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Match Reports

Middlesbrough v Spurs, 09.03.04


Nemeth, 74

Referee:- Mark Halsey

Attendance:- 31,789

M'brough (4-4-1-1):- Schwarzer; Davies (sub Parnaby, 46), Ehiogu, Southgate (Capt.), Queudrue; Mendietta, Boateng, Doriva (sub Maccarone, 46), Zenden; Juninho; Job (sub Nemeth, 68)

Subs not used:- Jones; Riggott

No bookings

Spurs (4-4-2):- Keller; Carr (Capt.), Richards, Gardner, Taricco; Anderton (sub Postiga, 86), Brown (sub Poyet, 80), King, Jackson (sub Dalmat, 64); Keane, Defoe

Subs not used:- Burch; Doherty

Booked:- Brown, Carr

All that sun and practice in Dubai came to nought, as Spurs ultimately succumbed to a 74th minute goal from a player who did not start the Carling Cup final for Middlesbrough - Szilard Nemeth. Indeed, Nemeth did not start this match, as Steve McLaren was happy to start with his Final line-up, with the exception of the suspended Danny Mills being replaced by the inexperienced Davies. When Davies was one of two players replaced at half-time, Middlesbrough significantly upped the tempo, and played with Juninho behind two strikers, rather than just Job, putting Spurs very much on the back foot in the second half, whereas they had the upper hand for much of the first.

Spurs' Davies had not travelled with the squad, of course, and was replaced by Darren Anderton, who regularly showed symptoms of "commitment failure" (like a few of his team-mates), as he bottled out of midfield challenges. If you ask me the Spurs men had been playing too many practice matches, and had forgotten how to put in a full-blooded challenge on too many occasions.

Most Spurs fans now question the wisdom of Richards starting games, and he had a mare of a game tonight, being put aside by Nemeth for that winner. On the whole though, Spurs were more solid, and Anthony Gardner has to be thanked for sweeping up after a few of Richards failures. I thought Ledley King had a good game in the middle, where Spurs were tougher than "Boro", who with the exception of Boateng, prefer flair players such as Mendietta, Doriva and Zenden. In the second half though, "Boro" were fighting harder for the ball, and too often winning those 50/50 challenges.

Despite their very first trophy success, and the fact that this was the first home game since Cardiff, there were a number of empty seats in the home section, but the crowd was still a healthy 31,000+. The Spurs travelling contingent was quite strong, although the support was significantly impaired by the insistence of Middlesbrough to play this game in the midweek, rather than at the week-end. The 8 p.m kick-off did not make the long journey home any better either!

Spurs had enjoyed good early possession, but the first danger came from "Boro", when Doriva pierced the defence (alright he beat Richards, then) with a ball for Juninho. Anthony Gardner came to the rescue with a fine tackle. Defoe showed a touch of class, latching onto a weak defensive header and hitting a great dipping shot, which I thought landed on top of the bar at the left corner, but may have been on the stanchion behind the bar.

Anderton caused some sighs from the travelling fans when he bottled out of a challenge on Queudrue, who found Job with his pass. Job's shot was deflected and saved by Keller low to his left. Anderton was guilty again, this time within the penalty area, as he lacked commitment in a challenge allowing another effort from Job, which was held by Keller. After 35 minutes, though, "Dazza" showed the sort of class that he has, when volleying a Jackson corner towards the roof of the net, only for Schwarzer to push over for a corner.

Mclaren had played with Job as front man, supported by Juninho, but those half time changes meant Job was joined by Maccarone, with Juninho now supporting the two. Juninho had an early flashing shot tipped over by Keller, and it was a while before Spurs had a pop at goal, when Jackson fed Brown, whose low shot tested Schwarzer. Schwarzer showed Keller how to distribute the ball quickly and effectively, as he threw directly to Juninho on the half way line, and the little Brazilian was away to the Spurs area, before his shot was cleared for a corner.

Anderton spent too much time off the field tying up his boot-laces, and whilst they had the superiority and space, Zenden hit a low shot that also tested Keller. It was beginning to look like Spurs were going to be in a 0-0, but then Mr. Halsey managed to see round a number of players from at least 30 yards away to give a penalty against Richards, who had actually won the ball with a fair tackle on Job in the box. Radio 5 Live described it as justice being done when Maccarone hit a poor penalty low to Keller's right, for the keeper to make the save.

Richards then looked like a schoolboy as he took a swing and missed his kick inside the area, presenting Job with a golden opportunity to score. Job haplessly put the ball wide from no more than 10 yards. Jackson was unlucky to be replaced by Dalmat, and really, with that move, Spurs solidarity in the middle was weakened. I'm afraid to report that Dalmat had one of his poor efforts, as his tricks simply played into the hands (or should I say feet) of the home side.

Spurs were unlucky though, in my view, when Nemeth scored the winner. Robbie Keane had just fired a low ball across the area, which Anderton just failed to reach, and which I am absolutely positive took a Middlesbrough deflection out of play. The throw that should have been Spurs went to Boro, and before you knew it, the ball was at the feet of Nemeth, racing left to right across the area, leaving Richards in his wake, and Keller too, as the keeper went down too early, leaving the Slovakian an empty net to fire into with an angled right foot shot. At last the home crowd, who had been very quiet, despite their recent success, had plenty of noise to make.

Robbie Keane hit a great shot that seemed to pass through the net, but had gone wide, and Gus Poyet replaced Michael Brown, to no effect. It was the last sub - Helder Postiga, who had a golden opportunity to get Spurs a deserved equaliser, with time to place his shot, but putting it two yards wide of the left post. In the second half, Spurs had been hustled off the ball too easily, and then when they did have it, they failed to use it intelligently, too often sending high balls for Keane and Defoe, which were never going to lead to anything.

Spurs' tough March programme continues with Sunday's home game against Newcastle. Surely no-one in their right mind seriously thinks we can finish above the present mid-table slot, do they?

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