Spurs dig deep to hold off Boro

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Football

Fixed grins were the order of the day at White Hart Lane as a scrappy match that finished before it ever got properly started left two hungry teams with, to employ an analogy used by the Tottenham caretaker manager, David Pleat, half a loaf each.

The crumb of comfort for Pleat was that Tottenham remain unbeaten since he took over temporary charge following the dismissal of Glenn Hoddle. A record of two wins, three draws and only one goal conceded - a goal, incidentally, which Pleat refuses to acknowledge as he regards it as having been offside - is certainly enough to keep open the possibility of his temporary status as the Tottenham manager becoming a more lasting appointment.

But as Pleat acknowledged, Spurs were in danger of being overrun in the second half by a Middlesbrough side whose own record scarcely seems to reflect the overall quality of their play. The visitors', for whom the wily Spanish international winger Gaizka Mendieta and the forceful figure of George Boateng seemed constantly on the brink of a breakthrough as the game wore on, frequently made Tottenham appear gauche and lacking in guile.

Had Boateng been a striker, rather than an industrious midfielder, Boro might have had their rightful reward on the half hour, but he attempted to steer in Mendieta's left-wing cross with his favoured right foot, turning the ball over the bar from close in.

Tottenham's keeper, Kasey Keller, had more meaningful work to do eight minutes after the break when, after more smart approach play by Mendieta, the Dutchman Boudewijn Zenden was teed up for his favourite thing - having a crack at goal with his left foot. Zenden did not disappoint, but Keller managed to turn the missile away at full stretch for a corner.

Four minutes later, after Slovakian striker Szilard Nemeth had made some good ground on the right, Middlesbrough had their best scoring opportunity of the match - but Nemeth pulled his cross behind the unmarked figure of Malcolm Christie.

As Middlesbrough's manager Steve McClaren confirmed after a result which lifted his side from the bottom three, frustration was the order of the day for the visiting team. "We are very disappointed that we didn't win the game," he said. "But I've told the players, 'Slowly, slowly'.

"If we keep playing like that we can only get better. We conceded a lot of goals at the start of the season, which was unlike us, but we have only let in three in the last six games which shows we have got that side of things right. All we need now is a break."

The same could have been said for Tottenham in the first half as the tenacious skills of their French midfielder Stephane Dalmat and the indefatigable energy and crossing of Paul Konchesky wide on the left threatened to inflict what would have been a third consecutive defeat on Boro.

But with Robbie Keane having one of his ineffectual, whinging days, and with newcomer Bobby Zamora looking capable but uncertain, Spurs were badly in need of the injured Frederic Kanoute, whose two-month absence with an ankle injury could be costly indeed for his new team.

Pleat, understandably, was keen to look on the bright side, praising the fortitude of his defenders during the second-half siege. "A month ago we would have lost that game," he said. A message to Glenn Hoddle, perhaps? Or maybe to the Spurs board?

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Keller 7; Carr 6, Richards 6, Gardner 5, Taricco 7; Dalmat 7, Poyet 5 (King 5, 67), Anderton 3, Konchesky 6 (Ricketts 83); Zamora 5 (Postiga 3, 64), Keane 4. Substitutes not used: Burch (gk), Mabizela.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer 7; Davies 7, Cooper 6, Southgate 7, Queudrue 5; Mendieta 7, Boateng 7, Doriva 5, Zenden 5 (Greening, 90); Nemeth 6 (Juninho, 78), Christie 6 (Maccarone, 78). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Riggott.

Referee: M Dean 7.

Bookings: Spurs: Taricco 27, Anderton 73. Middlesbrough: Mendieta 38, Doriva 80.

Man of the Match: Boateng.

Attendance: 32,643.