Iversen raises Spurs' spirits

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The Independent Football

The season may not have begun but despite yesterday's modest victory at St Andrews, these are already tormenting times for Spurs supporters. There were the rumours (healthily denied) that the manager, George Graham, was organising training from a wheelchair. There was his remark that in spite of the £11m signing of the Ukrainian Sergei Rebrov the team had no chance of winning the Championship. And above all is the on-going story of David Ginola's predicted departure.

The season may not have begun but despite yesterday's modest victory at St Andrews, these are already tormenting times for Spurs supporters. There were the rumours (healthily denied) that the manager, George Graham, was organising training from a wheelchair. There was his remark that in spite of the £11m signing of the Ukrainian Sergei Rebrov the team had no chance of winning the Championship. And above all is the on-going story of David Ginola's predicted departure.

More than anything, the last item on the melancholy agenda brings the possibility of growing bitterness towards a manager who puts organisation before originality, even, it seems, to the extent of ordering his players to line up their cars in a "neat and orderly manner" at the training ground.

Rebrov has arrived from Dynamo Kiev unaware that unless he proves a massively successful replacement for Ginola, he and Graham will be the target of relentless criticism. Yesterday Ginola was on the substitutes' bench, but Graham said: "Everybody knows that Villa made an offer and we've accepted it. I didn't play him because his mind would have been elsewhere." Told that Villa's chairman, Doug Ellis, was in the stands, Graham added: "I'm in the dark, but if Ginola decides to stay he will play an important role."

Rebrov is not going to impress with his physical presence, but his quick work and nimbleness make him elusive. Yesterday though, the initial problem was that he and Darren Anderton continually moved inside from either wing, leaving none of the ingenious width that Ginola so conspicuously, if inconsistently, has offered Spurs. At least Steffen Iversen must have appreciated a little more support than he received in so many games last season. Indeed, a penetrating pass into the area by Rebrov early in the second half told of promise to come in both the long and short term. Iversen failed to control it and Birmingham survived until the 30th minute.

Again Rebrov was quick to find Iversen centrally and with a delightful swerving shot from the outside of his foot he stretched Ian Bennett beyond his limit. It was Iversen's sixth goal in pre-season friendlies.

Badly in need of making an early season apology for the mess they made of last season's First Division play-offs, Birmingham attempted to react positively to Tottenham's superiority by asking Dele Adebola to lend his weight in attack, which troubled Sol Campbell. Meanwhile, the Spurs fans chanted the name of Ginola, only to see Luke Young, Stephen Clemence and Les Ferdinand appear.

That Graham got increasingly angry was probably just as much to do with the fans' insistence that they still see Ginola as the French Golden Delicious of their eyes. Rebrov, if he is physically intimidated as much as he was yesterday, has some way to go before he wins them over. But at least he forced Bennett to make his only meaningful save of the second half.

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