Football: Sutton stifled as Spurs breathe more easily

Blackburn Rovers 0 Tottenham Hotspur 3
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The Independent Online
One thought about Chris Sutton's decision to withdraw from England's B squad, probably ruling himself out of recruitment for the World Cup finals, is that he should check in for a vanity bypass. Another is that the Blackburn Rovers striker was entitled to think himself ahead of Les Ferdinand in the reckoning.

A situation made ironic by the knee injury that is likely to make Ferdinand a non-runner for England's engagement against Chile on Wednesday at Wembley brought a hard edge to Roy Hodgson's voice after his team's 3-0 loss to Tottenham on Saturday. "I can't imagine that Glenn Hoddle will go back on his decision," the Blackburn manager said, "but the way Chris played today you have to wonder how much more he must do to prove himself."

Fifteen goals in all matches this season and line-leading skills is no strain on a manager's loyalty even when the result has gone against him. Citing Sutton's powerful assaults, his linking play and strength in possession (Blackburn's supporters made a raucous issue of rejection) Hodgson added, "I thought Chris was outstanding."

Not that Ferdinand overlooked the need to make a case for himself. Fired up perhaps by the inevitability of comparison he played well enough to earn a public commendation from Christian Gross. "This was a much better performance," he said, "we had good organisation, they fought hard and I was particularly pleased with Ferdinand."

Ferdinand's fate was to limp off in the 70th minute, Sutton's to see his best efforts fractionally off target when he managed to escape from Ramon Vega, who had his best game for Tottenham.

Statistics can be misleading, but they irritated Hodgson who winced at a fruitless superiority in shots and corners, in each case five times as many as the visitors. "Tottenham made things difficult for us and counter- attacked well, but when we stepped up the pace after half-time our best chances fell to the wrong players."

Tottenham gained much from two days spent in the north after a midweek loss in the FA Cup at Barnsley, showing more purpose than Blackburn could have expected and benefiting from the return of David Howells, who marshalled the midfield and made life extremely difficult for Tim Sherwood.

It has not taken Gross long to realise that not much separates the best from the rest in the Premier League. A conclusion reached before him by Arsene Wenger is that anybody can beat anybody else. Good players, excitement, but only a handful of decent teams to put pressure on Manchester United.

Tottenham's climb out of the bottom three leaves those places filled by Barnsley, Bolton and Crystal Palace, who were promoted last season. The three relegated clubs, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, lead the First Division.

Anyway, Gross looked a lot less worried than he did a couple of weeks ago and is doubtless convinced that salvation rests with sweat and toil and any luck that is going.

Once Spurs took a 36th minute lead through Nicola Berti when Hendry and Stephane Henchoz failed to clear Ruel Fox's centre, Blackburn were struggling to avoid only their second home defeat of the season.

Kevin Gallacher has worked so well with Sutton this season that Tottenham were glad of the Scot's absence even though his replacement, Damien Duff, has immense promise.

With time running out Blackburn sent so many men forward that they began to get in each other's way. Hendry held his head when Howells hooked his header off the line and again when he struck an upright with another.

Blackburn were at full stretch when Tottenham scored twice to make the score look as though Blackburn were given a hiding. The first was put away splendidly by Chris Armstrong, who had come on in place of Ferdinand. Armstrong, who had not played for three months, might easily collected a hat-trick. Instead it was Fox who got the third with a powerful shot that left Tim Flowers rubbing the rib injury he got when challenging Ferdinand.

The state of things at White Hart Lane these days makes fourth from bottom such an achievement that Saturday's result prompted a lap of honour. Will the players want medals for avoiding relegation? More likely a cash bonus.

Goals: Berti (36) 0-1; Armstrong (89) 0-2; Fox (93) 0-3.

Blackburn Rovers (4-2-4): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Hendry, Croft (Dahlin, 62); Sherwood, McKinlay (Bohinen, 81); Ripley, Wilcox, Sutton, Duff. Substitutes not used: Flitcroft, Broomes, Fettis.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-4): Baardsen; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Wilson (Brady, 70); Howells, Berti; Fox, Nielsen (Clemence, 67), Ferdinand (Armstrong, 70), Ginola. Substitutes not used: Calderwood, Grodas.

Referee: G Barber (Woking).

Man of the match: Howells.

Attendance: 30,388.

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