Football: The mental force is with Everton

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Everton 1

AFTER what one irreverent hack called this slaphead six-pointer the follicly challenged managers were asked what was most required of sides fighting relegation.

"Quality. Quality with commitment, that's how you win matches," Howard Kendall, of Everton, said.

"The mental strength of the players. I believe in the abilities and the mental strength of my players," Tottenham's Christian Gross said.

The different preference was interesting as, based on the evidence of Saturday's 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, Tottenham have the better quality and Everton the greater mental strength.

Tottenham had a team full of internationals including David Ginola, Jurgen Klinsmann, Sol Campbell and Moussa Saib who, in less than two hours' football, admittedly against weak teams, already looks one of the most accomplished players in the Premiership. Everton had four novices including two 18- year-olds and a debutant, and a 36-year-old centre-back. Tottenham had taken seven points from 12, Everton seven from 24.

This apparent mismatch in class and form was evened up for Everton by the example of the veteran centre-back, the valiant Dave Watson, and an equally defiant centre-forward in Duncan Ferguson. Between they inspired the collection of kids and rejects around them to produce a backs-to-the- wall display typified by the number of times a Spurs player shaped to shoot only to be blocked by a brace of blue-shirted bodies.

Watson has long made up for his slowing pace with a staunch combination of experience and bravery and, as Kendall said, "his commitment is taken for granted." Ferguson is a different character. He used to have a tendency to drift through the season only raising his game when he felt like it, which was usually against the likes of Liverpool or Manchester United. Kendall expressed his unhappiness with this earlier in the season and in an attempt to resolve it, made Ferguson captain.

It has proved an inspired move. "He is a massive influence," Kendall said of the Scot. "It is not just his presence and his aerial ability. It is his dressing-room influence as well.

"When I first came to the club I was a bit concerned because he was very quiet in the dressing-room. People told me they felt he could do more, that he could work harder for the team. I noticed the difference when we were playing the likes of Liverpool. Before the game no one could hear what I was saying because of the way Duncan was screaming and geeing everyone up.

"He has been noisy for a good while now which is good. I don't like him quiet in the dressing-room, it makes me concerned about what is going to happen on the field."

He still has moments when his old nickname, "Duncan Disorderly", comes to mind and the reason he arrived at White Hart Lane having barely played for six weeks was due to a suspension as well as his knee injury. Even so, having been passed fit only just before the game he put in a remarkable performance, not only leading the attack but also tackling back in midfield and heading clear in defence. He was not one of the eight bookings and only a woeful miss after a marvellous 47th-minute link-up with Mickael Madar spoiled his display.

Everton, having gone ahead when Nick Barmby capitalised on a Campbell error to put Madar through, would have won if Ferguson had scored then. As it was, apart from a Nick Barmby break soon after, they then disappeared as an attacking force.

Spurs, playing in front of the finished north stand for the first time, rained in crosses. It was lively enough to watch but, with David Ginola in patchy form, it needed the extra touch of class from Saib to get past Watson. Introduced with 20 minutes left he soon picked out Ramon Vega, whose headed pass was bravely converted by Chris Armstrong. Vega thus atoned for playing Madar onside for Everton's goal - like Paul Gascoigne a goal seems imminent whenever the Swiss is involved around the box, in defence and attack.

Spurs deserved the draw which slightly eased both teams' worries. Both clubs and their managers have seen, and expect, better times. Kendall said he could not enjoy his job until they were safe although he took comfort from the performances of the young players. Of them, Richard Dunne was resolute at the back, Michael Ball and John O'Kane worked hard on the flanks and Gavin McCann, on his first start, showed talent and heart in the midfield.

Gross, with the loss of Clive Wilson to a dislocated shoulder countered by the imminent latest comebacks of Les Ferdinand, Steffen Iversen and Darren Anderton, was more cheerful. "I am in good spirits and good shape for the last six games," he said with a beam. He has never previously been involved in a relegation battle and admitted the pressure was much easier to deal with at the top because then it arises from a positive position.

How did he relax? "I have no time to relax," came the reply. "I am focused on the game, on the situation, and on looking forward to next season." Next season, eh? That sounded confident, unless it meant the Nationwide League Review is among his video collection.

Goals: Madar (24) 0-1; Armstrong (74) 1-1.

Tottenham (4-3-1-2): Walker; Carr (Howells, 79), Vega, Campbell, Wilson (Calderwood, 58); Fox, Berti (Saib, 70), Nielsen; Ginola; Armstrong, Klinsmann. Substitutes not used: Clemence, Baardsen (gk).

Everton (3-4-1-2): Myhre; Short, Watson, Dunne; O'Kane, McCann, Hutchinson, Ball; Barmby; Mardar (Spencer, 79), Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Beagrie, Farrelly, Cadamarteri, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Durham).

Booked: Tottenham: Ginola, Armstrong, Carr.

Everton: Barmby, Madar, Ball, McCann, O'Kane

Man of the match: Watson.

Attendance: 35,624.