Spurs hang on in friendly of nastiest kind

Millwall 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2
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The Independent Online

Testimonial occasions are supposed to be happy, friendly occasions. This one, littered with niggling fouls, ended with a full-scale battle between rival supporters and police outside the stadium. Not the best augury for the new season.

A match between these two clubs was always likely to become ugly. It had been arranged when George Graham, once the Millwall manager, was still in charge at White Hart Lane last season. The decision was that it should go ahead for the benefit of Keith Stevens, a long-time player and short-term manager at the home club over the past 20 years and the start was amicable enough.

Stevens, wearing his old number six shirt, walked out with his three small children to the acclaim of the fans and applause of the players and also took up his old position in defence for the first four minutes.

By that time, the first nasty tackle had already gone in ­ Lucas Neill on Mauricio Taricco ­ and the nastiness escalated steadily. Referee Paul Taylor opted for lectures, instead of the cards he would undoubtedly have flourished had this been a meaningful match, and he talked at length to quite a few people.

In the end, Spurs, having dominated the first half, were a little fortunate to clock up their seventh straight pre-season victory. As their manager, Glenn Hoddle, said: "We thought it would be a stern test and it was. It was a good time to find out if players have got character as well as skill."

Teddy Sheringham was unable to play against his former club because of an Achilles problem and Hoddle opted to leave two other summer signings, Christian Ziege and Gustavo Poyet, on the bench all match. Of the newcomers, only the former Red Star Belgrade captain, Goran Bunjevcevic, was on parade.

He looked assured at the heart of Tottenham's defence in the first half, less so in the second, as Millwall turned up the heat, and Hoddle conceded afterwards that he is still looking for another defender before the season begins. "We have got at least seven we are looking at," he said, "but it's got to be the right one."

Hoddle had said that he wanted to give his starting line-up the chance to go through an entire match and he almost got his wish. The only change was when Les Ferdinand was introduced at half-time for Sergei Rebrov, the scorer of the first-half goal and victim of some particularly callous tackles.

Perhaps it was because the testimonial recipient's nickname as a Millwall player was Rhino, but there was a lot of charging and rushing. When Tim Sherwood was brought down in the centre circle a voice bellowed "let 'im die, let 'im die", and police, wearing helmets and carrying riot shields, moved in among Spurs supporters who were exchanging taunts with Millwall fans, a portent of what was to come later.

Spurs went in front after 17 minutes with Rebrov's fourth goal in five games this summer. Oyvind Leonhardsen crossed from the right, Steffen Iversen got in a back-header and the Ukrainian volleyed home left-footed. He should have had another soon after, but miskicked Taricco's centre from the left.

The rest of the half was mainly physical, with a mass shoving contest following Millwall captain Stuart Nethercott's bad foul on Rebrov. Taricco, Steven Reid and Tim Cahill were all spoken to and, in the second half, Richard Sadlier and Taricco (again, and at length) got a talking-to.

Ferdinand put his side two up only two minutes into the second half. Simon Davies, a promising arrival from Peterborough, slid a fine ball through and Ferdinand scored comfortably. Then, as Hoddle put it: "We got a bit sloppy and switched off." Bunjevcevic, so commanding in the opening 45 minutes, did not look nearly so assured as the crosses came piling in and Millwall got one back after 63 minutes. Neil Sullivan, previously unemployed, dropped a centre and Nethercott joyfully drove into the empty net against his old club.

Sullivan made amends with a fine one-handed save from Neill, but was grateful to see Cahill's header come back off the bar and Leonhardsen clear off the line from the substitute, Giovanni Savarese.

So Spurs go marching on, still looking for players to buy.

Millwall 1

Nethercott 63

Tottenham Hotspur 2

Rebrov 17, Ferdinand 47

Half-time: 0-1

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