Sheringham slips the leash

Middlesbrough 0 Tottenham Hotspur 3 Sheringham 21,90, Fox 23 Attendance: 30,215
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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough's expensive collection of overseas stars were yesterday given a lesson in an art form which is clearly foreign to them: defending.

Sol Campbell was the bedrock on which Spurs built an impressive performance. Calm, composed and strong, he prevented the Premiership's leading scorer, Fabrizio Ravanelli, from getting a clear sight until the 76th minute. He timed his tackles clinically and, on the one occasion the Italian out- foxed him, David Howells slid to the rescue.

In contrast, Middlesbrough's defence was disjointed, all knees and shin- bones - and Spurs could have had more than three goals to emphasise how at sixes and sevens they were. They have now conceded 11 in their last four league games, and were perplexed by Teddy Sheringham's insistence on playing in a no man's land in between their back three and their attack- minded midfield. Allan Nielsen baffled them by breaking in front of Sheringham, and Ruel Fox mystified them first down the right and then through the centre.

Chris Armstrong had already gone close when, in the 20th minute, Campbell lobbed a quick ball to Sheringham at least 30 yards out. Steve Vickers ventured into no man's land and fouled Sheringham, who exquisitely curled the free kick over the wall. Alan Miller, slightly off his line, didn't know with which hand to attack the ball. It dipped past him without a touch. A minute later, Sheringham's deft flick set Howells away. His first- time cross found Fox unmarked in the six-yard box to score.

By half-time, Middlesbrough could only show a wild thrash from Ravanelli and a shot from Emerson that went out for a throw. Nick Barmby was as anonymous as his record of one goal in 10 appearances suggests. But, in the second minute, a delicious move involving Emerson, Ravanelli and finally Juninho had seen the little Brazilian put the ball in the net. Ravanelli was clearly offside, and Spurs learnt their lesson. They compacted the midfield to snuff out the Brazilian threat and stopped the Italian with an oppressive off-side trap.

In the second half, Middlesbrough upped the tempo, switched to a flat back four and won seven corners, curled to cause confusion by Juninho. Yet Ian Walker's first proper save was a tip-over from a ravishing Ravanelli drive in the 90th minute.

A minute earlier, though, Sheringham had headed his second after a 50- yard break by Steve Carr. "Outstanding", was the verdict of Spurs' manager, Gerry Francis. "Everyone's done a superb job in an organised system to stop Middlesbrough's strength." No one more so than Campbell.