Telepathic Tottenham tighten title race

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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur3 Blackburn Rovers 1

A good day for Tottenham, for Manchester United and for football too. The positions remain the same at the head of the Premiership, but the difference is only two points and United's breath down the back of their neck is becoming more than a little uncomfortable for Blackburn.

Kenny Dalglish's team could be off the top before they next play, as Sunday's match at home to Sheffield Wednesday gives United the opportunity in the Manchester derby to look down on their east Lancashire rivals for the first time since November.

A four-point haul from Blackburn's last four games is hardly championship form. Their performance - admittedly they will play worse than this and win - was scarcely championship material either. Tottenham's was, not this year, but some time soon. The feel-good factor was much in evidence among the vast majority leaving White Hart Lane last night.

Blackburn saw enough of the ball to have averted their fourth League defeat, but had not sufficient stealth or subtlety to win it. They worked hard for their openings, but just as their passing movements gathered ground and momentum, so a white shirt came across with the vital tackle or block.

On the break, Spurs were a revelation. Their understanding was telepathic, the close control which all their front players have in abundance enabled them to threaten every time the visitors lost possession. There was no better example than the first goalin the 18th minute.

As Alan Shearer met a cross from the left, Gary Mabbutt intervened and the ball fell out to Darren Anderton and then on to Jurgen Klinsmann. Nick Barmby joined in, and Klinsmann waited to make his killing dart forward before finishing with a shot that went through the legs of Bobby Mimms.

It was a wonderful move, and the interchange on the half-hour was just as spectacular. With another of his intelligent back-heels, Klinsmann returned Anderton's pass into the inviting space just outside the area. The England winger unleashed a firm drivewhich took a deflection off Colin Hendry, and on his return to his former club, Mimms, the replacement for the injured Tim Flowers, was beaten a second time.

Two goals down, there was little to encourage Blackburn as so little was coming off for their feared strike-force. The presence of a helicopter overhead at the start of the second half drew the suggestion that the authentic SAS were about to become involved in their cause. That was soon forgotten, as within two minutes of the restart Sutton chased a loose ball, sought out Shearer with his cross, and in came Tim Sherwood to volley Rovers back into contention.

Blackburn pressed, but Mabbutt and Colin Calderwood resisted. Always available to help out were David Howells and Gica Popescu, while Anderton and Barmby won a multitude of tackles on the edge of their own 18-yard line.

It was a team effort, a team triumph, and their reward came with a third goal. Barmby, a young man with a big say in Tottenham's future and with a man-of-the-match performance to celebrate his new five-year contract, launched himself at Anderton's searching delivery from the right and that was that, although Shearer thumped an effort against the post three minutes later.

Gerry Francis called it the best performance since he took over in north London 15 games ago. "We were absolutely outstanding in the first half," he said. Dalglish tried hard not to show disappointment, although he did congratulate the referee, who gave one of many outstanding displays on a thoroughly entertaining afternoon.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Campbell, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Edinburgh; Anderton, Howells, Popescu, Barmby (Nethercott, 86); Klinsmann, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Caskey, Day (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Mimms; Berg, Pearce, Hendry, Wright; Ripley (Newell, 62), Sherwood, Warhurst, Wilcox (Atkins, 86); Sutton, Shearer. Substitute not used: Given (gk)

Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).

Football, pages 30 and 31