Wolves worried by Fox

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The Independent Online

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

Time was when a replay at Molineux would have worried the life out of any manager. The days of Hancocks, Mullen, Wilshaw, Pye and, later on, Broadbent, Dougan, Richards. "We seem to be making a habit of doing things the hard way," Gerry Francis, the Spurs manager said, "but it could be different when Wolves have to come at us."

This is no slouch of a team that Mark McGhee is putting together, his stamp already evident in improved passing, but at White Hart Lane it was understandably bent on survival: Neil Emblen covering for the markers, Eric Young and Dean Richards, full-backs pushed in, ambition at a premium.

When the emphasis has been entirely functional, confidence to move the ball around patiently comes at a price, requiring the coach to make allowances. "I don't think he will do that again," McGhee said of the chance Andy Thompson gifted to Clive Wilson with a risky square pass that caught his fellow defenders flat-footed. Aberrant, perhaps, but it got to the heart of transition. Under McGhee's predecessor, Graham Taylor, the first thought in Thompson's mind would have been to aim the ball forward.

When Wilson took the ball to his left before shooting through Mike Stowell's legs after only 13 minutes, Francis was contemplating a comfortable victory. A goal up, Armstrong threatening in the air, half-chances coming, Tottenham were on course to emphasise superior status until an uncharacteristic Dean Austin error had their manager fuming.

Instead of turning away from his goal, Austin under-hit a back pass to Ian Walker and Don Goodman bundled in bravely to equalise in the 28th minute. "If we'd held on to the lead and taken one of the chances that were there in the first half, it would have been the end of it," Francis said ruefully.

But now it was a different story, one of growing frustration for Tottenham and their notoriously fickle supporters who were outshouted by the Wolves contingent. As any number of old players can recall, neither of the north London clubs are conspicuous for the unstinted devotion of their followers.

Further evidence of this came in the second half as Tottenham's efforts were stifled by a Wolves defence in which their central defenders, Young marking Teddy Sheringham and Richards on Armstrong, were outstanding. "When you think that Sheringham, who is probably the best all-round centre- forward in the Premiership, certainly in my mind, hardly got into the game, Young did a tremendous job," McGhee said.

However, and despite the fact that Armstrong outsmarted him in the air, three times going close, it was Richards, just 21, who stood out, a defender of considerable potential. Beautifully balanced for one so tall, there was a maturity about his astute interventions and cool use of the ball that was reminiscent of a young Bobby Moore. Given even normal progress Richards looks set for an international career and unless Wolves achieve Premiership football quickly under McGhee they will be hard pressed to keep him.

It was Richards who did most to keep Tottenham out after the interval, three times rescuing his team when it seemed that a goal was about to come. "We simply didn't make our pressure pay," Francis said. "With so many Wolves players behind the ball it wasn't easy but I felt we were lacking in ideas."

Not Ruel Fox. Obviously earmarked as a major threat, the Tottenham winger was invariably confronted by two opponents but no one was more likely to make a mess of the Wolves strategy. A twist here, a turn there, excellent centres in conditions that did not encourage anyone to run far with the ball.

The idea, advanced by some, that Wolves were a threat throughout the game was not borne out by the fact that Walker had very little to do after half-time and a policy of containment was sometimes undermined by careless squandering of possession. With the ball being returned to their penalty area with ever increasing frequency it seemed that the Wolves goal must fall, but overall they deserved to get something out of the encounter. Whether their game can be expanded at Molineux is a different matter.

Goals: Wilson (13) 1-0; Goodman (28) 1-1.

Tottenham Hotspur (4-3-3): Walker; Austin, Calderwood, Mabbutt, Edinburgh; Campbell, Caskey, Wilson; Fox, Armstrong, Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Nethercott, Rosenthal, Day (gk).

Wolverhampton Wanderers (5-3-2): Stowell; Rankine, Young, Emblen, Richards, Thompson; Atkins, Osborn, Ferguson; Goodman, Bull. Substitutes not used: Foley, Venus, Jones (gk).

Referee: D Allison (Lancaster).

Man of the match: Fox.

Attendance: 32,812.