Jol courts controversy down Memory Lane

West Bromwich Albion 1 - Tottenham Hotspur 1
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The Independent Online

Coming from a less plausible character than Martin Jol, the idea might have been laughed out of town. Footballers, argued Tottenham Hotspur's urbane Dutch manager, are more honest than when he played for West Bromwich Albion in the 1980s.

Coming from a less plausible character than Martin Jol, the idea might have been laughed out of town. Footballers, argued Tottenham Hotspur's urbane Dutch manager, are more honest than when he played for West Bromwich Albion in the 1980s.

Drawing on his days as a hirsuit midfield bruiser, domiciled in beautiful downtown Walsall, Jol defended Jermain Defoe against Albion's claims that he went to ground too easily to win the penalty that negated Rob Earnshaw's goal.

"Twenty years ago, there was much more [diving] in the game," the Dutchman recalled. "We practised it! We did it all the time. If we weren't doing it, the coach told us we should because we would get a penalty."

Lest anyone thought he was claiming that rampant cynicism had given way to an age of altruism, Jol added: "Now, with all the cameras, I think the players are much more honest. They know that everyone will see they're a cheat."

He could "not imagine" that Defoe's fall, under challenge by Darren Purse, was intended to con the referee in the style of El Hadji Diouf. "Jermain always stays on his feet in training," Jol said. "Never goes down, always keeps his balance."

Spurs' England striker, then, was a paradigm of sporting integrity. Bryan Robson, Jol's counterpart, said the same of Purse. If his captain maintained he did not touch Defoe, that was good enough for the manager, whose appeal for "fairness" sounded a trifle rich after Albion had benefited from Graham Poll dubiously disallowing a Manchester City "goal" the previous weekend.

Last month, yards from where Defoe hit the deck, Cosmin Contra all but caught a Liverpool header. The referee pointed to the spot, Contra at his chest. Purse's guilt was less obvious, but until players stop swearing innocence in the face of contrary evidence, the indignation mounted by Albion merits our scepticism.

Purse conceded that he had made it easy for Defoe by not staying on his feet, "a cardinal sin for a defender". If the same tackle had been made 30 years earlier, he added, "no one would have gone down" (he has clearly never heard of Franny Lee). Today, though, "things happen in a flash", making it harder for referees.

Albion would, of course, have traded a draw in the FA Cup for three points towards Premiership safety. They were justifiably disappointed not to finish off Spurs. Earnshaw shook the woodwork before scoring, a feat repeated by Jonathan Greening, while Paul Robinson denied Nkwankwo Kanu a stunning solo goal.

Yet their performance built on the positive displays since Christmas. There is a greater cohesion and confidence about Robson's side now. Crucially, given that Crystal Palace would move eight points clear of them by winning at The Hawthorns tomorrow, they are no longer going into games expecting to lose.

Albion's midfield had a pleasing balance, Ronnie Wallwork's Jol-like foraging being complemented by the creativity of Zoltan Gera and Greening. The latter lacks pace for a wide player but crosses well from either side, using skill to create the angle in a manner that suggests he learned from David Beckham.

Spurs needed to regroup after two losses. They just about managed it and were the more fluid side. That said, Jol's interest in signing Nottingham Forest's Andy Reid and Michael Dawson before the transfer window shuts shows an awareness that they remain some way from being able to compete with the élite trio.

Once again, the Cup is their only hope of a trophy. For Jol, reunited with old Albion colleagues on Saturday, a replay takes the tie from Memory Lane to White Hart Lane. "Alistair Robertson looked exactly the same," he chuckled. "Ally told me I'd changed. I said: 'You haven't been a manager. I get older every week'."

Goals: Earnshaw (17) 1-0; Defoe pen (21) 1-1.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Hoult; Albrechtsen, Purse, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Scimeca, Wallwork, Greening; Kanu (Horsfield, 79), Earnshaw (Campbell, 79). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Gaardsoe, O'Connor.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Robinson; Kelly, King, Gardner, Edman; Davies (Marney, 75), Carrick, Brown, Atouba; Defoe (Keane, 75), Kanouté. Substitutes not used: Fulup (gk), Bunjevcevic, Pamarot.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

Booked: Tottenham Hotspur Atouba.

Man of the match: Greening.

Attendance: 22,441.

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