Cole's goal keeps Spurs staring into the abyss

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Charlton Athletic 1
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Too good to go down? Possibly, on the basis of Spurs' first-half performance yesterday.

But the table doesn't lie and once Carlton Cole, a half-time substitute, had heaped more Yuletide misery on forlorn Spurs, plunging them into the bottom three, all the familiar failings of a tortuous season came flooding back for David Pleat's team and their long-suffering fans.

Tottenham may have been missing suspended skipper Stephen Carr and an entire first-choice midfield, their weakest area at the best of times, but Charlton, too, were without a string of regulars.

After squandering a stack of chances, there was little excuse, even given the tough holiday programme, for the way Spurs tired and became one-dimensional after the break, giving the ball away in such alarming fashion and allowing Alan Curbishley's team to stroll away with three handsome points and finish the year sitting proudly in fourth place.

Charlton have never lost a Premiership fixture at White Hart Lane but by half-time they could have been buried. Although Jonatan Johansson fluffed the best chance of the half, bringing a magnificent one-handed save out of Kasey Keller, then somehow putting the rebound wide with the goal gaping, Spurs were firmly in the driving seat. Most of their good work was, ironically, executed not by any big-name signings but by two of their younger players, Rohan Ricketts and the highly impressive Johnnie Jackson.

Although Anthony Gardner was booked for stopping the ever-industrious and inventive Scott Parker in his tracks, the Charlton goal, at times, led a charmed life and for long periods their attacking midfielders, in particular Jason Euell, had no choice but to protect their back line.

Dean Kiely brilliantly touched over a Freddy Kanoute header and the Tottenham striker was narrowly off target a second time when putting a snap volley just wide after a sublime spin and turn in one movement.

Then it all went wrong courtesy of an inspired substitution by Curbishley, replacing Johansson with Cole at half-time, a change that enabled Euell and Matt Holland to push further forward and bring Charlton right back into the game.

The game was won and lost on 68 minutes. Keller needlessly turned a looping Holland header round the post when it seemed to be going wide and from the resulting corner the on-loan Cole was first to the ball to power home a header, his first goal for the Addicks.

On came Bobby Zamora and Helder Postiga for one last Tottenham effort but by now, Curbishley's team were in the ascendancy and three times could and should have added to their lead in the closing minutes. Pleat did his best, as he has done all along, to play down Tottenham's relegation fears after another gut-wrenching setback.

"If we'd have kept the momentum going with a very young side, there was only one winner," said Pleat. "But if I get that same effort and that same drive from those players, this club will have no problems.

After taking six points out of six by following up their terrific Boxing Day win over Chelsea, Curbishley, who many believe could, ironically, end up as the long-term successor to Glenn Hoddle at White Hart Lane, understandably painted a different picture though he was characteristically realistic.

"We're obviously delighted but I've only got 17 fit players and we'll have to see which of them get fit. This League punishes you when you start getting carried away. Let's just see how far we can now go."

Goal: Cole (68) 0-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Keller (capt) 6; Taricco 5 (Mabizela, 90), Richards 5, Gardner 6, Kelly 6; Jackson 7, King 6, Poyet 6 (Postiga 80, 5), Ricketts 6 (Zamora 71, 5); Keane 6, Kanoute 7. Substitutes Not Used: Burch, Doherty.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 7; Kishishev 5, Fish 8, Perry 5, Hreidarsson 5; Holland 7, Euell 5, Parker 7, Konchesky 7; Johansson 6 (Cole 45, 7) , Di Canio 6. Substitutes Not Used: Powell, Stuart, Fortune, Royce.

Booking: Tottenham: Gardner.

Man of the match: Fish.

Referee: Paul Durkin (Dorset) 7.

Attendance: 34,534