Glenn Hoddle's sensible but optimistic plea to be judged after 20 games of this season rather than five may fall on deaf ears if results do not improve significantly and quickly. The verdict after yesterday's sixth match - with only one victory - has to be that Tottenham are no further down the line than when he took over, still as vulnerable as ever in defence and inferior these days to a solid and workmanlike outfit like Southampton, who yesterday conceded their first goal in 500 minutes of football.
"We want Hoddle out" was to be heard, but only from the visiting contingent, who have never forgiven him for deserting their club two and a half years ago to return to his one true love. It was almost inevitable that the man to take revenge should be James Beattie, whose career Hoddle had revived after almost selling him to Crystal Palace. With his fifth and sixth goals of the season, Beattie reminded the watching Sven Goran Eriksson of his predatory qualities, so far largely absent from his England performances.
Beattie's fine double at either end of the first half put Southampton on the way to their first victory at the ground since 1994, Kevin Phillips then extending the comfort zone sufficiently for his team to survive a spirited but fruitless revival. Tottenham had no luck throughout, but had Phillips not struck the bar twice from easy chances in the second half, their supporters might have made their feelings known more stridently. As it was, they melted quickly away at the final whistle; it was a day, they seemed to have decided, for booze, not boos. Bad results at Coventry in the Carling Cup on Wednesday and Manchester City next weekend would make the next home game, against Everton on 4 October, critical, for then the mood could change and the manager could change too, prematurely or not.
For all the lack of progress, Hoddle has a point when he says that Tottenham supporters are suffering from "20 years of frustration". It is that long since he was pulling the midfield strings in a side strong enough to be contenders in the League (fourth, fourth and third in the space of four years) and winners in the FA and Uefa Cup. The last League championship, he might have added, was as long ago as 1961. Unfortunately Hoddle has not helped himself by alienating so many players and journalists along the way, so that there is no shortage of disgruntled ex-employees ready to criticise his man-management and team selection, or newspapers willing to accommodate them.
The initial transfer policy of buying at the older end of the market and then switching to a younger crop seemed to be the wrong way round, but the apparently ever-present problem of injuries has made definitive judgement of the manager difficult. Yesterday, Christian Ziege and Gus Poyet, representing the first phase of transfer strategy, were still absent along with Ledley King, one of the few home-grown products, and Simon Davies, while Robbie Keane was not ready to start and sat on the bench alongside another of the younger generation of recruits, Helder Postiga, until being summoned for the second half.
By that time Beattie had already put the skids under Spurs, helped by an unhappy performance from Kasey Keller in goal. In only the second minute Keller cursed himself for skewing an attempted clearance for a corner and his disgust was redoubled when Matt Oakley's kick was met by a powerful header from Beattie, placed unstoppably into the top corner of the net. It was a goal of deceptive simplicity, matched by the second just before half-time. A free-kick in a favourable position some 25 yards out offered him the opportunity to strike a lovely shot over the four-man wall and past Keller, whose touch was insufficient to keep the ball out.
In between times Frédéric Kanouté's twisting header dropped onto the bar and Stéphane Dalmat, on loan from Internazionale, worked hard on a debut cut short at the interval, when he and Bobby Zamora were replaced by Darren Anderton and Keane. But there was no improvement to Tottenham's plight, which worsened as Southampton's confidence - they are now fourth in the table and unbeaten - began to shine through. Phillips hit the bar when he should have scored from Fabrice Fernandes' tempting low cross, but redeemed himself with a deft flick at the near post for the third goal. The crowd might have turned against Spurs had they not retaliated so swiftly, retrieving one within two minutes thanks to Keane's dash down the left and Kanouté's tap-in. Instead they stayed with the team for the remaining period, without further reward, and had to endure Phillips hitting the bar once more.
"The frustration and hurt inside is that I love this club so much," Hoddle said. Nobody doubts it, but faith and hope were in shorter supply on Tottenham High Road last night.
Tottenham Hotspur 1
Beattie 3, 43, Phillips 60
Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 35,784Reuse content