Commons' display suggests Tottenham signed wrong man

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Nottingham Forest 1
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The Independent Football

For the visiting fans, Tottenham's programme provided an unpleasant surprise with its front cover of their former idol Andy Reid, purchased from Forest by the home side along with that other talent, Michael Dawson, during last month's transfer window.

"Ready, steady, Reid" the Spurs match-day publication proclaimed. By the end of this tumultuous FA Cup fifth round tie, however, it was the away supporters who were happily invoking the name of their sometime midfielder. "Are you watching, Andy Reid?" they chanted, with increasing assurance, as the team currently second from bottom in the Championship came from behind to earn a fully deserved replay at the City Ground a week on Wednesday.

While Reid and Dawson, both Cup-tied, looked on, the man who has taken up Reid's position, Kris Commons, produced an inspirational performance that only fell short of being match-winning through the intervention of Tottenham's keeper Paul Robinson, who managed to block his goalbound shot after a 87th-minute dribble.

The question was effectively put to Tottenham's Martin Jol afterwards: "Did you sign the wrong Forest player?" He smilingly dismissed the idea, although he conceded that Commons had been "the best man on the pitch."

By contrast, Commons' own manager, Gary Megson, was curiously grudging in his praise, giving the blond-haired midfielder his due for what he did on the ball, but questioning his fitness and attitude when the opposition were in possession.

Megson's attitude softened only ever so slightly when the subject of his keeper was brought up. Colin Doyle, a 19-year-old on loan from Birmingham City whose only previous senior appearance had been in the LDV Vans Trophy for Chester City, was making his full debut in place of the suspended Paul Gerrard. It turned nightmarish for him in the 45th minute as he let Jermain Defoe's powerful but straightforward free-kick slip through his hands to give Spurs a lead they hardly deserved.

The question - "How much did you feel for your keeper at half-time?" - provoked Megson into an incredulous grin. "I'm not sure that's the right phrase," he responded. "It was probably the softest shot of the afternoon, so it was an awful error. But the way the boy responded in the second half was a testament to his character."

Doyle would have felt considerably better having seen the way Tottenham conceded the equaliser in the 56th minute. A punt forward from left-back Alan Rogers bounced on the edge of the Spurs box, and as Robinson and central defender Ledley King hesitated, Forest's captain, Gareth Taylor, took the initiative by nodding the ball over the head of the desperately charging keeper and then running it into the unguarded net.

Two timely blocks by Doyle, from close-range efforts by Defoe and the substitute Mido, thwarted Tottenham's diminishing initiative, and by the time the referee blew the final whistle, there were boos sounding around White Hart Lane for the team in general, and - it seemed - Thimothee Atouba in particular.

Tottenham's left-back was ticked off for the quality of his crossing by Jol, along with that of fellow full-back Stephen Kelly. "We needed to score a second goal and we just couldn't do it," he said. "Forest played a 5-4-1 formation and in order to break that down we had to use the flanks. We needed good service from Kelly and Atouba and it seemed to be getting worse and worse. We lacked movement on the flanks, and our crossing was below par.

"Atouba takes a lot of risks. One day you love him - today was different. He is only 22 and one day he will learn."

It was just the kind of game, he conceded, which would have benefited from an accomplished wide player. Someone like Andy Reid, in fact.

Goals: Defoe (45) 1-0; Taylor (56) 1-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Kelly, Naybet, King, Atouba; Davies, Carrick, Brown, Ziegler (Keane, 65); Kanouté (Mido, 65), Defoe. Substitutes not used: Cerny (gk), Bunjevcevic, Mendes.

Nottingham Forest (5-4-1): Doyle; Curtis, Melville, Morgan, Doig (King, 89), Rogers; Perch, Powell, Evans (Thompson, 73), Commons (Bopp, 89); Taylor. Substitutes not used: Roche (gk), Harris.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Tottenham Carrick. Nottingham Forest Morgan, Melville.

Man of the match: Commons.

Attendance: 35,640.