Mike Rowbottom: Excited? One bloke over there almost managed to stay awake

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The Independent Football

On the face of it, last Sunday's draw between Spurs and Middlesbrough defined "drab". The game was goalless, indeed almost featureless. My notes made as the game, for want of a better word, progressed, show there were few scoring opportunities and only one save of note, when Tottenham's Kasey Keller tipped away a speculative effort from Boudewijn Zenden.

The match as a whole resembled a long, disjointed sentence that never reached a conclusion. So when Spurs' caretaker manager, David Pleat, told a roomful of scribes afterwards that it had been "exciting" there was a discernible sense of jolted credibility.

Why Pleat should choose to characterise the game in this way was a mystery. It was not as if he was working for Sky television. But there we were. We had just, it seemed, witnessed a good match.

Could it be that the fault lay with us? Had we, perhaps, been wilfully blind to the true nature of the spectacle we had just witnessed? In the spirit of fair-minded reporting, I have reviewed the events of last Sunday afternoon at White Hart Lane and, yes, looked at in a certain light, the occasion was not without merit.

Watching Darren Anderton screw up his courage to make a tackle in midfield: that was quite funny. It was like watching a small boy nerving himself to dive into a pool and then, inevitably, making a complete splashy mess of it.

Anderton was booked for his clumsy effort. He should have stuck to passing and sending shots narrowly wide of the post, although perhaps he realised by the time he dived into his challenge that that side of his game wasn't going so well. For much of the second half, he seemed to be concentrating on supplying the Boro midfielders around him.

Nobody could question the energy or commitment of Tottenham's left midfielder Paul Konchesky, whose shaved dome made its way down the touchline on a remorselessly regular basis in the first half as he provided a stream of crosses for Middlesbrough's goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer. It happened so automatically that it seemed they must have worked it out in advance. Konchesky's deliveries never altered, Schwarzer never faltered in his ability to gather them. The two operated with the automatic efficiency of paired weathermen.

And then there was the Tottenham fan who fell asleep. To be honest, I wasn't aware of this at the time. All I registered was a disturbance in the stand opposite the press box. The absence of scurrying police or dayglo-jacketed stewards indicated it was nothing to do with misbehaviour, unless you believe spectators have a responsibility to spectate once a match is underway. As our dreamer nodded, oblivious, he became the epicentre of much amusement. Those around him smiled and pointed. (The incident was celebrated in song at the West Ham fixture three days later.)

Given the nature of Sunday's match at White Hart Lane, you could argue that this onlooker was exercising acute critical judgement, his action following in an honourable tradition of passive resistance to oppression - or in this case, oppressive boredom. But, of course, it was an exciting match, and so what he did was inexcusable.

I'm sorry. I can't think of anything else that was exciting or interesting about this match, Mr Pleat.

My 11-year-old son, however, holds a different view.

On Sunday, he had a rare chance to watch his team from a season-ticket seat. As is the nature of spectating in these sit-down-in-your-numbered-place days, he found himself positioned in front of a very loud, "very rude" man keen to offer his opinions.

Much scorn was made of Boro's gangling, 18-year-old full-back Andrew Davies, whose streaked and abundant hair would not have looked out of place in Kajagoogoo. Mullet Man, as Davies immediately became, was made fun of at every opportunity, at several points being offered a free haircut if he scored.

This noisy regular apparently shared my view of Anderton's contribution to the match, screaming out whenever he was about to be brought into play: "Don't pass to him!"

I fancy my son may have offered an edited version of this advice because he is encouraged not to swear. Even so, he also passed on another favoured phrase which was employed whenever anyone from Spurs made a mistake (which was quite often): "That's 'cos you're a f***er!" It lacked the finesse of Pleat's analysis but had the virtue of consistency.

"He was an entertaining man," my son reflected. "He added atmosphere to the match."

Moral: A match doesn't have to be exciting to be exciting.

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