Football: Spurs shake off the blues

Gross passes on the crisis feeling to Smith; Everton 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1 Ferdinand 5 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 39,378
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The Independent Online
NOT FOR the first time in recent seasons, a visit to Everton brought welcome relief to a club in desperate need of oxygen. Everton have yet to beat Tottenham in the Premiership and history was duly observed again, a goal by Les Ferdinand after five minutes settling a match shot through with tension.

"Everyone likes to come here and play Everton," Christian Gross, the hard-pressed Tottenham manager, said. But, whatever the rumours, Gross is clearly not departing without a struggle. "There will always be speculation in the hot seat," he smiled. After Tottenham's first points of the season, Gross looked like a man who had won the National Lottery in Russian roubles.

It was not so much a case of "Crisis? What crisis?" as "Crisis? Which crisis?" Winters of discontent beckon for both sides. Tottenham provided what little fluency emerged from the mayhem, but they had Espen Baardsen to thank for their first victory of the season and a glimpse of peace at the end of a week of whispers down the corridors of White Hart Lane. The Norwegian made a string of saves, ranging from the routine to the brilliant, to deny Everton their first goal of the new campaign.

Much of the pre-match speculation centred on the fate of Christian Gross but it could be an interminable season for his opposite number, Walter Smith. For all their expenditure, Everton are suffering from depressingly familiar failings and the final whistle was greeted by an instinctive chorus of boos, a fanfare usually reserved for the New Year. Had claims for a penalty not been turned down in the second half, Everton's defeat would have been even more conclusive. "No goals in three games, everyone knows the problems here," Walter Smith, the Everton manager, said.

If Gross does follow Kenny Dalglish into the managerial black hole then the dignified Swiss has completed a neat Premiership circle before cashing in the return half of his underground ticket to Heathrow Airport. It was at Goodison Park that Christian Who? began his rocky reign. Spurs won 2-0, but the new dawn proved as short-lived as a winter twilight. Despite this hard-fought victory, nothing in Spurs' manner suggested more than a temporary reprieve.

Baardsen will have sympathy with Ian Walker, his predecessor, who lost his place for club and country in the space of three days. After conceding six goals in the first two matches, Walker could have expected no pardon. But not many goalkeepers would keep confidence intact behind such a haphazard defence. Besides changing goalkeepers, Gross responded to recent carelessness, notably at set-pieces, by drafting in Colin Calderwood to sweep in front of the back four.

One point out of the first six, a home draw against Aston Villa, hardly advertised an immediate change in Everton's fortunes under their new manager. In most quarters, this was billed as an early-season relegation struggle; few among either set of supporters would feel inclined to argue. David Unsworth, enjoying his first start since returning from London, must have reflected midway through a torrid, increasingly niggly, first half that nothing much had changed in his absence. Both sides were terminally short of confidence.

After their recent traumas at set-pieces, it was typical that Tottenham should take the lead from a corner. David Ginola flighted the ball to the far post and Ferdinand, another England discard, rose to head classically and simply down past Thomas Myhre. The clock showed five minutes, but the goal betrayed the defensive sloppiness of the last decade.

Twice Everton could have equalised before half-time, twice they were denied by Baardsen. First from a close-range effort by Danny Cadamarteri, then tipping over a 25-yard free-kick from Olivier Dacourt who, with John Collins, strove mightily all afternoon to lend some coherence to Everton's tenacity. A move in which he received the ball on the left of midfield, only to find both Alex Cleland and Nick Barmby tracking each other down the centre, epitomised his intellectual struggles.

Tottenham, quieter in the transfer market, at least enjoyed the benefit of familiarity. Myhre and Marco Materazzi were certainly not speaking the same language after the break, a comic misunderstanding almost gifting Spurs a second goal. The visitors should have gone further ahead 10 minutes into the second half, but somehow the referee, Peter Jones, who had a poor match, failed to penalise Craig Short's ankle-tap on Ginola. As Ginola was clear of the defence, and Ruel Fox was on his own in the centre, Spurs' anguish was understandable. There will not be a clearer penalty all season.

Everton did have the ball in the net midway through the second half, but the offside flag was up before Ferguson bundled the ball into the net. There was a suspicion of handball anyway. Twice more, the Everton captain went close with headers as the home team at last managed a sustained period of pressure.

A double substitution, John Spencer for Cleland and Don Hutchison for Barmby, further raised an already frenetic tempo. Materazzi had a shot blocked, Campbell desperately turned away a cross-shot by Spencer and Jones once again waved away claims for an Everton penalty. Through it all, Gross squatted on the touchline, urging his side on to the first points of the season and, just possibly, his own salvation.