Strange days down the Lane

David Aaronovitch watches Spurs both please and perplex their faithful fans
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The Independent Online
This year the pre-Christmas Spurs programme featured suitably embarrassed players and staff schlepping around the club's training ground, dressed like the characters from the cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Why? Don't ask. I suppose they realised that they couldn't repeat last year's picture of Gerry Francis as Santa Claus. ("We've had bad luck with injuries to Prancer and Dancer and, with Rudolf away on international duties, I think getting presents to half the children in the world is a considerable achievement.") So we had Ronny Rosenthal dressed as Napoleon and Ruel Fox as Captain Hook.

The club's two Christmas presents to their long-suffering fans (although, it must be added, they never suffer in silence, particularly my mate Chris) were both on display for the first time at White Hart Lane for Saturday's 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday: Steffen Iversen from the kick-off, and John Scales for the last five minutes. So that made us all feel a bit happier. As did the wonderful supporters from Sheffield, whose famous drum and Continental singing made a nice change from the normal grumpy silence that passes for atmosphere at the Lane.

There was one very good side out there; unfortunately it was divided between two teams. Wednesday's midfield were often a delight to watch. Their passing was sharp, their ball skills excellent and - in two spells in particular - they had the capacity to reduce Spurs to a bunch of shadow tacklers. Orlando Trustfull was sinuous and strong, Benito Carbone (who, with his long hair and five o'clock shadow looks like an Identikit picture of an Italian footballer) was continuously involved. Des Walker and Mark Pembridge brought the ball out of defence beautifully - but they do not seem to have an attack at the end of it all. Spurs, on the other hand, play a midfield of two wingers (or rather one, since Andy Sinton and Ruel Fox take it in turns to actually do anything), and two crunching tacklers (David Howells and Allan Nielsen). With Darren Anderton still out, there seems to be no one to pass the ball from the centre of midfield, making it much harder for the two wingers.

But Tottenham assuredly do have an attack. Iversen (who, at pounds 2.6m, cost the same as Wednesday's pedestrian Booth) is a fine player, though his miss in the second minute had Chris yelling "how did he miss that!" before adding (Victor Meldrew style): "I don't believe it!" Teddy Sheringham we know all about. Expect him to play just behind Iversen and Armstrong when the latter recovers from injury.

This combination of strengths and weaknesses led to a strangely entertaining game, in which most of the good play came from Wednesday (their goal from the full-back Ian Nolan capping a great spell. "That's what always happens to Spurs!" Chris lamented) and most of the chances fell to Tottenham, who equalised after a grubber-kick from Sheringham, a huge climb from Iversen and a final lunge from Nielsen. Indeed, following Nolan's shot, it was half an hour before Wednesday contrived another serious shot on goal.

Meanwhile, any one of Sheringham's rasping shot, Howell's missed volley or Fox's blocked follow-up could have wrapped it up for Tottenham.

What's the prognosis? Wednesday are no longer a crisis club and will grow in strength. But they have a striker problem and that, as we know, is very expensive to solve.

Spurs are two midfield players - and a lot of passing - away from serious contention. Anderton's return (is he related to Godot?) will help, but expect a January raid on Liverpool for Jamie Redknapp. My mate Chris says he's good.

Goals: Nolan (16) 1-1; Nielsen (29) 1-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Calderwood, Campbell (Scales, 85), Wilson; Fox, Nielsen, Howells, Sinton; Sheringham, Iversen. Substitutes not used: Dozzell, Nethercott, Allen, Bardsen (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (5-4-1): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Stefanovic, Nicol, Nolan; Whittingham (Humphreys, 87), Pembridge, Carbone, Trustfull (Blinker, 65); Booth (Hirst, 74). Substitutes not used: Oakes, Clarke (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds). Bookings: Tottenham: Calderwood, Sheringham.

Man of the match: Carr. Attendance: 30,996.

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