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Aston Villa v Spurs, 26.12.97

"It was Twenty Years ago today!"
article published December, 2017, but first written in 1997 by the late Brian Judson

Friday, December 26th, 1997
FA Carling Premiership
ASTON VILLA (1) 4 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (0) 1

Aston Villa : Bosnich; Nelson, Scimeca, Ehiogu, Staunton; Draper, Taylor, Grayson, Wright; Milosevic, Collymore.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Oakes, Charles, Hendrie, Collins, Byfield.

Booked : Ehiogu.

Goalscorers : Draper 2 (38, 68), Collymore 2 (81, 89).

Tottenham Hotspur : Walker; Carr, Campbell, Mabbutt (sub Anderton, 73), Wilson (sub Allen, 73); Calderwood, Fox, Nielsen, Sinton (sub Clemence, 25); Ginola, Iversen.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Baardsen, Domingues.

Goalscorer : Calderwood (59).

Referee : Mr A B Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Attendance : 38,644.

As a reporter of Tottenham's matches, I try to be fair and impartial. But as Tottenham grow increasingly inept, hopeless and completely lacking in confidence of any kind, it is increasingly difficult to be optimistic about the future. Tottenham have gone so long on their travels without gaining the glance of Lady Luck that as soon as they fall behind they seem to accept they are beaten. The players simply have to learn the old maxim of Dave Mackay : a match is *NEVER* lost until the final whistle goes, no matter how remote the likelihood of a victory.

With Klinsmann allowed to remain in Italy for Christmas, because Tottenham did not think international clearance would be received in time, the team largely picked itself. Despite pleas from Scales and Ferdinand to play, neither were considered by Herr Gross, although they travelled to the match, as did the suspended Vega. Calderwood was again played in midfield, a miscasting of a footballer who should never be playing at this level.

Villa surprisingly decided to play Collymore, despite his being involved in a fracas with his former girl friend that ended in his spending a night in a police cell. His manager said he had had a chat with Collymore and they had agreed he was fit to play.

The early stages of the match gave no clues regarding the denouement of the climax. Both sides were totally inept, giving away possession of the ball to match the spirit of the season. The benovolent Mr Wilkie presided over proceedings, occasionally handing out a lecture when detecting a misdemeanour.

I was surprised that Mr Wilkie took no action when Andy Sinton was sandwiched between the double challenge of Draper and Taylor soon after 20 minutes had been played. Sinton, hardly surprisingly, collapsed in a heap. The Villa players seemed to be saying to the referee that Sinton had dived when the referee awarded a free kick to Tottenham. But Sinton lay in a heap despite lengthy attention from Tony Lenighan and eventually Sinton was stretchered off. I raised my eyebrows when Clemence came on as substitute. If Anderton is allegedly fit, why didn't Anderton come on at that point?

As Tottenham's midfield came increasingly under the cosh from their Villa counterparts, Ginola abandoned any pretence of playing as a striker and fell back to try to sort things out. This left Iversen alone up front, something hardly likely to instil any confidence into him.

It came as no surprise when Villa eventually went ahead in the 38th minute. Staunton set Milosevic free on the right. None of the Spurs players challenged him and left him free to lob the ball to the far post. The blond head of Mark Draper made sufficient connection to nod the ball beyond Walker's clawing fingers.

Herr Gross evidently put some fire into Tottenham's bellies because, for a while, they played something like the team they should be. Tottenham applied some pressure to Villa's defence and eventually equalised, if rather fortunate to do so. Fox unleashed a shot that Bosnich instinctively saved. The ball ran loose to Clemence, whose gentle shot seemed to be deflected by Calderwood. Although the reports suggest the ball hit Calderwood on the arm, I have looked at the action replays and cannot see it in the forest of players scrambling in front of the goal.

Spurs were not level for long. Villa were soon on the attack again and tragedy hit Tottenham when Walker and, I think, Iversen rather than Nielsen collided as Walker went to catch a Collymore cross. As the two Tottenham players collapsed in a heap, Draper poked the ball into the unguarded Tottenham goal. In the wake of this goal, Walker was captured by the Sky cameras furiously swearing at someone, who I presumed to be the hapless Iversen. If only Walker showed as much passion at other times!

After that, there was only going to be one winner. The question was how many Villa would bother to score. All trace of their hesitance had disappeared as they knocked the ball about, teasing the Tottenham players.

The double substitution of Anderton and Allen for Mabbutt and Wilson came far too late. In any case, soon afterwards, Allen was injured in a tackle and could only limp around helplessly before limping off for good, reducing Tottenham to ten men.

And then Collymore suddenly sprang into life after spending much of the preceding time striking posing attitudes. Grayson tore down the right wing, his shot hit the post but rebounded to Collymore, who turned the ball into the unguarded goal before Walker could recover.

Then, in the last minute, Villa won a free-kick on the edge of the area after Carr had handled the ball. There had been some appeals for a penalty from Villa but Mr Wilkie was having none of that, waving them away. He proceeded to organise the Tottenham defence. I thought Walker might have placed Carr at the near upright as a precaution whilst he covered the other side of the wall. But he didn't and it came as no surprise when Collymore lobbed the ball over the wall into the unguarded space by the upright.

Hopefully, Klinsmann will be back on Sunday for Arsenal. But Tottenham need more than just a striker who knows where the opposition goal is. They need a completely new team. The current team's confidence is so fragile it does not take long to shatter it. It particularly needs a captain who is combative, someone out of the Vinny Jones mould as he used to be or David Batty. We need someone who can grab hold of some of the more faint-hearted players and shake them up and tell them to get on with *winning* the game, even if Tottenham happen to be losing 5-0.

O! Burgess! O! Mackay! O! Mullery! O! Roberts! O! Gough! Where are you in our hour of need!

But Villa should not be complacent. Collymore may have scored two goals but he didn't perform very much apart from that. They have plenty of their own problems. Too much depends on Staunton, for example. In defence, he shores the Villa defence up but he can add to their options in midfield. Villa looked anaemic in midfield at times until Tottenham collapsed. Certainly, I cannot see Villa achieving much with this team even if they are in the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup.

And so to the battle for supremacy in North London. At least Arsenal have problems of their own ....

Cheers, Brian

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