Francis puts Anderton in frame

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The Independent Online
Darren Anderton was not selected for England's game next week with Croatia, but his Tottenham manager, Gerry Francis, has told Terry Venables: "He could still be your man for Euro 96."

Francis plunged substitute Anderton into the last 12 minutes of a typically frenetic North London derby against Arsenal at Highbury on Monday night - his first senior appearance since September following two serious groin operations - and said: "Now I want him to play in all our last three Premier League games against Chelsea, Leeds and Newcastle.

"It is a tremendous thing for him, and I think tremendous for England as well, that he's had this 12 or 13 minutes and come through it. Darren has been through a very bad time, a very frustrating time, but he's back and that is great news. I spoke to Terry Venables about him after the Arsenal game and told him my plans now for Darren.

"Terry can't pick him for the squad against Croatia but Darren will have a full game in the reserves on Thursday and, hopefully, another 90 minutes in a testimonial match at West Ham on Saturday.

"Then I'll be looking to play him in the three League games and Terry will have the opportunity to assess him for the European Championships.

"He doesn't have to name his squad until the end of May and so there is time still for Darren to get his match-fitness completely right. Obviously it is up to Terry after that, but he knows Darren as well as I do and he's a player who can do things that other players cannot do."

Francis decided to take his gamble on Anderton after Dean Austin and Andy Sinton were forced out of the squad for the Arsenal game by injuries.

Anderton said: "Until yesterday morning I thought I was going to play in another reserve game, but then Gerry told me I was on the bench instead for the first team and it was great to be back - and to get on.

"Twelve minutes isn't very much but I felt OK and if things go well next week then hopefully I'm all right for the games against Chelsea, Leeds and Newcastle. I haven't even dared think about the England thing yet, but if it comes along then I obviously wouldn't say no."

Venables was among a 38,000-plus Highbury crowd to watch a passionate but goalless draw which left Arsenal still in pole position for a Uefa Cup place next season - two points ahead of sixth-placed Spurs, with three game apiece to play.

But the Gunners, who now face a trip to Blackburn a week on Saturday followed by home games with Liverpool and Bolton, could yet rue their failure to take first-half chances and go clear of the pack.

Blackburn, boosted by recent victories over Newcastle and Nottingham Forest, are still strongly in the hunt. They will be also be just a point behind Arsenal if they beat Wimbledon at Ewood Park tomorrow.

Bruce Rioch, the Arsenal manager, saw Paul Merson twice blaze over the bar when superbly set up by first Dennis Bergkamp and later Ray Parlour. Rioch, who then watched Nigel Winterburn miss from eight yards, said: "We had the momentum at that stage and should have converted at least one of our opportunities.

"But I don't consider it two points dropped. Spurs had a good chance themselves through Chris Armstrong in the second half and it was remarkable really that there were no goals to show at the end."

In a match of thundering commitment but variable quality, honours were deservedly shared - allowing Francis to maintain his five-year unbeaten record, as manager of both QPR and Spurs, against Arsenal.

He admitted: "It was not quite the result we wanted and it will be very difficult for us to get into Europe. But two points is nothing even with three games to play and I believe it will still go right to the wire for a Uefa Cup place. We have three hard games left but so do Arsenal."

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