Instant pick-me-up for Graham

Click to follow

George Graham turned his back on the Spurs crowd, turned up his collar and hurried away from the dug-out at White Hart Lane yesterday. But this time the noise he left behind was that of admiration for a Tottenham performance that, while far from attractive and helped by Sunderland's missed penalty, eased the pressure on a beleaguered manager.

George Graham turned his back on the Spurs crowd, turned up his collar and hurried away from the dug-out at White Hart Lane yesterday. But this time the noise he left behind was that of admiration for a Tottenham performance that, while far from attractive and helped by Sunderland's missed penalty, eased the pressure on a beleaguered manager.

The cornerstone of Graham's recent argument in his own defence was that his more barbed critics conveniently ignored the fact that Spurs went into yesterday's game only a couple of points behind clubs in the top 10. They were also unbeaten at home in the League, although failing to win away has been costly.

The midweek Worthington Cup defeat by Birmingham, which followed a 3-0 failure at Chelsea last weekend, had acted like petrol on a bonfire of personal hatred that the most hostile of Graham's critics had poured over him before the end of both matches. However, last night, he praised them for not turning on him and the team when Spurs lost their lead yesterday, adding: "They played an important part by responding to the commitment shown by the players, who themselves responded to a changed system."

Graham is still completely aware that there is a considerable group of season-ticket holders, members of the Tottenham Action Group and Arsenal haters, who were offended by his appointment and have been determined to get him out no matter whether he succeeds or not. Telling them about the seemingly eternal problems of injuries was never going to have much effect, and his midweek trip to the Continent "in search of five or six quality players" was interpreted as a deliberate attempt to make the supporters believe that in spite of previous statements about not over-spending, the club are ready to buy.

Typically, Graham's only promise to the carping fans was that he was determined to make the team "hard to beat", which is exactly why he will never win over those who still live in the glory, glory days when the football at White Hart Lane formed the expectancy of next 40 years. Quite how many of the most abusive fans are old enough to have seen the players of those days with whom they make comparisons is open to question.

All that most of the Spurs fans wanted yesterday was a sign of co-ordination and spirit. The spirit was willing enough as Thomas Sorensen blocked them on the line in the first minute after Les Ferdinand headed down Stephen Carr's long ball into the goalmouth, but organisation was less obvious in either side.

In spite of the innovation of having three in their central defence (Graham said: "Simply, we've been leaking too many goals."), Spurs still found that Niall Quinn's knock-downs from a great height were the source of constant worry. Meanwhile, Kevin Phillips busily emphasised why Sunderland may not be able to hold off approaches from richer clubs for much longer.

Tottenham's initial thrust soon dissolved. No one seemed able to find the returning Sergei Rebrov, and it was left to Darren Anderton to provide the best of their work. He was unfortunate that when, after 31 minutes, the ball ran loose in the penalty area, he tried to place a shot inside the far post but stubbed it into the ground for Sorensen to grab.

Ramon Vega's predictable uncertainty is one thing but holding up a hand at a ball flying through the penalty area was something else. But he escaped full punishment because Phillips blazed the penalty over the bar to allow Spurs to go straight back on to the attack.

Ferdinand hit a close-range volley from Rebrov's header that Sorensen managed to fist over but when, in the 43rd minute, a Spurs corner by Stephen Clemence bounced off Jody Craddock, Tim Sherwood diverted the ball across the line for Tottenham's lead.

The man-to-man marking of Vega on Quinn and Luke Young on Phillips worked, up to a point, but left considerable gaps for others to exploit. That exploitation came to fulfilment in the 63rd minute. Phillips had been fouled by Carr by the touchline and Michael Gray's free-kick found Don Hutchison, who headed accurately inside the far post. Hutchison deserved his goal since almost all of Sunderland's invention, such as it was, was inspired by him.

Their confidence grew and with 15 minutes remaining it seemed that they might snatch the game but suddenly Sherwood played the simplest of forward passes from his own half and Chris Armstrong, who had just come on for his first game this season, went chasing off almost alone. He drew Sorensen and slipped in Spurs' second goal - easier said than done.

Spurs finished with 10 men after Ben Thatcher, having earlier been booked, argued with the referee, but on this occasion Graham made virtually no protest - his greatest test of the season was all but over.

Comments