Okocha puts Pleat in the doldrums

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Bolton Wanderers 1
Click to follow
The Independent Football

This was all about the mythical, magical No 10. How Bolton managed to feed theirs, how Tottenham's was almost starved. Goodness knows how many shots the mesmeric Jay-Jay Okocha had. Robbie Keane had just one. In the end the Spurs striker again found himself back in midfield, cast as the playmaker and cast against Okocha, who radiated confidence.

Bolton always had the upper hand. Four times - yes, four - they struck the crossbar. Okocha alone hammered a hat-trick against the hardwood. "Inspirational," is how his manager, Sam Allardyce, described him. Spurs' caretaker, David Pleat, was more quixotic. "I have very rarely seen him play so well. His footwork was unbelievable and if he plays like that they will be able to afford another new stadium," he said. Given that Bolton ran up debts of £30m constructing the Reebok Stadium it was a colourful, unwanted plaudit.

Spurs' problem was that they could not clone Keane. They needed him upfront and in midfield. Without the injured Frédéric Kanouté they appeared bereft. Having been taught how to stop conceding goals, they seem to have forgotten how to score them. The youngsters Helder Postiga - apparently being watched by scouts from Austria Vienna - and Bobby Zamora looked as callow as they are. Bolton's league of nations were simply too worldly. And so Pleat suffered his first defeat in his third spell as stand-in.

Bolton arrived with a wretched record, both historic and current. They had not won here since 1959 - it was obviously a long time ago, as Spurs were top of the table then - a run which represented eight defeats in nine visits. More importantly for this campaign, it was five matches since their last Premiership victory. And Spurs began with the comfort blanket of having conceded just one goal in six games under Pleat.

Keane set a creative buzz, and his early volley forced a sharp parry by Jussi Jaaskelainen. But it was open stuff. Bolton came back. The ball ran free to Okocha and, instantly, he struck it from 25 yards. It thumped against the crossbar and then evaded the onrushing Kevin Davies.

"In the first 10 minutes we were finding life a bit difficult," Allardyce said. "Jay-Jay decided to turn the magic on and that lifted the whole team." It was indeed a turning point. Okocha was enlivened. He shimmied past and stepped over challenges, and suddenly Spurs were vulnerable. The gap grew between Spurs' midfield pairing of Ledley King, deployed as a shield but too often circumvented, and Gus Poyet, and Bolton infiltrated it.

The appetite shown by the visitors was rapacious - from Ivan Campo in midfield to the hard-working Davies up front. Pleat made a tactical shift, introducing Postiga and withdrawing Keane fully to midfield. The pedestrian Poyet gave way. Davies robbed the lumbering Gary Doherty on halfway and, with Per Frandsen in support, decided to shoot instead.

Wrong option. It struck a defender. Okocha then struck the crossbar again. His free-kick clipped the wall and shivered the woodwork.

Bolton continued to push, although their frustration grew. "We looked like we were going to pay a price for not being as accurate as we should have been," Allardyce said as he bemoaned his side's present status as "relegation fodder". Not if they play like this, though. The tempo rose from allegro to presto, Okocha and Keane conducting. A shot by Paul Konchesky took a double deflection and scraped past the post. Twice Postiga went down in the area, twice referee Uriah Rennie waved play on. "We were poor, the referee was average," Pleat said.

At the other end Kasey Keller, brilliantly, turned a shot by the lively Stelios Giannakopoulos on to the top of the crossbar. From the half-cleared corner Okocha had another strike from distance. This time it counted. Keller spilled it and Kevin Nolan turned the ball in. It was richly deserved.

Spurs' insipidness was then summed up. Keane, running hard, kept the ball in and crossed low for Postiga. It was a chance, but he simply flicked a boot at it. "A very poor performance. They were technically better, had a good gameplan and Okocha was superb," Pleat said. Pity his own match-winner was not awarded the same support.

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Bolton Wanderers 1
Nolan 73

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 35,191

Comments