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Worthington Cup Final, 21st Mar 1999

This version of events was from Dave Gallagher:-

No doubt, a wry smile will have appeared on many an Arsenal face this afternoon at the sight of George Graham and his team emerging from another dull, scrappy, niggly affair of a final victorious by a last gasp goal, but Allan Nielsen’s brave injury time winner was poetic justice in my view. The cheat, Savage, had barely slunk from the field before the ball was in the back of the net, and to be honest, the delirium that followed has wiped a large part of the memory of what was another very poor game, generally, from my mind. What will stay with me for a long time though, are the scenes of celebration that followed. Spurs are back in Europe for the first time in eight years, and the looks on the faces of the team were far more eloquent than anything I can manage here.

Leicester were very negative on the whole, particularly in the first half, and Spurs had the bulk of that first period, without really creating anything to speak of. As a matter of fact, the only effort on-target I think there was in the first 45 came only about 5 minutes before the break, with Steffen Iversen beating his marker to a header from (I think) Ferdinand’s cross, but it lacked very much pace and Keller had it covered, gathering easily. The rest of the game had been very tight and tense, belying the expectation that Spurs would enjoy an advantage on the wide-open Wembley spaces.

You have to credit Leicester for the way they shrank the pitch by packing the midfield and denied us space to play in. O’Neill had done all his homework, alright. The doubling-up of Ullathorne and Lennon (and/or Savage) on Ginola kept David very quiet for long periods, and though there was fitful overlap between him and Edinburgh, I felt they didn’t really ask enough questions over there, because Edinburgh was a spare man for us on numerous occasions and we very rarely got behind them (nor they us). We again looked reluctant to risk over-committing bodies forward, and with Ferdinand and Iversen often finding themselves alone amidst a sea of blue shirts in the box, even when a cross would come in, the chances one of those two would be on the end of it were minimal.

Neither side seemed to be able to put their foot on the ball either, and for long periods it ping-ponged back and forth across the halfway line so much it was like watching a pinball table. The congestion in the midfield increased even further as Anderton came across from the right to lend support, leaving Carr to probe alone on that flank, although occasionally helped out by Ferdinand. Leicester’s only window of opportunity in the first half came when Heskey was put through the middle and managed to peel away from Campbell, who had gone for the option of trying to cut out the ball but made a very uncharacteristic miss. Heskey looked to be clear in on goal and I was holding my breath, but Vega, who had a very solid game, I should say, tracked his run and made an excellently timed challenge to block his shot at goal inside the box. You felt that O’Neill would probably be the more content of the managers at half-time, as their tactics had clearly been to play the ‘away’ role, digging in and frustrating Spurs while waiting for the chance of a break, and they had managed it annoyingly well.

For the first ten minutes of the second half, it was much like the first had been. Gradually, however, it appeared that Foxes were starting to knock the ball around and we had started to chase our tails a little bit. Then, they had the first (and best) of three half-chances that might have clinched things in their favour, were it not for Walker’s reflexes, his bravery and not a little slice of luck. Ullathorne had the ball about 25 yards out on the right side of our box. He spotted an opening, and drove in a fizzing shot that Walker stopped with his body, but couldn’t hold, and it just bobbled away from him as Cottee, with his predatory instincts, was homing in. Walker just managed to recover, and smothered it bravely at Cottee’s feet.

We seemed on the back foot, and shortly afterward, we were dealt the blow which threatened to turn the tide of advantage Leicester’s way. Robbie Savage, already fortunate not to have been booked for one or two late lunges, took Edinburgh’s legs out from under him, and the pair of them went down in a heap. As they got up, Justin appeared to raise his arm at Savage, who took fully a couple of seconds to realise the potential of the situation, before turning and clutching his face as if he’d just been thumped by Lennox Lewis. Frank LeBoeuf would have been proud of it. The referee called both players to him, and produced first the yellow card for Savage, then the red for Edinburgh. Poor Justin had to walk the lonely walk towards the baying Leicester fans at the tunnel end, knowing he might just have cost us the game, and I think he now misses the FA Cup semi.

For the next ten minutes, we were under the cosh a little bit, but we kept our discipline, and Leicester, who didn’t look confident enough to leave Ginola alone, which might have allowed them to make the most of their advantage and push up a bit more, really failed to capitalise. They had a couple more half-chances, as I said. Once, when Walker, making only his second mistake of the game, slipped on the greasy turf as he went to collect a ball that was running towards the bye-line and allowed Cottee to nip in and cut it back across the face of goal. Fortunately for us, there were no blue shirts in the box, and Carr was able to deal with it. Next, a mistake by Vega on a cross by Guppy almost presented Cottee again with the ball in front of an unguarded net, but luckily, it spun back towards Walker, who claimed it gratefully.

Moments like that aside, Spurs weathered the storm, and galvanised by the crowd, who were incensed as much by Savage’s open gamesmanship as by the perceived injustice and harshness of Edinburgh’s sending off, we started to come back into it. When O’Neill had to replace Emile Heskey, who had looked dangerous in the air from set-pieces as well as offering the threat of pace, although clearly not fully fit, I felt just a little more optimistic that we mightn’t be so badly off after all.

And so it was. Just when the game looked to be heading for certain extra time, O’Neill, concerned, no doubt that one more dodgy tackle by Savage might lead to his dismissal as well, made the substitution. The crowd hissed and booed and uttered terrible oaths as Savage left the field. Ninety minutes were up, and we were all thinking, ‘Will we hang on for penalties?’ Perhaps the change and/or the break in play momentarily upset Foxes’ concentration, I don’t know, but within seconds, Les Ferdinand had played an excellent chipped pass out to Iversen on the right just below us, and Steffen set off on a wonderful surging run that took him past Walsh to the edge of the area. He crossed. Almost in slow motion, the ball curled along the ground. Keller went down for it, but it was just too far from his body to claim. It spooned up in the air off his outstretched arm, and there was Allan Nielsen, following in with a diving header to bury it emphatically past the flailing limbs of the despairing Leicester defenders. There was instant and profound ecstasy. He’d followed in. It was in the back of the net. All thirty-eight thousand or so of us could have kissed him. We all knew that was the end of it. The Cup was ours.

There was no way back for Leicester. They had shot their bolt, and it had missed. George sent Andy Sinton on for Ginola to slot in at left-back and wait out time. There wasn’t much of it left, and when the whistle went, and they played ‘Glory, Glory, Tottenham Hotspur’, the unfettered joy was quite something. It has been a long time, after all. The players looked like little kids, romping around with the Cup and smiles as broad as the lapels on the jacket I was wearing when we last won it. There was still room for invective, though. ‘Savage, what’s the score? Savage, Savage, what’s the score?’ was bellowed in his face by over thirty thousand vengeful voices as he trudged up to collect his loser’s medal, and I imagine that will live with him for some time. I do hope so, the little git.

When Sol went up to lift the Worthington Cup, we were there. And for the record, they did sing ‘Georgie Graham’s Blue and White Army’ and ‘There’s Only One George Graham’, too. I hope we’ll hear it at White Hart Lane in future.

They all get 7/10 today. Irrespective. I'm a little drunk.

· Brian Judson's preview

Read the further accounts from:-
Paul Smith
Ivan Cohen
Brian Judson
Les Wilson

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