Football: Watford finally wilt under Ginola's skill

Tottenham Hotspur 5 Iversen 11, 20, Anderton pen 14, Nielsen 43, Fox 87 Watford 2 Johnson 1, Kennedy 34 Half-time: 4-2 Attendance: 36,022
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IN THEIR three previous FA Cup meetings Spurs had always beaten Watford, but if their five goals at White Hart Lane yesterday suggested that this was merely a formality in that series, the reality was much different. George Graham said Spurs were "full of goals". Watford were full of surprises.

Watford had come to the tie on the crest of a 13-match run with only one defeat. Although 12 points behind Sunderland in the First Division, they were looking more towards promotion than Cup glory. Spurs offered a benchmark in Graham Taylor's second spell in charge.

Spurs also offered them extraordinarily unexpected, almost instant hope when, after only 53 seconds Watford counter-attacked down the right side. Ben Iroha had the Spurs defence in hurried reverse and his ball into the goal mouth was deflected on to the crossbar before Richard Johnson returned the rebound past Ian Walker and a host of astonished Spurs defenders.

The astonishment turned to concern and almost to panic as Micah Hyde swung a shot on to the Spurs crossbar, but Tottenham recovered some composure in this frenetic opening. Ruel Fox centred after a short corner, it dropped to the unmarked Steffen Iversen who had a comfortable equalising header in - or as comfortable as it could have been for someone still recovering from a fractured jaw.

Only two more minutes had slipped away like seconds before Steve Palmer attempted to intercept Les Ferdinand in aerial combat but handled, leaving Darren Anderton to slam in the penalty. The hole that appeared in the centre of the Watford defence was ominous, and in the 19th minute it appeared again as Anderton's corner fell into it. Ferdinand had a stab at the ball, and it spun away to Iversen, who was once again allowed the time to push it home past Alec Chamberlain.

Spurs had done well to calm themselves and react so positively. Suddenly David Ginola, who Watford had put under early tight and sometimes painful scrutiny, twice escaped and once sent a phenomenally powerful shot screaming a shade over the bar. Of greater importance, though, was the work of Allan Nielsen and Anderton, who briefly seemed to take control of midfield. But Watford were not to be that easily subdued.

If they had been leaving gaps in defence, Spurs emulated them after 34 minutes when, from Darren Bazeley's long centre, Peter Kennedy, who had made a long run from midfield, was left free to head in. The pace and directness of Watford's counter-attacking was almost breathtaking.

Nielsen's efforts were spectacularly rewarded in this spectacular of a match when shortly before half-time an unconvincing clearance by Hyde allowed him to set his sights from 25-yards and hit the gold of the target.

Thunder, lightning and a huge hailstorm added to the drama. The referee consulted both managers about taking off the players but was persuaded to let them continue. The storm passed - the drama did not. Ginola remained calm; skill and perception amid the turmoil. Even Taylor admitted: "It was a pleasure to watch him." His bending shot had Chamberlain at full stretch to tip it wide.

Taylor later confessed that he saw the second half as an exercise in damage limitation. Tottenham were at last able to sustain attacks on the back of greater midfield composure and the originality of Ginola, whose body swerves, deceptive footwork and ability to take on and side-step three Watford players in the space of six yards was not something they would often have come across in the First Division.

Had Fox possessed anything like as much skill as Ginola, Spurs would surely have taken the tie far beyond Watford's reach long before Fox did finally wrap it up four minutes from time. Ginola, on the right, saw Fox unmarked in the centre of the penalty area. Fox had twice made a pudding of his opportunities to shoot, but this time he could hardly fail to find the sweet spot.