Thoughtful Pearce in for long haul

Tottenham Hotspur 2 - Manchester City 1
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The Independent Football

Judging from his touchline demeanour Stuart Pearce intends to be a somewhat calmer manager than he was a player. But then there was little in this disjointed match to get those veins throbbing or that fist pumping. Not even defeat to a late, undeserved Robbie Keane goal, with Manchester City crying for a foul after an elbow in Joey Barton's face, which left a bloody mess, or the mass pushing-and-shoving that eventually followed, provoked him. The elbow incident, involving Thimothée Atouba, will demand further scrutiny. If video evidence exists, the defender can expect a three-match ban while Martin Jol, the Spurs head coach, said he will examine it.

Judging from his touchline demeanour Stuart Pearce intends to be a somewhat calmer manager than he was a player. But then there was little in this disjointed match to get those veins throbbing or that fist pumping. Not even defeat to a late, undeserved Robbie Keane goal, with Manchester City crying for a foul after an elbow in Joey Barton's face, which left a bloody mess, or the mass pushing-and-shoving that eventually followed, provoked him. The elbow incident, involving Thimothée Atouba, will demand further scrutiny. If video evidence exists, the defender can expect a three-match ban while Martin Jol, the Spurs head coach, said he will examine it.

Not that Pearce was complaining. "I worked for Mr [Brian] Clough for a long time and he never criticised the referee," he said. It was refreshing. He went on: "I said to Joey 'these things happen in the game'." Pearce preferred to dwell on the "spirit and oomph" his players showed. There is certainly a determination in the mode of their new manager. There is also no whiff that this is an interim regime as Pearce had to endure when he was in charge of a doomed Nottingham Forest in 1996-97. He certainly wants the job for the long haul and is making plans.

City, apparently, had wondered beforehand whether a collar and tie might be appropriate attire for Pearce, given his desire to shed the Psycho tag which, he says, belongs to a different era. Given his studious manner, which has followed four years garnering coaching and managerial qualifications and preparing for this day, then maybe it should stand for psychological. It was certainly a thoughtful approach.

In the end he was, like his Tottenham counterpart happier in his tracksuit. How strange that two such inspiring managers oversaw such a sluggish encounter. At least for Jol, who had played with Pearce at Coventry City in the 1980s ("a terrific, old-fashioned left-back. He's second to none," Jol said), there was comfort in the knowledge that his team had played immeasurably better in their past three games and lost. "There were 12 100 per cent chances in those matches and we did not score," Jol said. "No one can blame us for being happy for these points." He also had the excuse of knowing that this was his team's third game in six days. Indeed such had been the state of their aching joints that training was cancelled last Thursday and they all went for a swim instead.

Jol, who shook things up with five changes, knew they needed to keep their head above water yesterday. "It was a crucial moment," he said. "Everyone told us that if we had not won, our season would be bleak, grey." Instead they find themselves just two points behind Liverpool and, again, dreaming of European football. But the margin is so tight. And never better illustrated than by the passages of play around both of Tottenham's goals.

On 11 minutes Atouba hoofed a clearance into the air and goalkeeper Paul Robinson tried to head it out. The ball fell to Claudio Reyna, who lofted it goalwards only for Noureddine Naybet to hack away. Three minutes later David James rolled the ball out to Nedum Onouha - in for the dropped Danny Mills - who was slow to react. Andy Reid was not and the Spurs winger slid in, whipped the ball away and crossed only for Jermain Defoe to get his footwork wrong. The ball spun out to Simon Davies, whose first-time shot was wild and wide - until Defoe was alert enough to divert it, via his head, into the net.

Then, with just seven minutes to go, substitute Frédéric Kanouté fashioned space and crossed low for Davies to shoot. The ball deflected off Richard Dunne, away from James, and into the path of Keane, who rolled it in. It was his third goal in three games after coming on from the bench. Barton, who would have picked up Keane, was lying prone outside the area. Again three minutes later and, after a mêlée, the ball broke to Mills, on as a City replacement, inside the Spurs area. Like Davies in the first-half he miscued. But unlike Davies the ball fell behind, rather than straight to, his own striker, Jon Macken. The game was lost.

City's disappointment was compounded by the knowledge that they had scored the game's best goal to draw level with Robbie Fowler, brilliantly, chipping into Reyna's path with the outside of his boot. The American immediately hit a half-volley which struck a post and ricocheted in. There were also opportunities for Fowler, who mistimed a header and, twice, for Kiki Musampa. He forced a fine tip over from Robinson - as did Reid from James, with a fierce left-foot drive. "A draw would have been a fair result," Pearce said. Again, he was right.

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