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Spurs v Aston Villa, 27.08.1997

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

Wednesday August 27th, 1997
FA Carling Premiership
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (1) 3 ASTON VILLA (1) 2

Tottenham Hotspur : Walker; Scales, Calderwood, Edinburgh (sub Mabbutt, 58); Carr, Fox, Howells, Sinton, Clemence; Ferdinand (sub Fenn, 83), Iversen.

Subs *NOT* used: Baardsen; Nielsen, Clapham.

Booked : Ferdinand.

Scorers:-
Ferdinand, 15,66
Fox, 77

Aston Villa: Bosnich; Charles, Southgate, Ehiogu (sub Curcic, 85), Scimeca; Taylor, Draper, Townsend, Staunton; Yorke, Collymore.

Subs not used: Oakes, Milosevic, Wright, Nelson.

Scorers:-
Yorke, 27
Collymore, 87

Referee : Mr M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Attendance : 26,317.

In many years of watching football, there have been many occasions when I have not been sure whether I should be laughing my head off or crying my eyes out. It used to be said of Ted Drake's Chelsea team, back in the 1950s, that you could never be sure which Chelsea side you would see in consecutive minutes, never mind two halves of the same match. Last night's performance was very much a case of the curate's egg. There were thrills and spills, excitement and deflation, agony and ectasy. In one moment, a spectator could be applauding a brilliant move by our white shirted heroes : the next, the same spectator would be tempted to let fly a volley of unprintable oaths (this being a family match report!) at one or other of the players. It was that kind of match.

Of course, there was nothing so farcical as the famous occasion when Peter and John Sillett, later to win fame as the manager whose team won the 1987 Cup Final, managed to connect to the ball at the same time to score a priceless own goal of all own goals. But it would not have looked out of place had it happened.

Before the game, everyone was looking forward to seeing more of Jose Dominguez following his exciting debut on Saturday after coming on as substitute for the injured Ginola. Unfortunately, it appears Jose had sustained an injury in training and joined the rest of the long roll call of injuries. However, there was good news of Chris Armstrong who was due to make a reserve team appearance today (Thursday) at Plough Lane, where Wimbledon play their reserve team matches. There were also hopes that Sol Campbell would be fit for Saturday.

Aston Villa came to Tottenham, anxious to open their 1996-97 account for goals and points. They had invested an enormous amount of money in signing Stan Collymore, who has become a wondering mercenary among Premiership clubs. In dispute with Liverpool for most of last season, because of his refusal to move from the West Midlands nearer to Liverpool, Collymore was released from his contract and allowed to sign for Aston Villa. Whilst Collymore can undoubtedly score goals, one has to query his temperament and inability to compromise. No one in his right mind would voluntarily want to leave Liverpool but Collymore would not bend and, rightly, Roy Evans refused to yield in defence of his principles.

Ferdinand scored the first goal in the fifth minute of the match. Fox began the move by picking up the ball in the middle of the pitch and set off on a run towards the corner flag at the High Road/Edmonton end of the ground. Ferdinand ran intelligently in support and was quick to move when Fox back-heeled the ball to him, catching Aston Villa in two minds. Bosnich had no chance as Ferdinand slipped the ball home. In the wake of the Tottenham celebrations, I saw Bosnich 'having a go' at Ehiogu for not clearing the ball.

For half an hour, we were then entertained by movement after movement with lots of intelligent off the ball running, a sight rarely seen from Tottenham players in the immediate past. "I 'aven't got the ball so why should I run?" has seemed to be the attitude of players at times. But Clemence, a much more intelligent player than Perryman at the same stage of his career, was tireless in his search to keep Tottenham moving forward. Sure, he made mistakes, at least one that could have been crucial, but that's part of his learning curve.

What I found annoying was the prolificacy when it came to spurning the number of chances Tottenham had. Ferdinand alone could have had four goals before half-time. I remember muttering to myself that Tottenham might well have cause to regret these spurned chances.

Villa cancelled out Tottenham's early goal when Sinton was caught in possession. Draper pushed the ball forward. Yorke burst into Tottenham's area and did not hesitate as Walker came out to try to prevent the goal.

Thus was the state of affairs when the teams went in for half-time.

It did not take long for Villa to snatch the lead after half-time. The Tottenham defence hesitated fatally and allowed Collymore time to react to volley the ball home.

The groans that greeted this goal spurred the bench into making some substitutions. Edinburgh was called off, apparently injured, and Mabbutt came on, to rapturous applause, for his first League appearance since sustaining a broken leg at Blackburn on the opening day of the 1996-97 season. Drawing on his long experience, Mabbutt calmed the jittery defence and restored some order.

Slowly, the football began to re-appear and we saw less and less of the Route 1 overhead kicking. As the football re-appeared, so Tottenham began to dominate the match again. Fox unleashed a cross that Ferdinand connected to at the far post to bullet the ball home. It evoked memories of Cliff Jones, Mike England, Martin Peters and Alan Gilzean at their best.

Ferdinand returned the compliment soon afterwards. Andy Sinton's cross was headed back to the oncoming Fox, whose shot completely deceived Sinton. Well might Fox revel in celebrating his goal. Last season Fox was universally reviled and barracked by Tottenham fans as he looked a very unco-ordinated player. Indeed, he almost left for Leicester City during the summer.

Late in the match, Ferdinand suffered concussion for the second time during the game and was substituted. Neale Fenn came on but had scarcely any time to make any impact as Villa tried to pull the game out of the fire.

After the game, Mabbutt told the press that he was glad to have played part of the match as a substitute. "It has been a long year for me, the longest I have been out of football. And I will admit there were occasions when there was a niggling feeling about whether I would get back. What was good about the Villa game was that even though we went 2-1 down, the heads never dropped - not one of them."

Gerry Francis added, "We now have players under pressure for their places. Last season it was basically a matter of only having kids to come in if someone dropped out. Not now."

So to Saturday and the battle for supremacy in North London!

Cheers, Brian

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