Graham enthused by old flame

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The Independent Online

CONTENDERS OR pretenders? That was the question posed about both Tottenham and Leeds at White Hart Lane on Saturday. The verdict, after Leeds had come from behind to win, was inconclusive about the victors but fairly clear for the home side.

CONTENDERS OR pretenders? That was the question posed about both Tottenham and Leeds at White Hart Lane on Saturday. The verdict, after Leeds had come from behind to win, was inconclusive about the victors but fairly clear for the home side.

Spurs may have briefly topped the league last week but, as their manager, George Graham, eagerly admitted afterwards, "We have a long way to go." His former club, in contrast, "should be in contention for a place in the top three".

There is an element of cuteness here; Graham left Leeds just under a year ago and it is an old trick for managers to talk up the prospects of clubs they have left - as if to suggest that is what they would have achieved had they remained. However, on the evidence of the last year, it is not so far-fetched. Leeds still miss the physical presence of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in attack, but have £12m with which to solve that problem. Elsewhere, the most glaring weakness is the lack of a creative midfielder. The passing of David Batty, who has had an excellent start to the season, continues to develop but there is still a preponderance of graft rather than craft in midfield.

At the back they are solid, with Nigel Martyn outstanding on Saturday, and they have pace on the flanks, options in attack and as Ian Harte's fiercely-struck winner underlined, a fine dead-ball specialist.

They are young, though, and, stressed David O'Leary, the Leeds manager, still learning. "We are trying to build a young side which, when it matures over the next couple of years, will have a solid base. Some of them may have got carried away on Monday [when they lost to Liverpool] with people talking about winning things this season, but they gave a great response today."The most vivid lesson on Saturday was the one given to the 18-year-old striker Alan Smith, who is a handful in more ways than one. His goal, a neat turn and tidy shot, illustrated his poaching skills, his late dismissal his niggly side. With three minutes to go Smith, who had been booked 25 minutes earlier, reacted to a nasty tackle by Mauricio Taricco by head- butting him in the groin as Smith got up. The Argentinian went down with alacrity and the referee, Mike Reed, headed off to hear the linesman's view.

Now, he would probably have condemned Smith anyway, but that the youngster had been fouly abusing him for most of the last 40 minutes meant he was unlikely to offer the benefit of any doubt. Exit Smith, having been taught the risks of retaliating, the sneakiness of opponents and the pointlessness in abusing officials.

His departing tirade at the fourth official suggested not everything had been absorbed but he will get a reminder in the headmaster's study today. "I take pride in shaping my players off the pitch as well as on it," said O'Leary, "and I'll be having a quiet word with him in private. I don't condone swearing but it has been going on for donkey's years and wasn't the reason he was sent off."

O'Leary may have to speak to his team generally about their discipline. Leeds may be attractive to watch but they have a hard edge. Six yellow cards (including the two for Smith) took their season's tally to 18 with the impressive but charmless Lee Bowyer having received four in six matches. Had Reed, who just about coped with a difficult match, seen Bowyer's elbow on Tim Sherwood, he might have added a red to his collection.

The combative nature of the match was partly due to Spurs' refusal, since Graham's arrival, to allow teams to muscle them aside. "We're now seeing Spurs players sweat," said Graham with relish. Less typically he added: "We're playing good, attacking football and going forward with a bit of panache."

Graham does appear to have undergone a Damascene conversion since arriving at White Hart Lane. Even Jerry Springer, who was among the spectators, has not featured anything in his television show to shock an Arsenal fan as much as the sight of Graham, writing in the Spurs programme, the phrase: "I am here to win things, but I want to do it with a brand of thrilling, attacking football". Maybe the philosophy of the glory game is beginning to supplant the ethos of the marble halls in his psyche.

With Darren Anderton injured this new commitment to flair was less obvious than of late, though David Ginola always promised, and occasionally delivered, a moment of magic whenever he got the ball.

Lack of reserves - Graham had to replace Les Ferdinand with Jose Dominguez - is one reason why the best Spurs can hope for is a place in Europe. "We need about four more players but the problem is first finding the quality, then getting it," Graham said.

Even so, had Ferdinand not suffered concussion Spurs would probably have secured the point they deserved and possibly won. The defiance of Martyn, who should play both England games next week, was another factor. He was beaten by Tim Sherwood's strike from Steffen Iversen's fine knock-down, but made superlative saves from Iversen and Ginola. "They got three points without playing as well as they can," added Graham of Leeds, "that's always a good sign."

Goals: Sherwood (36) 1-0; Smith (52) 1-1; Harte (81) 1-2.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Perry, Young, Taricco; Leonardsen, Freund, Sherwood, Ginola; Ferdinand (Dominguez, h-t; Neilsen, 85), Iversen. Substitutes not used: Fox, King, Baardsen (gk).

Leeds United (5-3-2): Martyn; Mills (Kelly, 65), Duberry, Woodgate (Hopkin, h-t), Radebe, Harte; Bowyer, Batty, Kewell; Smith, Bridges (Huckerby, h-t). Substitutes not used: Haaland, Robinson (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Tottenham: Freund, Taricco. Leeds: Bowyer, Bridges, Duberry, Radebe, Smith. Sent off: Leeds: Smith.

Man of the match: Martyn.

Attendance: 36,012.