Wings the next step on evolutionary scale

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The Independent Online
F or most footballers the game is a discipline: track your man, win the ball, pass the ball, and, above all, maintain the team shape. For a lucky few, it is an art: think of Ryan Giggs ('95 Edition), gliding away from the wing, or Dennis Bergkamp, dropping off the frontline, both pulling defenders into those areas of uncertainty.

However, without the artisans the artists could not flourish. As in business or building, imagination needs a structure to develop. Even Rembrandt needed a canvas. Few footballers have the ability to be artists, and fewer still get the chance to show it. A football team's first concern is with establishing a defensive structure to halt the opposition. Then it looks to build attacks of its own, initially through carefully thought-out moves which will not weaken its own defence.

The next step is to release the more creative players from the restraints of this rigidity. Even Ajax have a system, albeit a very fluid one. Not many teams get to this stage - most are still too busy worrying about stopping the opposition. The one obvious exception, Southampton, have little choice. Tottenham and Everton, who played out a diverting goalless draw at White Hart Lane on Saturday, are at present trying to make this transition.

Tottenham attempted to do so under Ossie Ardiles 15 months ago. He took the revolutionary path of cutting out the preparatory steps and trying to do it all in one great leap forward. As opposing strikers and fans will fondly recall, he never made it.

Gerry Francis took over and immediately got to work on the defence. Concepts such as organisation and responsibility were introduced, the team was taught to defend as a back eight, and suddenly Gary Mabbutt was regarded as experienced rather than ageing. On the down side Tottenham's attacking moves took on a long-ball hue as Teddy Sheringham and Jurgen Klinsmann were increasingly isolated.

While Francis was stabilising Tottenham's season Joe Royle was rescuing Everton's. Having taken over when they were adrift at the bottom Royle decided stopping the opposition was the only priority. In came the four "dogs of war" in midfield and a twin battering-ram attack. It was ugly to watch, but even worse to play against and it worked.

Refinements, often enforced through suspension and injury, resulted in occasional periods of football, notably in thrashing Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final. The cup itself followed and with it the confidence to return to the "School of Science" principles Everton instilled in Royle as a player. Tottenham, too, have a history of style and panache and, having secured the defence, Francis is also looking to revive tradition.

Thus, on Saturday, four wingers lined up at White Hart Lane, two orthodox and two unorthodox. Tottenham played Ruel Fox and Ronnie Rosenthal either side of David Howells and Jason Dozzell; Everton had Andrei Kanchelskis and Anders Limpar flanking Joe Parkinson and John Ebbrell. The substitutes' bench was an indication of Everton's development - this time last year Barry Horne and Andy Hinchcliffe would have been playing - but not Limpar or Kanchelskis.

If the midfield were similar, so were the striking pairs - a mobile target man with someone playing off him. The defences also matched each other: a warhorse in the centre, a converted full-back temporarily returned on the left. In fact, the two teams were so alike they cancelled each other out.

There were chances, plenty of them, but few were clear cut. Limpar regularly fizzed shots just past Ian Walker's goal while Fox consistently supplied dangerous crosses - despite also doing a lot of work tracking Limpar.

It was from one of these that Tottenham came closest to scoring. Fox, Dean Austin and Rosenthal exchanged passes down the right before Fox pulled the ball back for Rosenthal. His deflected shot looked to have been brilliantly tipped on to the bar by Neville Southall.

Southall definitely made another impressive save from a deflected Sheringham free-kick. Like Mabbutt, who he narrowly shaded as man-of-the-match, he was written off last year. Both have since shown they were not the problem, it was the shambles around them.

Everton also hit a post. Sol Campbell's composure slipped into casualness, Daniel Amokachi intercepted his back-pass, but Walker forced him too wide to score.

The game was interesting, but it never caught light. While Everton gave Limpar plenty of possession Tottenham did not allow him to be as influential as he was in that semi-final. Tottenham's potential playmaker, Darren Anderton, could only stand in the tunnel, waiting for the day his body would allow him to play. His replacement, Rocket Ronnie, was his customary sporadic self. Has there ever been a player so consistently inconsistent?

Thus it seemed only a mistake would settle the match and, with four minutes to go, it could have done. Chris Armstrong, for once, escaped Dave Watson as the centre-half misjudged Walker's long punt. Armstrong flicked the ball past Southall - but Matt Jackson cleared off the line.

It was fair enough. Neither side deserved to lose - or win. There were a few boos at the end but both club's supporters can look forward with confidence. Their teams have yet to make the step from solid to fluid, but they are heading in the right direction.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Campbell; Fox, Dozzell, Howells, Rosenthal (McMahon, 76); Sheringham, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: Day (gk), Edinburgh.

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Jackson, Watson, Short (Hinchcliffe, 44), Unsworth; Kanchelskis, Ebbrell, Parkinson, Limpar; Stuart, Amokachi. Substitutes not used: Kearton (gk), Horne.

Referee: S Dunn (Avon).

Bookings: Tottenham Calderwood, Mabbutt; Everton Stuart, Amokachi, Ebbrell.

Man of the match: Southall.

Attendance: 32, 894.

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