Football: Spurs have no case for defence

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Online
SPURS have always been an attacking side. Even when they had keepers as good as Bill Brown and Pat Jennings and one or two defenders to match in front of them they were always more impressive going forward. So it is with today's Spurs. Had this fact dawned on them earlier than it did, they might have saved a game that for the most part they looked like losing by a distance.

Whether it was due to the usual host of absentees or a lack of self-belief but for 83 minutes they mistakenly chose to play this game firmly on the back foot against a side with the second worst defensive record in the Premiership but an attack brimful of invention and subtlety.

With quality defenders they might have got away it. With the likes of reserves Justin Edinburgh and Colin Calderwood at their disposal they were asking for trouble. And they got it. The left side of their defence offered about as much resistance as a group of cardboard cut-outs and the only surprise was that Wednesday did not capitalise to a greater degree.

They probably would have done had their rampaging rightback Ian Nolan not been sadly removed from the proceedings in the 37th minute with a double fracture of the right leg after a sickening collision with Edinburgh. It was Wednesday's second serious loss to that side of the team - Niclas Alexandersson recently damaged his knee ligaments - and could halt a climb up the table which has seen Wednesday lose just three out of 17 games since Ron Atkinson succeeded David Pleat, Spurs' new director of football, as manager. "It was a shame for the kid," said Atkinson, "because I'd told him Lawrie McMenemy [the Northern Ireland manger] was here to watch him."

Just moments before the accident, Wednesday, not before time, had taken the lead when Edinburgh conceded possession to Graham Hyde. Whereupon the ball flew around the Spurs penalty area as though it had a mind of its own, rebounding first off Nicolas Berti to Petter Rudi, whose shot was deflected towards Paolo Di Canio, who popped it in.

Whether Wednesday should have been five or six goals to the good, as Atkinson maintained, by the time Spurs mounted an extraordinary rally was stretching it a bit, but certainly Di Canio should have got another one when Espen Baardsen failed to hold a shot from substitute Scott Oakes and Rudi should have scored when put clean through.

With neither Jurgen Klinsmann nor Les Ferdinand available, responsibility fell upon David Ginola to carry the main threat for Tottenham, since Chris Armstrong appears still short of match fitness. The result was that a curling effort from the Frenchman in the 54th minute, which Kevin Pressman plucked effortlessly from the air, was Spurs' first shot on target.

Yet there had been one or two suggestions that Spurs were not so short on confidence - a volleyed back-heel pass from Ruel Fox in the early minutes springs readily to mind - and they had, after all, just had a couple of decent results... well, one, really, at Blackburn.

The last few minutes of this game were reminiscent of those at Ewood Park, where they scored twice, only this time Fox and the substitute Jose Dominguez contrived to put the ball over the bar from just a few yards range before Armstrong hit a post with the last kick of the match. At least they remembered what their best form of defence was.

Goal: Di Canio (32) 1-0.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-3-1-2): Pressman, Nolan (Oakes, 36), Newsome, Walker, Hinchcliffe; Hyde (Magilton, 73), Atherton, Pembridge (Stefanovic, 89); Rudi; Carbone, Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Booth, Clarke (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Baardsen; Carr, Campbell, Calderwood, Edinburgh (Dominguez, 77); Fox, Howells, Berti (Brady, 63), Nielsen; Ginola, Armstrong. Substitute not used: Mabbut, Gain, Grodas (gk).

Referee: M J Bodenham (East Looe).

Bookings: Wednesday: Hyde, Carbone. Tottenham: Fox, Howells, Ginola.

Man of the match: Rudi.

Attendance: 29,871.