Football: Wright may face 'trial by video'

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . .1

Arsenal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

SATURDAY night was fight night on television, the nation settling down to watch Nigel Benn, Nicky Piper and Ian Wright throwing punches in north London.

Wright's misdemeanour, a right-hander which caught David Howells flush on the chin, went unpunished by the referee, Alf Buksh, who was only 10 yards away but was following the ball. A belated lecture was all Wright received.

The case might have been closed there but for the intervention of the small screen, which relayed the incident into the nation's homes. 'Almost certainly we will have a look at the video,' Mike Wilmore, the FA spokesman, said yesterday, 'and if it warrants taking action, we will.'

Arsenal have fallen foul of 'trial by television' before, Paul Davis being banished for nine matches after cameras caught him fracturing the jaw of Southampton's Glenn Cockerill four years ago. The referee missed Davis's punch, but in the wake of a graphic broadcast, the Arsenal midfielder was charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

Wright, in fairness, is a target man in more senses than one. Few people are forced to pursue their profession in the teeth of abusive comments and mass chants. En masse, the Paxton Road-enders greeted an unsuccessful Wright run with 'You'll never score for England.'

But where the scales of justice really weigh against Wright, and could lead to a Lancaster Gate summons, is that he already possesses a poor disciplinary record (unlike Davis) and that there was no provocation by Howells, who simply became an unfortunate victim of the England striker's frustration at being dispossessed. Wright can be thankful that Howells, whose head rocked back on impact, stayed on his feet.

Howells's exemplary restraint, when less disciplined individuals might have retaliated in kind, was mirrored by most of the players throughout a fiercely contested derby. 'It was never going to be 'After you Claud',' Ray Clemence, the Spurs coach, said. Illegal challenges, particularly from behind, punctuated the play but all those who were sent crashing to the ground retained their composure.

The Arsenal manager, George Graham, said he would write to the FA, requesting that the Dollis Hill referee does not officiate any more Arsenal games this season. Buksh's first important decision went against Graham's side. Harshly. Dean Austin tripped Ray Parlour in the box and a penalty appeared a formality. The referee, ideally placed, waved play on, unintentionally installing a sense of injustice in the visiting contingent.

Three Arsenal players were booked - Steve Bould, Tony Adams and John Jensen - along with two opponents, Gordon Durie and Neil Ruddock. Adams and Ruddock will now miss the Christmas programme.

In between the fouls and free- kicks, Paul Allen created and converted the goal that earned Spurs only their second League victory over Arsenal in 13 attempts, made their supporters' Christmas and condemned the pre-season title favourites to their fourth successive defeat without a goal.

Bould, with a powerful header, Adams, with an extraordinary impersonation of Marco van Basten, and Nigel Winterburn all brought smart saves from the excellent Erik Thorstvedt, but Graham must be concerned that his hungriest players were defenders.

Spurs finished in style. Nick Barmby, brimming with speed and spirit, showed how much he has absorbed from his Peter Beardsley videos by outpacing the Arsenal defence and curling a delightful shot on to David Seaman's bar.

Goal: Allen (20).

Tottenham Hotspur: Thorstvedt; Austin, Edinburgh, Samways, Mabbutt, Ruddock, Howells, Durie (Barmby, 75), Nayim, Sheringham, Allen. Substitutes not used: Bergsson, Walker (gk).

Arsenal: Seaman; Lydersen, Winterburn, Hillier, Bould, Adams, Jensen (Limpar, 79), Wright, Campbell, Merson, Parlour. Substitutes not used: O'Leary, Miller (gk).

Referee: A Buksh (London).