Santini a smile ahead of Benitez

Tottenham Hotspur 1 - Liverpool 1
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The Independent Football

The Franco-Danish-Dutch alliance that is now the Tottenham Hotspur coaching team came out even against Liverpool's new Spanish forces in the opening skirmish of the new Premiership season - the first, indeed, of a new era for both clubs. Despite achieving nothing better than parity on their own territory, Spurs' new men were the happier, for their troops had been in retreat for much of the first half and conceded a goal to Gérard Houllier's parting gift to Liverpool, Djibril Cissé.

Houllier's successor, Rafael Benitez, true to his promise and the promise of Liverpool's pre-season, had his new charges attacking in greater numbers, but could not prevent them from being pushed back after the interval and allowing Jermain Defoe one of his classic poacher's interventions in front of the omnipresent England coach.

The other source of satisfaction for an appreciative home crowd was that their team showed a determination, especially in the tackle, often lacking in recent years. The worry is how long it will take the new masters to fashion a cohesive unit out of a squad showing so many changes. With Robbie Keane, Simon Davies and Anthony Gardner injured and Stephen Carr sold, there were six debutants in yesterday's starting XI, three of them playing their first game in England, and by the end a seventh, also new to the Premiership, was on.

The newcomers - players and coaches alike - found the pace typically fierce, until the heat slowed it. Tottenham responded by playing a longer game, which was how the equaliser arrived, and giving Benitez a taste of the more rudimentary side of Premiership football. "I'm happy with the first half, the second was more difficult," he said. Having begun with Cissé and Milan Baros in attack now that Michael Owen has gone, he replaced both strikers before the end, the Frenchman lasting no longer than 63 minutes.

"When the other team play with long passes, the problem is the second ball," Benitez added. "Both forwards worked hard and were very tired, and I wanted better pressing against their defence."

Jacques Santini also prowled the technical area in a smart suit, but Benitez was the more animated of the two and until half-time at least the more satisfied. Not surprisingly, Liverpool looked the better co-ordinated side, having only Cissé and Josemi, the Spanish defender, as new faces.

Cissé was well handled by Ledley King and one of Tottenham's many newcomers, the experienced Noureddine Naybet, but the record signing illustrated a goalscorer's feel seven minutes before half-time. Steve Finnan, a square peg in the round hole of right midfield, crossed for Jamie Carragher - a central defender in the new regime - to head on, Cissé ghosting in to beat Paul Robinson.

That had all started when Liverpool won a corner after Harry Kewell teased the 17-year-old right-back Phil Ifil, a player with only 12 reserve games behind him and one previous appearance on the White Hart Lane pitch. With Jamie Redknapp uncomfortable immediately in front of him, the visitors ought to have taken greater advantage, but apart from that one run, Kewell did not look the man to do so. Wide midfield is therefore much the weakest area of Liverpool's game.

In the centre, however, they had Steven Gerrard driving forward in typical style, leaving supporters as thankful as Arsenal's that, like Patrick Vieira, he loves his club too much to leave (ho, hum). The England midfielder should have had a penalty in the 18th minute for Ifil's tug on his sleeve, but felt the necessity, as so many players do, to draw the referee's attention to the infringement by falling down as if dead. Dermot Gallagher, the official in question, chose to ignore the theatricals, which was wrong but understandable.

With Defoe initially losing his catchweight contest against the powerful Sami Hyypia, Tottenham's only threat before the interval came from Johnnie Jackson out on the left. Sean Davis mis-timed a header from his second dangerous cross and shortly before Liverpool's goal Jackson produced his team's only shot on target of the half, which John Arne Riise cleared off the line.

A familiar mood of resignation was just settling over the ground early in the second half when Defoe offered promise of something better by wriggling between two defenders before toeing a shot across goal. Benitez sent on Florent Sinama-Pongolle for a disappointed Cissé to stop the home defence launching their long balls, but it was just that ploy which brought an equaliser a few minutes later.

Erik Edman, the Swedish left-back from Euro 2004, sought our Frédéric Kanouté's head for an untidy knock-down that Defoe latched on to, twisting and turning for his eighth goal in 16 appearances. Up in the directors' box, Sven Goran Eriksson should have been purring.

Carragher's firm header from Finnan's corner 15 minutes from the end would have brought Liverpool a win but for Robinson's push over. Overall, the perception that they will be fourth best again seems about right, and their old boy Alan Hansen's prediction that Spurs will be relegated looks unduly harsh. Santini and Co must certainly hope so.

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