Southampton 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0
In four matches between Tottenham and Southampton last season, there were 20 goals. Yesterday was pay-back time for fans. Not only was the match scoreless, it was also cheerless. As the proceedings wore coldly on, a goal looked less and less likely.
True, five minutes from time, the England striker, Teddy Sheringham could, perhaps should, have won it for Spurs when he had time to select the place for his shot from 12 yards. It was entirely appropriate that Dave Beasant, having dived one way, should have stopped the effort with his legs. Neither Sheringham nor the match merited a goal at that stage.
The lack of ambition, matched only by a similar dearth of skill, was probably provoked largely by a two-tone pitch, green and reasonably soft in one half, white and frost-ridden in the other. It was untrustworthy all over. With the sun shining postponement, of course, was never an option.
On another day such a surface might have led to mistakes but the central defenders on both sides stood up well, in all senses, to their task. Ken Monkou and Richard Hall, for Southampton, and Gary Mabbutt and Colin Calderwood, for Spurs, ushered forwards out of danger areas, always assured and controlled of purpose. Maybe it helped that they knew forwards would be reluctant to turn quickly.
Spurs set out to play the way they have now established when not at White Hart Lane, to absorb the opposition and then counter-attack. Here they did the absorption without the trouble of the counter-attacking. Southampton have made themselves, as their manager Dave Merrington proudly said afterwards, a difficult side to beat. Given the money, Merrington said he would like to bring in a couple of players with extra flair to supplement Matthew Le Tissier, who limped off yesterday after 20 minutes with a recurrence of a calf injury. But he knows that money alone would not be enough. Equally, the Spurs manager, Gerry Francis, lamented the absence through injury of his players with that elusive quality. The managers concurred, too, on another point, which usually gets an airing just as the turkey goes dry. The gist of this is not only that there are too many games in the English season but that there are too many bunched together around the Christmas period.
Merrington said there were too many amateurs at the top of the game telling professionals what to do, the sort of comment that may get him into trouble with the aforementioned amateurs.
Francis was more emotive: "I've spent 27 years in this game without getting a proper break with the family over Christmas. I think we should have a 10-day gap which wouldn't just allow that but would get players a rest and a chance to get over knocks."
If there is a reason for suspending the Premiership over the Christmas holidays, this match should be used in evidence.
Southampton (4-4-2): Beasant; Dodd, Hall, Monkou, Charlton; Oakley, Venison, Magilton, Heaney; Shipperley, Le Tissier (Warren, 20). Substitutes not used: Maddison, Nielson.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Edinburgh; McMahon (Slade, 75), Wilson, Campbell, Rosenthal; Sheringham, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Nethercott, Day.
Referee: P Durkin (Portland).
Bookings: Southampton: Charlton, Venison. Tottenham: Edinburgh.
Man of the match: Monkou. Attendance: 15,238