to leave the field early on.

Benali's ugly transgression occurred in the 63rd minute, by which time Spurs had struck another two to complete their goal-a-minute extravaganza. Anderton, with his debut strike in the Premier League, had answered his critics with a composed finish while Sheringham was helped to his second - and his sixth in four games - by the ruins of what was by now a shell-shocked Southampton rearguard.

'It was an unbelievable spell, similar to what Manchester United did to us the other week,' said the Tottenham chief coach, Doug Livermore. 'We were hitting the back of the net for fun.'

Southampton roused themselves to grab a second through Richard Hall's header but they remained vulnerable to the cock-a-hoop cockerels, Sheringham, Anderton and Andy Gray all coming close.

Tottenham Hotspur: Thorstvedt; Austin, Edinburgh, Samways, Mabbutt, Ruddock, Howells (Gray, 20), Barmby (Van Den Hauwe, 63), Anderton, Sheringham, Allen. Substitute not used: Walker (gk).

Southampton: Flowers; Dodd, Adams, Hurlock, Hall, Monkou, Le Tissier, Banger, Dowie, Maddison, Benali. Substitutes not used: Kenna, Dixon, Andrews (gk).

Referee: K Redfern (Northumberland).