Football: Spurs cling to safety

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Sedgley 4, Samways 66, Anderton 88

Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 25,959

NO self-delusion, no more silly talk of being too good to be relegated. Tottenham yesterday acknowledged the danger of their own situation and, inspired by Vinny Samways, clawed themselves to comparative safety with their first home win since 3 October.

During the week Ossie Ardiles had received the poisoned accolade, his chairman's vote of confidence, when all he really wanted was one decent home win. But seeking a change of fortune against the team who last weekend dismembered Blackburn Rovers seemed like unfortunate timing.

This, though, was an apprehensive Southampton, without the inspiration of Matthew Le Tissier, the defensive strength of Francis Benali and the forward foraging of Iain Dowie (all suspended). So the outcome depended to a large extent on their packed defence and midfield and on counter-attacking. Not that the quality of their defending gave much cause for confidence when barely four minutes into the game their three central defenders moved as one in the wrong direction. Samways had distracted them with a delicate header that Teddy Sheringham equally subtly headed to the left, and as the ball bounced none of the defenders reacted. Steve Sedgley noticed their indecision and immediately half-volleyed a shot past Dave Beasant.

The ability of Samways to support the attack as well as move quickly behind the wall of Southampton defenders was always the key. Even so, Southampton felt that the situation was not irredeemable so they remained defensive and counter-attacked only when Spurs were fully committed. As a result their chances were few, though after 34 minutes a massive 30-yard drive by Tommy Widdrington smashed against the foot of the post. And, by half-time, they were beginning to create some pressing moves that, with greater forward persistence, would have been more profitable.

None the less, Samways remained the game's most inventive player, always prompting from an advanced midfield position and never short of long- distance shooting power. Indeed, early in the second half he speculated from almost 30 yards, forcing Beasant into an important, low-palming save.

In a belated attempt to reinforce their forwards' strength, Southampton withdrew Steve Wood from defence and put Nicky Banger up front. The change greatly enhanced their ability to worry the Spurs defence. Yet that very tactical change harboured danger. Having reduced their defensive strength and planted more men upfield, they opened themselves to the counter-attacking of Samways in particular.

So, after 66 minutes, another neat pass by the industrious Sheringham gave Samways possession well outside the penalty area. Again Samways gambled with a long shot which he drilled accurately inside the far post. For most of the second- half Samways had been bothered by a leg injury but he concealed it bravely. In the end he had to leave the field to an ovation that, at times in his career at White Hart Lane, he must have thought he would never hear.

Conversely, the popularity of Sheringham has never been in doubt and yesterday his enormous contribution in being the receptive target for almost all of the Tottenham attacks was invaluable. His understanding with Darren Anderton, who added Tottenham's third two minutes from the end with another low-driven shot inside the far post, is something to give Spurs hope for next season. After this result that season should be spent in the Premiership.

(Photograph omitted)

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