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Spurs v Leicester, 14.02.98

"It was Twenty Years ago today!"
article published February, 2018, but first written in 1998 by the late Brian Judson

Saturday, February 14th, 1997
FA Carling Premiership

Tottenham Hotspur : Baardsen; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Wilson (sub Edinburgh, 46); Fox, Berti, Calderwood (sub Brady, 67), Nielsen; Armstrong, Ginola.

Substitutes *NOT* used: Grodas, Mabbutt, Dominguez.

Goalscorer : Calderwood 51.

Bookings : None.

Leicester City : Arphexad; Prior, Elliott, Kaamark; Savage, Guppy, Izzett, Lennon, Parker (sub Zagorakis, 28); Cottee, Heskey.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Andrews, Fenton, Campbell, Wilson.

Goalscorer : Cottee 34.

Booked : Izzett, Savage.

Referee : Mr S J Lodge (South Yorkshire).

Attendance : 28,355.

This match was never going to be a game to enthral the neutral or unattached supporter. How could it ever be an open match of thrust, cut and parry when Martin O'Neill is manager of the opposition? On paper, Leicester were taking risks, playing only three at the back. In practice, the moment Leicester lost possession, even Heskey and Cottee retreated to deep in their own half. The game plan was, obviously, defend in depth, hope to snatch one, and then defend in depth to hold on to the lead.

But battered Spurs had other ideas. The eleven who started the game had virtually picked themselves because they were the only ones who were fit to play. There was a collective groan when it was realised that Calderwood was yet again playing in midfield and that Wilson was again intended to guard Tottenham's left flank. But 'Dustbin' Edinburgh and the second most nicest man on earth, Gary Mabbutt, were on the bench. One was destined to leave the bench whilst the other had to settle for the occasional warm-up.

Spurs could have snatched the lead in the first minute. Arphexad seemed nervy and overawed by his surroundings and made a complete hash of the first goal kick of the afternoon. The ball flew straight to Armstrong, who sent off goalwards. But the efficiency of the Leicester defenders denied Armstrong the chance to tear up the Leicester game plan.

When Spurs had the ball and were going forward, they exuded confidence. They knocked the ball about with some aplomb and cockiness but were always confronted with Leicester's iron curtain of 11 players defending in depth. No matter how Ginola twisted and turned nor how hard Fox ran on the right flank, no one had the nous to turn the key to unlock Leicester's defence. Even when they managed to work the ball behind the flanks of the Leicester defence, Arphexad was there to catch the cross before Vega, Campbell or Armstrong could connect with the ball.

But when Tottenham lost possession, they were as nervy as a cat who knows there are a pack of dogs waiting to chase him. Their defending was, sometimes, incredibly naive.

In the 34th minute, Leicester took the lead. Zagorakis, who had replaced Parker, fired in a shot that Baardsen could not hold. Cottee was the first to react and had bundled the ball into the back of the net before Tottenham could move to stop him.

There were those who blamed Baardsen for the goal but my impression was that the ball came off a divot to fall into Cottee's path. My impression was that Baardsen would have won the ball before Cottee got to it if it hadn't been for the divot.

Baardsen did much better with two other chances for Leicester. When confronted with a left-footed swinging shot from Heskey, Baardsen managed to get his finger tips to the ball to push it over the bar. Then, later, when Carr made a square pass across the box which Heskey intercepted, Baardsen dashed out and blocked Heskey's shot so it flew off his outstretched leg.

But, in general, Leicester rarely attacked, preferring Tottenham to run at their defensive wall. However, when Dustbin came on for Wilson, there was more penetration down the left. Dustbin, no rare shy flower, muscularly elbowed players out of his path as he hugged the line as close as he dared. He linked up well with Ginola, who had been becoming frustrated with the tenacity of the Leicester defence.

Yet when Tottenham scored, it was all down to two of the most barracked players in Tottenham's squad who took the credit. Fox raced down the wing and cut inside. Arphexad spread himself well to block Fox's shot but could not hold it. Calderwood dashed up as the ball ran loose. We held our breath, expecting to see the ball curl high into the South Stand with all the aplomb of a rugby union conversion. And then the net was billowing, Calderwood disappearing under a forest of delighted Spurs players whilst Arphexad punched the ground in disgust whilst his defenders pointed the finger at each other for not picking up the unmarked Calderwood.

Soon after Calderwood was called off, Brady replacing him, as Spurs went in search of a winner. Yet, long before the end, I was settling for a draw. I think Leicester had, also.

A point is better than having games in hand. The table shows us four points clear of Crystal Palace, who will now need two wins to climb above us. Our fate is now in our own hands, particularly as Everton, who are immediately above us, will lose Ferguson again through suspension after his dismissal yesterday.

One other comment I have to make concerns the match officials. Firstly, I was concerned that Stephen Lodge was asked to referee this match. I am in no way casting doubts on his judgement but he has admitted that he supports Barnsley. I wonder what the reaction would be if a decision he made had an unforseen effect on the relegation battle? Better that he was asked to adjudicate on matches that had no effect on the relegation battle just in case, I think.

The other comment concerns Mrs Wendy Toms, who made her first visit to Tottenham for line duty. She made no disputed decisions and kept perfectly in line with both defences in each period of 45 minutes, unlike some portly men, whose faces have resembled tomatoes after 90 minutes.

After the game, Martin O'Neill commented, "Their (Tottenham) second half display will give them a bit of encouragement. For a team under pressure they did really well." He thought Campbell had conceded a penalty but I didn't agree with this at all as I think Heskey fell over because of his momentum more than anything else.

Christian Gross said, "This is a positive result for us. To have come back so well against such a good side is very pleasing."

We now need to win at Hillsborough. If we can win up there, we will be in a much better position. Crystal Palace, Barnsley and Everton will be involved in tricky away games whilst Bolton will be at home to West Ham, who have a good away record.

Cheers, Brian

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