Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
Samways 37, Hazard pen 69, Caskey 77
Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
Fowler 49, pen 54, Redknapp 52
THEY might have been depressed. They might have been wondering if anyone seriously cared about anything other than gossip and intrigue, but Tottenham and Liverpool yesterday conjured a magical game in which Spurs exhilaratingly recovered from 3-1 down when they were in danger of being overwhelmed by one young player, 18-year-old Robbie Fowler.
After a week in which Spurs have laboured under World in Action's allegations of financial irregularities and Liverpool suffered ignominious elimination from the Coca-Cola Cup by Wimbledon, it was the sort of windswept, grey, end-of-the-year afternoon to make you forget the football. Fortunately, this was an outstanding contest.
Yesterday, Souness and Liverpool urgently needed to show a red-blooded response to that defeat in midweek. They were without the former Spur Neil Ruddock in the centre of defence and had John Barnes playing centrally behind Ian Rush and the precocious Fowler. What they wanted more than anything was to keep the pressure off a vulnerable defence, especially as Spurs had Nick Barmby back in attack.
Pushing defenders up to the halfway line to condense play and snare Spurs in an offside trap, Liverpool risked a ploy that had cost them dear against Wimbledon. But once going forward they were at their best. Fowler quickly showed his composure, noting Erik Thorstvedt's position from 20 yards out and bemusing him with a curling shot that rebounded off the post.
For 20 minutes Liverpool pressed Spurs back, spreading attacks wide and enjoying the prompting of Barnes, but in their own half they were punished for losing possession and twice Bruce Grobbelaar splendidly covered their errors, holding a close-in, free header from Vinny Samways and beating down an almost equally near-range drive from Barmby.
That turned Tottenham's attention entirely towards attack. Barmby's supply for Darren Anderton's centres became crucial, and while Liverpool struggled to control these two they lost contact with Vinny Samways.
After 36 absorbing minutes of attacking football, Jason Dozzell neatly headed down a Spurs clearance to Samways, who was edging into the penalty area. He cracked in a drive that Grobbelaar failed to reach.
Liverpool's inability to dominate midfield threatened to be their undoing, but after Barnes succumbed to a groin strain and Nigel Clough came on for the second half everything changed in a period of 10 minutes, Fowler being central to three goals.
His pace and ability to turn quickly and lose his marker indicate that he is a special player. When he dispossessed Dozzell in the 48th minute he ghosted past Colin Calderwood, sprinted forward, persuaded Thorstvedt to leave his line and beat him coldly.
Three minutes later Fowler was again threatening on the edge of the penalty area when he was fouled, leaving Jamie Redknapp to slam in a free-kick that Thorstvedt could only assist across the line.
Only two more minutes passed before Fowler played a defence-stretching pass out to Steve McManaman. The winger turned the ball back into the penalty area, where Rush was brought down by Steve Sedgley. Fowler enthusiastically and calmly stepped up to hit in the penalty, his 14th goal of the season.
With Fowler now rampant, Spurs seemed unlikely to recover, but when Redknapp failed to clear a storming 68th-minute attack he also brought down Barmby - another penalty. Micky Hazard dismissed the pressure and scored.
Spurs were revived. Hazard was inspired, creating the next attack down the right side, centring hard into the heart of the penalty area for Darren Caskey to glance in the equaliser - the only way in which such a game could end.
Perhaps it was the recent passing (the perfect word) of Danny Blanchflower, so soon after Arthur Rowe, that made it difficult to take in the fact that before the game, across the way in the crowded pub where Danny occasionally put Spurs and the world to rights, and in the carpeted stadium lounges, they had not been talking about football.
The conversations had concerned the allegations of interest-free (allegedly never repaid) loans to Ossie Ardiles when he was a player, to Paul Gascoigne and others, and whether you had seen World in Action. The talk was of Alan Sugar and how he said he had seen the programme but dismissed it as just another old soap about which he had come clean months ago.
Financial intrigue has almost taken the place of what used to be Tottenham's raison d'etre and, with Ardiles in charge, could be again - a style of football that Charles Hughes and his ilk fail to understand. Not always direct, not always practical, not always successful, but never without something to take the breath away.
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