FA BARCLAYCARD PREMIERSHIP
SATURDAY 31ST AUGUST, 2002
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (1) SOUTHAMPTON 1 (1)
Sheringham (pen), 90
Taricco (o.g), 30
Referee:- M. Dean
Spurs (4-4-2):- Keller; Taricco (sub Bunjevcevic, 72), Doherty, Richards, Thatcher; Davies, Redknapp, Acimovic (sub Blondel, 79), Etherington; Sheringham (Capt.), Ferdinand (sub Iversen, 64)
Subs not used:- Hirschfield; Perry
Booked:- Redknapp, Richards, Ferdinand
Southampton (4-4-2):- Jones; Telfer, M. Svensson, Williams, Bridge; Fernandes, A. Svensson, Delap, Marsden (Capt.); Beattie, Ormerod
Subs not used:- Niemi; Dodd, El-Khalej; Oakley; Pahars
Sent off:- M. Svensson
We ARE top of the league. We would have been top even if we had drawn, as was looking inevitable until Teddy Sheringham converted a 90th minute penalty after Michael Svensson deliberately handled Steffen Iversen's goal-bound shot, as Spurs put the pressure on in the dying minutes of a game that turned out to be much, much tougher than most had expected. Southampton will probably feel much-aggrieved, as they had us on the back foot for most of the game after we had dominated the first twenty minutes. One could not have argued at the fairness of a share of the spoils, and as those latter stages arrived, it was one of those games where we were going to be happy with a draw.
Spurs did not defend with the confidence of their first three games, sorely missing Anthony Gardner. Gary Doherty started at the back for the first time this term, and suffered at the hands of James Beattie, who had the beating of him, most of the time. Neither Doherty or Richards were commanding in the air; Thatcher left too many spaces on the left, and Taricco was somewhat sluggish on the right, although he was up against man of the match contender - Fabrice Fernandes, signed from Rennes, but formerly on loan with Fulham.
Acimovic started, and Jamie Redknapp played a more withdrawn role at the back of an attacking midfield that suffered under the physical pressure of the Saints, who found their feet after an opening spell in which they gave the ball away too cheaply, and defended too deeply.
Robbie Keane was proudly paraded before the game, (Full details of this story) and the home crowd was ready for a day of celebration, knowing that Leeds had been defeated at Birmingham, and that top place was up for grabs, if they could gain an expected victory. It looked as if that aim was going to be comfortably achieved as early as the first minute, when Matthew Etherington beat Telfer inside and out, crossed and the ball reached Acimovic outside the area, whose low shot was saved by Jones diving to his left.
Spurs were playing towards the Paxton Road end, and I suspect that Teddy Sheringham chooses this to unsettle the opposition sometimes. (Teams usually play towards their own fans in the second half). Acimovic was in the frame again after 6 minutes, when he fed the ball to Teddy, who had Les Ferdinand and Simon Davies available to him on the right. Teddy chose to shoot from 25 yards, and his shot was across the target and wide.
Spurs took an early lead in the tenth minute. Taricco had sent Etherington away with a lovely cross field ball, and Matty had won a corner. Acimovic took the kick which beat Jones and Teddy, at the back post, put the ball in to Ferdinand, whose close-range shot was helped across the line by Marsden. The next chance fell to Redknapp, who tried a 30 yard dipper that went over the bar.
So far, there had been little pressure from Southampton, but things changed when Bridge sent a right foot cross deep across the area from the left, and Fernandes low shot was pushed round by Kasey Keller for a corner. The Saints got their reward for increased possession when Thatcher and Richards struggled on the left against Fernandes. A low cross went across the goalmouth, and it looked initially like Beattie had turned the ball in, but in fact it was a Taricco own goal. Thatcher had the chance to make amends when he collected a ball from Acimovic outside the left of the area. The ball fell for Ben, but Jones was equal to his low shot.
Gordon Strachan had certainly wound his men up to increase their tempo, and one of his ex-Coventry defenders, Paul Telfer, tried a long range right foot shot that only just went over Kasey Keller's bar. Then Marsden was threading the ball through to Ormerod who beat Doherty, but could only half hit a shot that Keller saved easily. Ormerod then made a good turn with another Telfer pass, and tested Kasey more with a well-hit low shot. Redknapp got booked for late lunge, which was caused somewhat by a weak ball from Ben Thatcher that put Jamie under pressure, as the Saints countered quickly from a Spurs corner. Simon Davies had the first of three good chances before the break. Teddy Sheringham headed down to Davies, whose low shot went under a defender and was saved by Jones with his leg. Simon had a second bite, but this time put his shot just over the bar.
Spurs had a little pressure following an early corner after the break, and Gary Doherty returned the ball quickly to Ben Thatcher who sent Etherington away. Matty's deep cross should have been planted in the net, but Dean Richards headed just past the post. Davies' second chance arrived three minutes later, when Taricco crossed to Teddy who quickly passed to Simon on the right of the area in a similar spot to that where he scored on Tuesday at the Valley. Simon hit a low shot, which Jones saved comfortably.
The game got a little more physical, and Saints were finding too much space in Spurs defensive areas, due to the probing of Fernandes, and Anders Svensson, who had been keeping Jamie Redknapp under wraps too. The left seemed to be particularly vulnerable, especially from corners. The referee started waving cards about, and Les Ferdinand got booked for dissent in his frustration at decisions going against him in the middle of the park. Rory Delap beat Keller with a clever back header, that landed on top of the net. Iversen replaced Ferdinand, but was to have little impact on the game, although it was his shot which led to the penalty.
With 20 minutes left, the Spurs crowd got more anxious, and were much relieved to see Kasey Keller send Matthew Etherington away with a quick release from a corner. Etherington took the ball all the way to the edge of the box, then forced a tip round the corner from Jones when he shot at goal. Bunjevcevic replaced Taricco, and Spurs reverted to 3-5-2 for the first time this season. This released Redknapp from defensive duties, and whilst Saints still had plenty of possession, Spurs regained some momentum.
England full back Wayne Bridge tested Keller with a couple of long range shots on the run, and Gary Doherty had a free header from a corner that he put outside the target. Beattie hit a shot that nicked the top of the bar, and this was the time when we were going to settle with a draw. Simon Davies had his third good opportunity when Bunjevcevic teed him up, but Simon hit his shot agonisingly wide of goal, with Jones struggling. Simon had a good game though, and with four minutes to go, did well to bring the ball out of defence, find Matthew Etherington, whose deep cross was headed back across the goal, but wide by Sheringham.
There was late pressure from Spurs, as Redknapp had a shot from a corner deflected over, and Davies had a speculative shot from another half-clearance go just wide of the top corner. Then came the late drama, as Svensson handled a goal-bound ball in another scramble. Not only was his offence spotted by referee Mike Dean, but he had to trudge off for his infringement, much to the displeasure of the visitors. Sheringham did well to keep his concentration in the delay and furore, before confidently putting the ball into Jones right corner for victory!
The players, and crowd were ecstatic, and the "We are top of the league" chant echoed around the stadium. Spurs are three points clear, with Arsenal and Liverpool to play over the week-end. This is the best start I can find since 1967. Wouldn't it be great if our rivals only drew, or lost so that we might stay top for 10 days?
A special mention should be made of Jonathan Blondel, who came on for the last 10 minutes in a difficult situation, and did not put a foot wrong. He chased back with pace, and demonstrated accuracy with his passing under pressure. Indeed it was ball from him to Davies that led to the penalty situation.
Chant of the day:-
WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE,
WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE!
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