Football: Spurs need Sugar sweetener

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The Independent Online
EVEN THE most stubbornly parochial of Tottenham's supporters now go around saying that George Graham has done a terrific job and they are right. Worthington Cup winners, Europe on next season's agenda and a place in the FA Cup final to play for against Newcastle next Sunday.

Since Graham has restored some of Tottenham's pride mainly with the personnel he had available, how pleasing it all must be for Alan Sugar. After all, what is success if it means gambling with stability?

The big question, however, one emphasised by Tottenham's 2-0 loss to Leicester, their first home defeat under Graham's management, concerns Sugar's view of the future. Is he seriously ambitious or would he settle happily for comparative status?

Recently, Tottenham's most popular player, David Ginola, stated (doubtless to Sugar's irritation) that strengthening of the team is essential to progress.

Graham remains diplomatic about this but a pretty obvious conclusion is that Tottenham will not be able to see themselves in the same light as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea unless funds are released to him.

Sincere in his satisfaction with the response from a previously dispirited squad, Graham said: "I've had a good look at them and a few have surprised me. But I've said all along that we'll need to bring in new players. Things have gone well and, of course, if we get to the FA Cup final, which can go any way, it will be an even better season."

Graham attributed Saturday's loss to staleness, but the difficulties Tottenham experienced against the stifling tactics Leicester were further encouraged to employ after Matt Elliott put them in front two minutes before half-time, served as a reminder of the need for replenishment.

With Ginola held in check by the added attention of Robbie Savage, who was boorishly jeered by Tottenham's supporters for his part in the incident that led to Justin Edinburgh's sending off in the Worthington Cup final, Tottenham had no inspiration. "I thought we were the better team for most of the first half, had our chances, but losing a goal meant that Leicester didn't have to come at us."

It was then that Tottenham's flaws, those for which no amount of effort can compensate became even more apparent. Even allowing for the absence of Tim Sherwood and Darren Anderton, imaginative passing is not one of their strong points. "We won all the important battles," the busy Leicester midfielder Neil Lennon said. In a shrewd way they out-mouthed Tottenham, too. "I don't know why some of our players fell for it," Graham said. "They should know better."

Also better than to provide Emile Heskey with a critical opportunity to demonstrate the potential of his pace and power.

Deployed in support of Tony Cottee, whose touch and alert positioning provided Leicester with opportunities to break out, Heskey's threat materialised fully when he burst past Edinburgh and Sol Campbell in the 67th minute. "He's had this back problem, one I don't fully understand," Leicester's manager, Martin O'Neill, said, "but today I thought he was tremendous. He complained about dizziness but I told him to get on with it."

It was a state of mind with which Edinburgh and Campbell felt familiar as Heskey burst clear on the right to set up Cottee for a typical finish.

Cottee's 200th League goal was wrapped in coincidence. "I scored my first against Spurs, my 100th against them and now this," he said. Soon afterwards Cottee had to replace the busted boot he scored with. "It's been falling apart for weeks," he added.

Common sense argues against a similar estimate of Tottenham's fortunes. There is too much of Graham in them for that to happen. But it is already time to think of the team before the bank balance.

Goals: Elliott (43) 0-1; Cottee (67) 0-2.

Tottenham Hotspur: (4-4-2) Walker; Carr, Young, Campbell, Edinburgh (Sinton, 74); Fox (Armstrong, 66), Freund, Nielsen, Ginola; Iversen, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Baardsen (gk), Nilsen, Dominguez.

Leicester City: (3-5-2) Keller; Sinclair, Elliott, Ullathorne; Impey, Savage, Lennon, Izzett (Kaamark, 55), Guppy; Cottee, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Marshall, Miller, Gunnlaugsson.

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Tottenham: Freund, Edinburgh, Ginola. Leicester: Sinclair, Heskey, Guppy.

Man of the match: Cottee.

Attendance: 35,415.