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Match Reports
Worthington Cup Final, 21st Mar 1999

Brian Judson made this offering:-

After eight long years of experiencing life in the doldrums, the Blue and White half of North London have plenty to shout about this morning. They are back in Europe, an arena that used to be their personal fiefdom so far as London football was concerned. Whilst other London clubs longed on with barely concealed jealously, it was Tottenham who strode across foreign fields bringing honours back to White Hart Lane. Not for us, the shock and disillusionment of seeing our hopes washed away by a goal scored from the halfway line! Next season will see us back in Europe!

There were no great surprises from either side when the teams to play were announced. Promising though Luke Young is, there was never the chance he would be in a match of this importance. For Vega has made great strides since appearing to be a buffoon who had no idea how to play football. With Taricco and Sherwood cup-tied and the squad limited to artisans and youngsters, the Spurs team largely picked itself. The one question was which of the three strikers would miss out. Most thought it would be a straight question of whether Ferdinand or Armstrong missed out. Thankfully, Armstrong, in view of his need for an operation on his foot, was the unlucky player. I assume that Graham felt that risking Armstrong on a lush pitch was asking for trouble.

Leicester sprang a mini-surprise in omitting Kaamark. He had marked Juninho out of the game when Leicester had played Middlesbrough in the League Cup Final two years ago. They also took a risk in playing Heskey, who has been bedevilled by back problems all season.

The first half was largely a non-event. Spurs attacked the dressing room end of Wembley but, to be honest, neither side bothered the opposing goalkeeper. Walker and Keller was largely spectators for most of the first half as both teams cautiously circled each other, probing their defences, looking for gaps and being very wary of each other's major threats, the Gallic Ginola and the beefy Heskey. Spurs enjoyed much of the possession of the ball but were unable to make it count. They managed to create only one opening in the first half.

Spurs won a free-kick in the 40th minute. Anderton took the free-kick and found Iversen unmarked. But Iversen tamely headed the ball into the grateful clutches of the American Keller.

But Spurs could quite easily have fallen behind long before then. In the 21st minute, Savage slid through a peach of a pass to Heskey, who was thus able to beat Tottenham's offside trap. Campbell made a total hash of a tackle which appeared to provide Heskey with a gilt-edged chance to score. But, suddenly from nowhere at all, Vega raced across and managed to stretch to push the ball away from Heskey as he was poised to shoot.

But that was the sum of the excitement in the first half. As the players trooped off for the break, I wondered what the rival managers would say in the privacy of the dressing rooms. Graham have sat like an unmovable Buddha on the touchline for most of the first half, whereas O'Neill was more like a demented puppet twitching to invisible strings as the game grew older.

The teams emerged for the start of the second half. And for the early stages of the second half, it looked to be that the sterility of the first half would be repeated in the closing forty five minutes of the match.

And then, suddenly, Spurs were reduced to 10-men following Justin Edinburgh's 63rd minute dismissal. The defender was on the receiving end of a reckless challenge from Robbie Savage but then paid the penalty for swinging out wildly with his arm in the direction of the Welsh international. Referee Terry Heilbron yellow-carded Savage but then felt he had no choice but to send Edinburgh off for what was clearly violent conduct. Edinburgh was distraught as he became the sixth player (Antonio Rattin, the Argentinean, Billy Bremner, Kevin Keegan, Kevin Moran and Andrei Kanchelskis being the first five players) to be dismissed from a first class match staged at Wembley.

Spurs promptly re-arranged their team. Anderton was told to drop back to left-back and Freund to drop deeper in midfield with Iversen switching to the right wing. This left Ferdinand up front on his own. Leicester must have rubbed their hands in glee that their tactics of attempting to provoke Spurs players into indiscretions had paid off.

And yet this was the first of two turning points in the match. After Edinburgh's dismissal, Spurs began to stir themselves from their long supine stupor. Slowly, Spurs pushed the East Midlanders back onto the defensive.

Savage was at the centre of even more controversy towards the end of the match. He came in late with his foot raised for a tackle on Steffen Freund that left the German literally hopping in anger and he had to held back by Cottee. Heilbron consulted his assistant as the Spurs fans bayed for blood but, again, Savage was given the benefit of the doubt. He again escaped after seeming to dive under a challenge from Nielsen on the edge of the penalty area. As the Spurs fans loudly barracked Savage, O'Neill replaced him with Theo Zagorakis in stoppage time to prevent Savage being sent off as extra time loomed. This was the second turning point of the game as it enabled Spurs to concentrate on their own game instead of having to count to ten when provoked by some underhand, dubious tackling.

The decisive goal came via an Allan Nielsen header two minutes into injury time. Les Ferdinand began the move by finding Steffan Iversen in space on the right flank and he cut into the area after outpacing Steve Walsh. Kasey Keller managed to get a hand onto his eventual shot but the ball lobbed up invitingly for Nielsen to head home from six yards out.

This was the moment the Spurs hordes had waited for since 1991. Out came the scarves. The victory anthems were dusted down and aired once more. The playing ghosts of former Spurs teams must surely have been there to savour the birth of another great Spurs team. It may not be the finished article but the nucleus of the next great Spurs team is surely there.

And then the final whistle echoed. The blue shirted Leicester players slumped to the ground, drained of energy. The emotional Tony Cottee was seen to be crying as he realised his last chance of playing honours had disappeared. Steve Walsh led his team up to collect the losers' medals. They were sportingly applauded by a Tottenham team that had been sorely provoked over the previous ninety odd minutes. Even the dismissed Edinburgh, reunited with his team mates in victory, applauded them up the stairs.

As the disconsolate Leicester players returned to pitch level, a grinning Campbell was leading his team up the stairs. He was mauled by many Spurs fans who gave him scarfs and hats until he reached the Royal Box where the cup awaited him. He took possession of the Cup and brandished it to the heavens. Sol lifts the cup! The Tottenham hordes let fly a huge deep-throated roar. The cup was passed along the line, each player thrusting it out to their fans. George Graham held it last, thrusting it high into the skies.

Back at pitch level, the players had only one thought. Spurning the packed ranks of the photographers, they made a bee-line for their fans. In vain did the stadium officials try to persuade them to return for the photographic session. Campbell repeatedly brushed them aside and strode with the cup to the fans, who were roaring their appreciation.

Afterwards, George Graham said: "I'm pleased for the club, and for myself. I hope this is the first trophy of many for Tottenham," adding that he thought his side deserved the win. He added: "I thought we dominated the first half and overall we deserved to win. I hope this will be the first of many trophies."

But the Tottenham boss criticised referee Terry Heilbron for sending off Edinburgh, saying the Newton Aycliffe official should have used "common sense". "I thought it was harsh," Graham said. "Okay, he was fouled and he retaliated, but it only looked as if he brushed him. He raised his hands, but the referee could have used his common sense."

Match-winner Nielsen said: "It's a wonderful day, and I think we deserved it. This was my first time at Wembley, and in my three years here it is the best moment I have experienced."

Edinburgh said the time he spent in the dressing room after his sending off had been the worst 30 minutes of his career. "I have got mixed emotions," admitted the right-back. "It was possibly the worst half-hour of my life sitting in the dressing room but the lads have done me proud and came through for me. It was a bad tackle which came in on myself and I got up and just pushed Robbie Savage away. I don't think I caught him, I don't think I threw a punch."

Brian Judson's preview

Read the further accounts from:-
Paul Smith
Ivan Cohen
Dave Gallagher
Les Wilson

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