Ferdinand giftwraps birthday treat

Tottenham 2 Middlesbrough 1
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The Independent Online

Happy days are here again at White Hart Lane, Tottenham's recovery yesterday, bringing a fourth successive victory in League and Cup, a run decorated by 14 goals. If the overall quality was not of quite the same standard as in the past month, it was still worthy of earning a first win since April 1997 against Middlesbrough, who left London feeling miffed by the penalty decision that undermined their efforts early in the second half. But they may need to develop a greater sense of adventure.

That is not a quality Spurs lack under Glenn Hoddle, the recent evidence suggesting that his insistence on sharp, first-time passing is paying off. As David Pleat, the club's director of football, and public conscience, put it: "The team have recently played with a style that equates to the traditions of Tottenham."

Hoddle has further reason for satisfaction in that some of the outstanding individual performances have come from summer recruits like Teddy Sheringham, Gustavo Poyet and Christian Ziege.

Last night he said: "We had enough possession to win three games but had to be really patient. We went to sleep on their goal, so the second goal of the game was always going to be the key and fortunately we got it."

That turned out to be the critical moment of the afternoon and Hoddle was honest enough to admit: "I'm not sure it was a penalty". Franck Queudrue, the full-back on loan from Lens, barely made contact with Mauricio Taricco, who tumbled convincingly enough for the referee, Mike Dean, to blow his whistle. "I wasn't convinced by the dive," said Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager. What disappointed McClaren was that his team conceded again, to Les Ferdinand, within three minutes.

They had taken the wind out of Tottenham's sails as early as the ninth minute with Alen Boksic's fourth goal in six Premiership matches, and from then on Spurs were going uphill for a while.

Ledley King, the highly regarded young defender whose form has made Sol Campbell's departure up the Seven Sisters Road a little more palatable to Tottenham followers, was at fault in allowing the experienced Croatian to steal in behind him on to Paul Ince's chip. King could do more than nudge on the ball, which sat up nicely for Boksic to volley high into the net.

In considering the visitors' improved record, Hoddle had even said, a little provocatively, that he would rather be playing Arsenal. Arsène Wenger, had he been at White Hart Lane – as his team will be in three weeks' time – might have felt entitled to reply that any combination of his five strikers would have caused problems to Tottenham's occasionally uncertain defenders.

Carlos Marinelli, the promising youngster from Boca Juniors, Diego Maradona's old club, had already cut in to shoot wide before that, and it took the home side some time to offer any sign of retaliation. The threats, when they did develop, stemmed from the flanks, where the wing-backs Taricco and Ziege were excellent, both moving forward with relish. In the 10th minute, Taricco aimed one of numerous diagonal crosses to the far post for Ferdinand to head down. Soon after, another Taricco cross led to a chance for Poyet which he struck wide.

The best-received effort of the first half was by Steffen Freund, the midfielder looking for a first Spurs goal on his 100th appearance. Like Stephen Carr, but for different reasons, he is greeted with great roars of "shoot" whenever or wherever he receives the ball; in the 21st minute he obliged, but could not keep a strong drive sufficiently low.

The game changed dramatically, however, with two Spurs goals in three minutes. After Sheringham's penalty the crowd were fully behind them and Hoddle's team ploughed forward again, with Taricco once more heavily involved. The Argentinian's umpteenth cross received an invaluable touch on as Queudrue challenged Poyet in the air, and Ferdinand reacted more smartly than his marker to beat Schwarzer from close-in. Ziege was then unluckily denied a sixth goal in 10 games – one to silence the boos of his former supporters – when an immaculately executed side-footed volley from out on the right dropped onto the crossbar.

Middlesbrough beefed up their attack by sending on Dean Windass and Allan Johnston to assist Boksic, but Spurs held out to ensure that Hoddle's 44th birthday party last night went with a swing. So did the celebrations outside White Hart Lane, where songs of triumph were still echoing through the night two hours after the final whistle.

Tottenham 2 Middlesbrough 1

Sheringham pen 58, Ferdinand 61, Boksic 9

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 36,062

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