Football: Tottenham floored by old flaws

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon 3

Earle 48, Ekoku 59, 90

Tottenham Hotspur 1

Fox 74

Attendance: 23,031

FOR TOTTENHAM'S manager Christian Gross the war may not be over but the campaign has begun extremely badly. His players made a match of it only in the last quarter of an hour, though they did so to such brisk effect that Wimbledon, dominant for long stretches, were clinging on to a victory which had been clearly earned until Efan Ekoku's second goal had the Dons' celebration anthem, "The Dambusters' March", ringing out for a third time.

Spurs had won this corresponding fixture 6-2 towards the end of last season but that day they had been blessed with Jurgen Klinsmann in his goal- scoring pomp. Yesterday the compartment marked "strikers" was empty and their lone goal was hooked home by Ruel Fox, whose scurrying earlier efforts had bordered on the laughable.

For all their high-priced big cheeses and the ultimate grand fromage, David Ginola, Spurs had no one who remotely approached Michael Hughes for skill and industry until he tired in the heat and was replaced.

Joe Kinnear's programme notes alerted us to the news that during the off-season his lads' fitness sessions had been overseen by the likes of Daley Thompson, Kris Akabussi and Derek Redmond. Perhaps they had also been tossed the odd lorry-load of raw meat, too, which Joe failed to mention.

At any rate, Wimbledon went off at their familiar, robust rate of knots and when Kinnear had advised the programme readers to "enjoy the ride with us", he clearly didn't mean opposing teams. Wimbledon are no respecters of the pricey footballer and they kept the pressure on the big names like Sol Campbell and Ramon Vega at the heart of the Tottenham defence, generally by means of punts or crosses.

They were more enterprising and energetic than Spurs, who had Darren Anderton operating from deep in central midfield, presumably in a bid to set free his front-running greyhounds, Chris Armstrong and Les Ferdinand. Only three minutes had gone when, from their first set-piece, Wimbledon almost scored, Robbie Earle heading Neil Ardley's corner too high.

There were anxieties about Ferdinand after 25 minutes when, in robustly robbing Earle, he fell heavily and clutched his left knee. Though he eventually resumed he never subsequently offered any more threat than the others in his line-up.

Tottenham's defence, Campbell honourably excepted, were no better than the rest and, having missed several chances before the interval, Wimbledon took the lead three minutes after the resumption. Anderton brought down Hughes and when Alan Kimble touched the free-kick to Hughes he lofted it towards the penalty spot. Walker came well out but was beaten to it by Earle.

With Paolo Tramezzani, the pounds 1.5m blond-haired signing from Italy, at sea on the left of defence, Wimbledon were able to get down the right and create more danger. But when Wimbledon went two up just before the hour, it came from a scampering run down the left by Hughes. His centre was headed home by Ekoku. This time Walker didn't come out at all.

Ginola's extravagant dives eventually brought a warning from the referee Graham Poll, immediately followed by a yellow card when the Frenchman went down again after losing possession to Jason Euell.

Four minutes after Anderton had been replaced by Moussa Saib, Tottenham got their goal. It followed a plundering run from deep in his own half by Stephen Carr and Fox struck his shot well when the pass reached him. Next Neil Sullivan had to stretch to push Armstrong's header over, then Ginola darted between two defenders to hit the underside of the bar.

Ekoku put it all beyond Spurs in the final minute, outstretching Tramezzani to push a pass by the substitute Marcus Gayle over the line.

"What more do you want?" Kinnear said. "Our first goals, first points and first win. It was a really great day for us and if we play like that we will be a match for most teams."

Gross said of his team: "We need to work harder." He might have added that they will need to play better, too.

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