Football: Spurs run out of puff

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa. . . . . .1

Tottenham Hotspur. . .0

GIVEN the reputation both these sides enjoy for skilled and innovative football, 32,498 paying spectators had every reason to expect high entertainment from two pretenders to the Premiership crown. Instead they witnessed a contest that seldom varied from the mundane.

Villa, in Ron Atkinson's words, were 'diffident'; Tottenham, according to Ossie Ardiles, played with 'heavy legs'. It could have been an end of season non-event between two teams out of contention.

Winning at Anfield last Wednesday was a great triumph for Ardiles, but if Saturday's defeat was the knock-on effect then what was actually gained? By taking the wind from Liverpool's sails, Spurs left themselves out of puff. One step forward, one step back.

Complaints of overwork with the season little more than two weeks old are unlikely to win a sympathetic hearing. The leading players had hardly been proponents of wage restraint during the summer and the public are entitled to see them sweat.

But while the Premiership campaign is in its early days there have been five matches already for each club, with another midweek round coming up. Here, perhaps, was evidence that the schedule is too much and that the spectacle is being compromised as a result.

Not that Saturday's contest was devoid of quality. Tottenham's midfield held control in the first period, denying Villa's flank players many opportunities to take the game wide. Jason Dozzell looks a valuable aquisition in his support role behind the front two and Vinny Samways, often changing the direction of Tottenham's movement from his place at the bottom of the Ardiles diamond, continued his impressive start.

Samways would be an England player if Ardiles was picking the team. With Graham Taylor in the stand, the 24-year-old Londoner was in the right place to impress, although Taylor may have been more interested in seeing what Teddy Sheringham could do. Denied a clear chance himself, setting up one which Dozell almost converted was as close as the striker came to making a decisive mark.

Villa missed Andy Townsend, who should be fit to resume his duties in the engine room at Everton tomorrow, but Kevin Richardson offered just enough thrust as Tottenham faded to swing things the way of the Birmingham side. Richardson was on the point of turning Garry Parker's delicate through ball into a goal when Dean Austin brought him down with 19 minutes remaining. Steve Staunton scored from the spot.

Goal: Staunton pen (71) 1-0.

Aston Villa (4-3-3): Spink; Barrett, Teale, McGrath, Staunton; Houghton, Richardson, Parker; Atkinson, Saunders, Daley (Whittingham, 81). Substitutes not used: Bosnich (gk), Cox.

Tottenham (4-4-2): Thorstvedt; Austin, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Campbell; Samways, Howells (Caskey, 59, Anderton, 69), Sedgley, Dozzell; Durie, Sheringham. Substitute not used: Walker (gk).

Referee: K. Cooper (Pontypridd).