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Spurs Odyssey Preview - Spurs v Middlesbrough, 13.09.98

This preview was written by Brian Judson

Full Record of Spurs -v- Middlesbrough

Premier       Pl   W   D   L  For-Ag  Pts
Home           3   1   2   0    4-3    5
Away           3   2   0   1    4-3    6
Total (Prem)   6   3   2   1    8-6   11
Football Lge
Home (Div 1)  25  15   4   6   62-40  36
Away (Div 1)  25   3   6  16   25-52  13
Total (Div 1) 50  18  10  22   87-92  49
Football Lge
Home (Div 2)   1   0   0   1    2-5    0
Away (Div 2)   1   0   0   1    0-3    0
Total (Div 2)  2   0   0   2    2-8    0
Total (Prem)   6   3   2   1    8-6   11
Total (Div 1) 50  18  10  22   87-92  49
Total (Div 2)  2   0   0   2    2-8    0
Grand Total   58  21  12  25   97-106 60

In recent years, Middlesbrough have acquired the reputation that Sheffield Wednesday used to have at one time of never being able to stay in one division for very long. At the moment, the Teesiders seem to be on an upward curve but how long this will be the case remains to be seen.

The recent events which led to the abrupt departure of Paul Merson from the Riverside came as no surprise to me. His body language, from what I have seen on television, had shown him to be a very unhappy player. Last season, Merson had appeared to have settled down with them. It seems that the arrival of Paul Gascoigne from Rangers in March had changed his attitude to the club. We all know about both players' problems so I will not go into that here.

Middlesbrough fans are known to be unhappy about manager Robson's stewardship of the club. They fear he does not have any tactical abilities and that he may have sold the one player capable of upsetting Premiership defences. The little I have seen of 'Gazza' suggests he remains overweight and far from being match fit. I believe he has had to be substituted in practically every match so far this season.

Tottenham, however, seem to have had a weight lifted off their shoulders following the departure of Christian Gross. David Pleat is standing in on the bench until a new appointment is made. One wonders about his private feelings as it is almost eleven years since he was sacked by a previous Spurs chairman. In the intervening years, Tottenham have been to hell and back and have not matched the excitement Pleat's team generated in his only full season in charge.

Having won successive games for the first time for several months, the big question on Sunday will be whether they can keep the rung going and make it three on the trot. On paper, they should do so. Middlesbrough have very few outstanding players. They have Pallister in their back four but he is no longer as commanding as the giant defender he was at Old Trafford. He is increasingly prone to injury, necessitating longer and longer absences from the team. They have Gascoigne. Tottenham fans were lucky enough to see him at his peak 8-10 years ago : today, he is often an overweight barrel of lard. But, generally, the squad lacks class. Mikkel Beck and Hamilton Ricard are, in theory, strikers but seldom seem able to connect the ball to the back of the net. However, with Sol Campbell likely to be absent on Sunday, they may find it easier to do so if Ramon Vega does not concentrate on thinking about what he is doing. Too often, Vega has been caught out in no man's land because he dropped his concentration at a vital moment.

Middlesbrough's better players are workmanlike even though they lack class. Tottenham's players may have all the glitter but they cannot afford to relax for long if Robbie Mustoe or Phil Stamp have the ball. Mustoe can run for hours without tiring whilst Stamp has a doggedness about him that makes me think of a rugby player shrugging off attempts to pull him down as he runs for a try. Stamp has one glaring fault : he does not seem to know when to release the ball from his possession and is often caught charging down field when a judicious pass to a colleague might cause problems to the opposition.

When we last played Middlesbrough at Tottenham, they were busily engaged in clearing up a backlog of fixtures that had stacked up through successful runs in two cup competitions. Middlesbrough looked a very tired team and Tottenham should really have taken the Teesiders to the cleaners that night. Once they fell behind, there was never any chance they would get back on to level terms.

So, how do I view Sunday's match? Both sides will be on a 'high' having won their preceding match. I think much will depend on who scores the first goal as both sides have brittle confidence and can quickly lose their shape when things do not work out the way they thought it would. Providing our fans remain patient, I think we will see them win. I shall be seeing Tottenham for the first time this season (courtesy of Sky) so I shall certainly be interested to see how they will play. I'm hopeful we will win, possibly 3-1.

Cheers, Brian

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