Early tonic for Spurs as they begin life after Ginola

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The Independent Online

It was Arsÿne Wenger who remarked that Highbury could not expect caviar every week and had, sometimes, to accept bangers and mash instead. To vary that metaphor, George Graham is cooking up something rather different to Tottenham's traditional oysters and champagne. Having disposed of the Provençal pepper of David Ginola and imported the tangy salted beef of Sergei Rebrov, he offered White Hart Lane a mixed stew with dumplings. Yesterday it was served hot and was tasty enough, against George Burley's home-cooked outfit, to satisfy the opening-day critics. But further tastings are required.

It was Arsÿne Wenger who remarked that Highbury could not expect caviar every week and had, sometimes, to accept bangers and mash instead. To vary that metaphor, George Graham is cooking up something rather different to Tottenham's traditional oysters and champagne. Having disposed of the Provençal pepper of David Ginola and imported the tangy salted beef of Sergei Rebrov, he offered White Hart Lane a mixed stew with dumplings. Yesterday it was served hot and was tasty enough, against George Burley's home-cooked outfit, to satisfy the opening-day critics. But further tastings are required.

Playing a compact, if predictable, 4-4-2 system, Graham's team laboured in all areas for long periods, often lacking movement, width and variety, but still won. Ipswich, playing with the vim to be expected of new boys in the Premiership, made it as difficult as possible, passed cleverly at times and demonstrated that Tottenham, despite a change in structure and stars, remain a vulnerable team. Overall, it was an ordinary and typically English game, with much muscle and grunt, and proved beyond doubt that, in Europe, they play a foreign game.

The absence of Ginola, of course, was bound to cast a long shadow. His flair and hair were missed, but the neatly-trimmed Rebrov, even without Andrei Schevchenko alongside him, looked a smart signing. Quick-witted, imaginative and lively, he was the outstanding player. But he clearly needs a partner and it was not until Les Ferdinand arrived as a substitute, to replace the hard-working Steffen Iversen with 15 minutes remaining, that Tottenham looked convincing and had a focal point.

"Rebrov was excellent," said Graham. "He worked a lovely one-two for Carr, he hit the bar and he could have scored twice in the second half. But what excites me most about him is that he is a team player. He is sharp and he is inventive. We need that class of player at White Hart Lane."

However excellent he is, it remains to be seen if Rebrov's selfless and technically accomplished performances will be enough to replace the stellar glow supplied by Ginola at his best. On this evidence, Tottenham will be a more compact and consistent team, more durable too, but perhaps less delightful to watch. Is that an improvement?

Yesterday, after a low-tempo opening, Ipswich swept ahead on nine minutes when Mark Venus scored with a deflected shot following a free-kick given against Tim Sherwood for a foul on the effervescent David Johnson. The encouragement was a mirage, however, as Tottenham's experienced troupe clawed their way back and Rebrov began to sparkle. He hit the bar with a shot off the outside of his right foot (when a left-foot drive might have been more profitable), and then helped create the opening for the run on which Stephen Carr was brought down by Richard Wright, which led to Darren Anderton's emphatic equalising penalty.

Carr, again, swept forward to swap passes with Rebrov, before sliding Tottenham ahead from close range in the game's best spell, shortly before the interval, when Marcus Stewart also struck a post with a shot on the turn after eluding Sol Campbell. Afterwards, with Ipswich pressing and passing competently, Carr was cautioned for a foul on Jim Magilton before Ferdinand ended the contest. Carr, predictably, fed Anderton, who had hit the post with a 25-yard shot 15 minutes earlier, and, from his cross, the former England striker rose at the far post for a towering header.

It was his first goal for a year, but may signal the start of a highly promising partnership with the man from the Ukraine.

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