Tottenham lost in confusion

Taylor is two-goal Villa hero as misery continues for Graham
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The Independent Online

Aston Villa supporters protested before yesterday's game about the reluctance of their chairman, Doug Ellis, to supply adequate funds for new players. Tottenham's bedraggled followers, wet, miserable and facing a journey home with Virgin Trains, must have wondered what their opposite numbers had to worry about as their team suffered a sixth successive away defeat.

Aston Villa supporters protested before yesterday's game about the reluctance of their chairman, Doug Ellis, to supply adequate funds for new players. Tottenham's bedraggled followers, wet, miserable and facing a journey home with Virgin Trains, must have wondered what their opposite numbers had to worry about as their team suffered a sixth successive away defeat.

The only cheer the visiting contingent could manage all afternoon was for David Ginola - "You're Spurs and you know you are". Alas, he is no longer, but at least he spared his former club the humiliation of adding to the margin of defeat in his 13 minutes as a substitute, following five weeks'absence with a thigh injury.

Villa, even with Dion Dublin and Julian Joachim short of goals, simply did not need him any earlier, so superior were they all over the pitch. George Graham, the Spurs manager, who sold him in the summer, was right to say: "I've got no complaints about the score. We seem to have lost confidence away from home."

The so-called "war of words" between the two had in fact been barely a minor skirmish, with Ginola merely suggesting that Graham could be sacked this season - a possibility obvious to any observer - and his former manager repeating what he said at the time of the sale, that a £3m fee for a 33-year-old was good business.

Had Tottenham been able to find a creative playmaker in the meantime, or had the French expressionist painted some rather more dazzling pictures in his new surroundings - he has yet to score in seven appearances - each would have been in a stronger position to emphasise their respective points. As it was, Ginola was complimentary in a slightly barbed sort of way: "What really surprises me is that Spurs have conceded a lot of goals away from home. I really felt they were a team that could get points away because they can be very tight at the back and in midfield."

Not yesterday. Sol Campbell's continuing absence may account for some of the looseness in defence, and has encouraged Graham to try a3-5-2 formation, with Chris Perry and Luke Young alongside the gaffe-prone Ramon Vega. Three centre-halves hardly seemed enough even against a team that had scored only 14 goals in 11 games, but still dominated from the start of the afternoon.

Neil Sullivan was forced to make a sprawling save from Paul Merson in the first couple of minutes and was kept busy from then on. Perry's under-strength back pass put him in trouble soon afterwards, the goalkeeper rushing out to beat Dublin to the ball, and the only surprise was that it took a quarter of the game for Villa to break through. Alan Wright had time and space on the left to line up a well-placed cross, headed in a loop over Sullivan by Ian Taylor.

The home team were even playing with 10 men at that stage, following a nasty collision between England's Gareth Southgate, who was unable to continue but will travel to Italy tomorrow, and Tottenham's Les Ferdinand, who had just returned in time to see his team fall behind.

In the striker's absence they had managed one shot, from Darren Anderton, which remained just about the sum of their attacking endeavours. Villa, meanwhile, might have increased Graham's embarrassment with shots by Merson and Wright, neither of which Sullivan could hold, and Dublin, who shot into the side netting.

The introduction at half-time of Chris Armstrong for the concussed Ferdinand had little effect and a second Villa goal duly followed 12 minutes later. It required only a punt downfield to throw Tottenham's defence into familiar confusion, nobody picking up Taylor as he moved languidly on to Dublin's pass and finished at his leisure.

It said much for Spurs that Stephen Carr, the right-back, carried their only attacking threat thereafter as David James, hoping to win another England cap in Turin on Wednesday, was given as easy an afternoon as any Premiership goalkeeper could reasonably hope for. On a ground where Tottenham last won in 1986, Sergei Rebrov again achieved almost nothing, though the service to him was negligible. Villa, in contrast, held the midfield with a combination of Merson's invention, George Boateng's tenacity, and Taylor's mixture of the two.

John Gregory - "I respect my elders and betters" - is relaxed for the time being about not being allowed to strengthen any further a squad that has carried Villa to fourth place in the table. "I'd like the luxury of being able to give people a rest every now and again," he said.

He should worry, Graham must have felt. Tottenham's last victory away from White Hart Lane was at Leicester in April, when the only goal was scored by a certain long-haired Frenchman.

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