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FA Carling Premiership, 26/12/99
Tottenham Hotspur
By Ian Grant

There's nothing left to say, is there?

The same old story, over and over and over. The plodding inevitability of endless defeats, each new fixture bringing fresh optimism to be crushed. Minute shreds of hope, blown away in a Premiership hurricane.

There really is nothing left to say. The repetition in these reports merely reflects the matches, and is as thoroughly tedious to write as it will be to read. Inadequate defence, battling midfield, inadequate attack. Six words that could sum up any number of games.

It has become a matter of waiting for a miracle, and what happens while we're waiting is almost irrelevant. Last time we travelled into London, we conceded five and were plunged into crisis; this time, we conceded four and there was barely a shrug of the shoulders. I once played a board game with someone who didn't throw a starting six until everyone else had finished, and I'm beginning to realise how he must've felt.

There is no real shame in any of this, only an acute and heartfelt sense of disappointment and frustration. Places like White Hart Lane, silent as a library throughout, ought to be venues for great, just victories. We should be able to trip these bastards up, to take advantage of their misplaced arrogance. Instead, we are able only to feed their superiority complexes. And, much as people like me will continue to believe that anything is possible, there is no sign of a change.

Spurs are David Ginola plus a supporting cast. They're not terribly good. And they destroyed us. As at Wimbledon, the difference in the final third was so vast that possession meant nothing, a territorially well-matched contest was also an utter rout. A quick glance through my notes tells me that the home side might've racked up a dozen goals in a game that they rarely dominated and, Ginola aside, never illuminated with real brilliance. We are not hard to beat at the moment.

For half an hour, we enjoyed some of those minute shreds of hope that I mentioned earlier. Not because we began with any confidence, but simply because Spurs' finishing was so atrocious. Let's face it, in the continued absence of diligent and capable defending, ninety minutes of missed chances would go a pretty bloody long way right now.

It looked promising, in a topsy-turvy kinda way. Spurs tore us to shreds in the first five minutes, putting their midweek hammering to one side in a way that our shell-shocked players have not been able to do. We've still not adjusted to the sheer pace of the Premiership - the way, for example, that set pieces are executed not only with precision but with speed of thought and action - and our opponents offered us no chance to get our bearings.

Yet they didn't score, and we wondered whether our luck would hold. Three minutes in, and Iversen dragged a shot across the face of goal after being released on the break by Sherwood.

If that was a good chance, then the one that fell to Nielsen a minute later was unmissable. Caught out by a quickly-taken free kick, our defence had just not organised itself as Carr's right wing cross came in. Nielsen was unmarked at the near post, yet somehow managed to misdirect his header across goal and wide. Campbell climbed to head over from a corner almost immediately afterwards, and we were doing nothing more than hanging on.

The pressure didn't last, though, and Campbell's header was the last Tottenham goal attempt for more than fifteen minutes. Scrapping and battling away in midfield, we managed to push the home side back and break up much of their play. We'd weathered the storm, and the pin-drop silence around this charmless and soulless stadium became ever more eerie.

As always, our forward play lacked the bite to take advantage of Spurs' sudden confidence crisis. There were little signs of improvement - David Perpetuini made a lively, quietly impressive Premiership debut on the left; Neil Cox showed more willingness to move into the space in front of him on the right - yet there is no disguising the fact that we are still without the ability to hurt our opponents.

So all the efforts were necessarily ambitious - Michel Ngonge's charge at the Spurs defence, ending with a wild shot; Neil Cox's bustling and purposeful run from the right wing, ending with a much more accurate shot that went a yard or so past the post. Best of all, after twenty-five minutes, was Micah Hyde's casual saunter towards goal and piercing drive that brought the first save from Walker, diving to his right to push the ball away.

In between, Iversen headed tamely at Alec Chamberlain, a chance which resulted from a Ginola-Clemence short corner routine that was used repeatedly until we finally brought two players back on the stroke of half-time. At this level, you have to be more intelligent than that.

The scoreboard clock ticked towards the interval, and the prospect of a goalless first half seemed more than satisfactory. As Spurs' mediocrity started to show itself, so Ginola's demonstrative frustration grew. On one hilarious occasion, a promising Tottenham break was ended by the offside flag simply because the Frenchman was still wandering back in tearful distress from an attack that'd broken down a minute or so earlier. What a tart.

What a talent. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, he was the difference between the sides. As the game slid into nil-nil oblivion, Spurs had a superhero to hear the cry for help and save the day. It wasn't that we weren't warned - a twenty yard drive that Chamberlain saved, spilled and claimed as Iversen looked to pounce. It was just that we couldn't get close enough to him to make a tackle, so the warning made no difference. Two minutes after that shot, he danced in from the wing, left Micah Hyde stumbling, forced Neil Cox to usher him towards the penalty area, waited for his moment and scored as defenders dived in.

The collapse was immediate and inevitable. Defending against the sublime artistry of Ginola is perhaps too much to ask of these players, defending against the basic you-go-wide-and-I-stay-here tactics of Armstrong and Iversen certainly isn't. Spurs had to produce something special to take the lead, but it was dreadfully easy from that point on. Armstrong headed onto the roof of the net from yet another short corner, then strode down the right wing into acres of space to cross for Iversen to make it two with a precise but unchallenged header.

So, from hard-fought stalemate to comprehensive defeat in five minutes. And Ginola nearly added the finishing touch with one of his specialities, a vicious, whipped twenty-five yard curler that screamed past Chamberlain's right-hand post and crashed into the advertising hoardings. That's some player, that is.

Sweeping changes from Graham Taylor as the second half began, the problem being that our substitutes' bench is not currently a likely source of inspiration. While Charlie Miller may be proven but unreliable, Dominic Foley and Johann Gudmundsson are not even proven and there was little hope of a sudden change of fortune. Lightweight and yet simultaneously ponderous, our attack was never going to be able to compensate for the defensive failings at the other end.

Spurs slowed down...but they'd hardly been breaking the speed limit during the first half. Aside from a very neat bit of interplay between Foley and Gudmundsson, ending with the Icelander shooting across the face of goal from twenty yards, there was only one side likely to score. We looked lost and dejected, way out of our depth. Armstrong awkwardly hooked the ball over from fifteen yards after attempted clearances ricocheted around the penalty area; Sherwood smacked in a fierce drive from the edge of the box, only denied by Chamberlain's acrobatic tip over.

Although the pressure was far from incessant, Spurs appeared able to create chances at will. Realistically, there was never any possibility of keeping them down to just the two. After ten minutes, numerous diving blocks managed to delay the inevitable...until the ball broke to Ginola on the edge of the box, he shuffled his way brilliantly into a crossing position and delivered with precision, and Sherwood stooped to head in from eight yards. In the end, we were going to pay for the frightening number of free headers in and around the six yard box.

Even the third goal didn't awake the crowd. With Watford fans feeling thoroughly depressed and Spurs fans contentedly digesting Christmas lunch, the final scenes were played out to complete disinterest. The occasional taunt from the away section brought either amused applause or brief reaction, otherwise there would've been nothing to indicate to the occupants of surrounding streets that a football match was taking place. Even by Premiership standards, White Hart Lane is particularly vacuous.

It took the substitution of David Ginola to bring the home supporters momentarily to life, with boos and jeers ringing around the stadium. There were even a few "Graham out!" chants...something of a novelty when the team's winning by three goals, I would've thought. Then the grumbling subsided and peace was restored. God, I'd love to come here and win....

Back on the pitch, Ginola had conjured up yet another opportunity prior to his departure - Armstrong unable to score with the umpteenth unchallenged header, from a right wing free kick this time. Although Foley tested Walker with a fine drive, it was a rare moment of clarity from our attack and numerous crosses from both flanks resulted in precisely nothing. In case I'm not making this obvious enough, we look like a very poor side at the moment.

Mercifully, Wimbledon remains the low point for now. While Spurs continued to create openings in the last ten minutes, there was to be only one more goal. For that, we have Alec Chamberlain and no-one else to thank.

After Clemence and Iverson had both had efforts deflected wide, Sherwood rose to meet a corner and make it the squalid tradition of conceding at least one goal direct from a flag-kick remains. Then Taricco's tremendous shot from twenty yards left the Watford keeper scrambling backwards to make a blinding save, shoving the ball over the bar with one hand before ending up in the back of the net.

And there it ended. Crushing defeats have become almost mundane now, and the Watford players were applauded by many of those who'd stayed until the end. There seems to be no sense in apportioning blame any more. Perhaps it's resignation, perhaps it's that we have nothing to lose. Perhaps it's just that we're all exhausted and numb.

Not the happiest Christmas, then.