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West Ham v Spurs, 13.08.1997

"It was Twenty Years ago today!"
article published August 13th, 2017, but first written in 1997

This report was composed by Dr. Ivan Cohen, and is reproduced with permission and with my grateful thanks.

FA CARLING PREMIERSHIP
Wednesday 13th August, 1997
West Ham United 2(1) Tottenham Hotspur 1(0)

West Ham scorers:-
Hartson, 3
Berkovic, 70

Spurs scorer:- Ferdinand, 81

Attendance:- 25,354

Referee:- S. Lodge

Teams:- West Ham:- Miklosko; Potts, Breaker, (Rio) Ferdinand, Rieper, Lazaridis; Moncur (sub Lampard, 85), Berkovic, Lomas; Hartson (sub Dowie, 86), Kitson (sub Hughes, 88)

Booked:- Lomas

Spurs:- Walker; Carr, Scales, Vega, Campbell (sub Clemence, 16), Edinburgh; Nielsen (sub Sinton, 77), Howells, Ginola; Iversen, (Les) Ferdinand

Booked:- Iversen, Clemence

There are few things in this life which I love more than Spurs. My beautiful wife, Jeanine, is the obvious example. The rest of my family are not too far behind.

Equally, these days there are very few things which really make me angry (I have mellowed as I approach middle age!), although in the past few weeks these few things seem to have been surfacing with increasing frequency: * I hate the fact that I do not have enough wealth to retire to a country estate and provide a luxurious lifestyle for my stupendously sexy wife; * I hate that AOL's ListServ sends my e-mail messages through in a different order than that in which they were originally sent; * I hate people who profess to be Manchester United fans, yet have never actually seen them play in the flesh (a prejudice that I apply equally across-the-board to all professional football clubs, as long-time Listees know well!); * And I am full of bile for what emerged on the field of play at Upton Park last evening, when Spurs took on the home team in the second game of this season's Premiership.

Despite having played relatively well on Sunday against the Champions, Spurs' manager Gerry Francis saw fit to change the system, to something not yet seen before in quite this variant. With Stephen Clemence apparently rested due to a minor injury, John Scales was brought back into an otherwise unchanged team. The back five lined up in something I can only describe as a "W formation", with Scales playing slightly ahead of the two centre-backs, Vega and Campbell. Full-backs were the ubiquitous Justin Edinburgh (left) and Steve Carr (right). Midfield was the trio of Howells (captain), Nielsen (again playing on the right side, rather than his more natural preference), and the mercurial Ginola, who was allowed the freedom of the park. Front-men were Les Ferdinand and Steffen Iversen, and Ian Walker was once again between the sticks.

The following question has to be posed: how do you take a body of men, many of whom are renowned internationals, and turn them into a disorganised rabble with no cohesion, no team spirit, and no sense of what is required of them? I am personally unsure of the answer, although I know that the majority of answers will come from those who were NOT in attendance at last night's game. What I do know is this is what happened from the third minute, when an error from Steve Carr (giving away possession on the flank, although there was little by way of support) allowed West Ham to gain an early goal. From this dreadful start things only got worse and worse throughout the first half.

Had Mabbs been on the field, I feel sure he would have berated or consoled Carr (as Mabbs thought fitting), allowing him to continue to play on. As it was no leadership was exhibited and Carr's despondency at his error got gloomier, and his play slipped into ever worse territory. Of course, his team-mates did little to help, often playing the ball to him when he had no support, as if to replicate the original error. If Spurs were trying to deimate this young man's career in a single evening, they were going about it with great aplomb, which is more than can be said for their own game generally.

On the fifteen minute mark (or so), Sol started to appear to be limping. He began trying to run off the problem, but when it became obvious that it was not getting better he made the cardinal error of staying on his feet. Surely a professional player who requires treatment knows to drop to the ground and seek the referee's attention? Not Sol; not tonight. And the bench acted as if they had not seen the episode, to add insult to injury. Eventually, Sol was subbed, and Clem was brought on, bringing the team to a more usual 4-4-2 formation. With Clem in midfield we started to show a little more shape and played more ball on the ground through the middle. Clem likes to show for everyone on the field, offering always a short-pass option (my idea of good midfield play). He is still young and this was his second game at Premiership level, and he occasionally got caught out dwelling on the ball, but was streets ahead of his more experienced team-mates. What little forward momentum there was first half was through the skill of debutant Clem and the combative display of Justin Edinburgh. However, like Sunday's match, there was little effective link-up play between the midfield and the forwards. Any good football in the midfield becomes stifled as play approaches the eighteen-yard box, when the only tactic seems to be a cross to the far post (or beyond). In some cases, this might be more effective if Allan Nielsen was not the only midfielder supporting the forwards in the area. My personal preference would be to continue to play on the deck into the area, and work at creating better scoring opportunities. in the first half, anything which Spurs attempted came through slow and ponderous build-ups, which West Ham were easily able to break down and swiftly convert into offensive capability of their own. Their players strode through our midfield, passing the ball fluidly, in nothing short of a lesson as to how it should be done. For those of us at the match, this was forty-five minutes of frustration and a real test of our character. Who to blame: everyone on the Spurs' payroll. It was really so surprising that at the interval we were only a goal behind.

Spurs seemed somewhat reinvigorated for the second half, and Stevie Carr appeared to have regained his composure. Nonetheless, whatever game-plan they had been asked to employ seemed ineffectual, and the players definitely lacked belief. It is difficult to criticise players, as each of them individually was making the supreme effort individually in the second half to bring Spurs back into it. But it was a performance of little cohesion, and little team spirit. And when West Ham got their second goal, effortlessly a tad against the run of play, one wondered if Spurs were in for a rout.

It is a credit to the players individually that they rolled their sleeves up and began to fight for every ball (not always successfully). They showed character, and from where I was sitting (well, standing angrily) it seemed as if they had thrown the manager's plan out and were going to just get on with things to the best of their abilities. Vega made constant dangerous runs forward and was unlucky not to score on a number of occasions. For me his work was sterling, and he played with his heart on his sleeve, exhorting the fans to get behind the team. And so they did, engaging at one point in a ten or more minute rendition of "We are Tottenham, From the Lane" (shortly followed by "We want Francis out").

In the last quarter-hour or so Spurs showed the kind of fighting spirit, which had it been evident from minute one might have prevented this kind of dire performance. Clemence was involved throughout to the extent that Howells was often anonymous. Nielsen had become so emotionally overwrought that he was always involved, but without enough cool to control the ball. He was replaced by Sinton with ten or so minutes remaining, and suddenly Spurs looked better value for money (well, some value anyway). A quick throw-in from Justin set Sinton on a short run down the left flank and towards the box. An early LOW cross along the six-yard line was met by Les F: his first goal for Spurs, from the first decent service he has received since his transfer. Despite having another couple of half-chances, the match ended 2-1 in favour of the home team.

No leadership was shown throughout this match, except perhaps by the incredible Ramon Vega. Here is a natural captain, who showed fighting spirit and class on the ball throughout. He and Scales did well enough in defence together, so that Sol's absence (may it be short) should not be too much of a problem. Clem should retain his place in midfield, and the return of Sinton is needed.

The Spurs' away support remains as superb as ever. Whatever the feelings of the supporters to Gerry F or to individual players is put aside as the voices are raised in unison to try to get behind the team and give them a lift. But more is needed from the team to deserve this kind of support.

While it is tempting to read a lot into the first two performances of the season, I will avoid doing so. However, the management team do not have much time to knit things together on the field of play. Football is a game that thrives on momentum: a losing team acquires the habit, just as much as a winning team acquires its more desirable habit. There are too many decent players at Spurs for this kind of performance to be considered acceptable. The injuries excuse is no longer warranted, if indeed it ever truly was. There are ten days before the next game to bring things to some kind of a positive head. On Capital Gold many Spurs' supporters on the way back from the game were calling for Francis to be sacked or resign; before the FA Cup third round this is extremely unlikely. And as the radio presenter pointed out, whom would you have replace him? The Premiership is full of manager not unlike Gerry Francis, and suggestions of new-blood Mabbs/Hughton combinations are unlikely to generate much positive interest where it counts. Klinsmann has already committed himself elsewhere. But, I feel certain that Mr Sugar et al will be going through football managers' cvs discreetly over the next few weeks, especially on the evidence of last night. Not as bad as Notts County away under Ossie, but not a night most of us will recall with great feeling.

Read Brian Judson's preview for this game.
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