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Spurs v Barnsley, 20.12.97

"It was Twenty Years ago today!"
article published December, 2017, but first written in 1997 by the late Brian Judson

Saturday, December 20th 1997
FA Carling Premiership
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (3) 3 BARNSLEY (0) 0

Tottenham: Walker; Carr, Calderwood, Campbell, Wilson; Fox, Nielsen, Anderton (sub Domingues, 70), Sinton; Ferdinand (sub Iversen, 46), Ginola (sub Clemence, 88).

Substitutes *NOT* used : Baardsen, Mabbutt.

Goalscorers : Neilsen 6, Ginola 12, 18.

Booked : Domingues.

Barnsley: Leese, Eaden, Appleby, Moses, De Zeeuw, Redfearn, Liddell (sub Hristov, 67), Tinkler, Barnard, Ward, Markstedt (sub Bullock, 46).

Substitutes *NOT* used: Watson, Sheridan, Hendrie.

Booked : Appleby, Ward, Eaden, Moses.

Referee: Mr M D Reed (Birmingham).

Attendance : 28,232.

This was a match that Spurs simply *HAD* to win if they were to maintain touch with the group of teams immediately above them in the League table. At this stage of the season, once a gap appears between safety and the hangman's trap door to the Football League, it becomes that much harder to recover a lost position of safety. History tells us that invariably the clubs in the bottom three at Christmas are the clubs subsequently relegated. So a win for Tottenham was always going to be vital.

Sol Campbell gave crisis-torn Tottenham, beaten in six of their last seven League games, a major boost for the bottom-of-the-table crunch with Barnsley by returning after two games out with a shoulder injury. The England star took over in central defence from veteran Gary Mabbutt in the only change to Christian Gross' line-up from last week's 4-0 crash at Coventry, although Portuguese winger Jose Domingues was an addition to the substitutes.

I was surprised that Herr Gross decided to persevere with Calderwood in view of his part in the two defeats against Chelsea and Coventry City. Evidently, a fit Calderwood is to be preferred to the ageing Mabbutt in the new scheme of things.

Barnsley, trying to avoid their 13th defeat of the season and having already conceded 47 goals in the Premiership, had defender Arjan de Zeeuw back from injury, while midfielder Eric Tinkler also passed a late fitness test.

In the opening minutes, Spurs tore into attack. There was a twenty yard attempt from Sinton, which flew wide of the mark. This was followed by a central run from Ward, beating Wilson. Ward's run was only stopped by a perfect tackle from Campbell.

It came as no surprise when Spurs finally went ahead in the 6th minute. Anderton slipped a low ball into the Barnsley penalty area. The defenders all stood waiting for a linesman's offside flag that never came. Nielsen let loose a thunderbolt that the Barnsley goalkeeper never saw. Hearts suddenly began to sink when the referee raced towards his linesman but it was only to get the overjoyous Spurs players, relief evident in their celebrations, back into the game.

In the 12th minute, Nielsen and Fox combined to set up Ginola. A glorious curving shot from the Frenchman at the edge of the box, swerving through the arms of the diving Leese. As the Spurs players celebrated, the Barnsley goalkeeper cursed himself for allowing the ball to creep under his body, over the line.

Barnsley counter-attacked with a weak 30-yard shot from Moses. His shot was well wide of the mark. After this, for long spells in the remainder of the first half, Barnsley were thoroughly dis-spirited, looking like a side that has already accepted relegation as inevitable.

In the 18th minute, there was a spectacular build-up to Tottenham's third goal. The ball ran from Ginola to Anderton, on to Ferdinand, who slipped the ball to Fox. Fox made a precise cross from the right for a spectacular leaping header by Ginola. This put Tottenham 3-0 ahead.

Spurs could have made it 4-0 in the 24th minute. Another opening, inspired by Ginola, was carved out of the increasingly indecisive Barnsley defence but the shot flew very wide of the Barnsley goal.

Barnsley were now becoming frantic. The Yorkshire side were growing desperate in their efforts to stem the Tottenham attack, and Matt Appleby was rightly booked for a scything tackle from behind on Nielsen. The free-kick led to a corner, which Ginola took. As the ball came over, Campbell headed the ball down, but Ferdinand shot wide of the Barnsley goal.

Four minutes later, Spurs should have had a penalty. This time there was a perfect pass to Anderton from Ginola. Moses and Anderton collapsed in a heap in the area. The Spurs players loudly appealed for a penalty but were only given a corner. Calderwood was first to the ball on this occasion, but only succeeded in shooting wide.

After this, Barnsley retaliated, winning a free-kick Appleby took the free-kick, only to see Liddell head straight at Walker. Then a 25-yard shot from Barnard was not far over the top of Walker's goal.

In the 34th minute, Sinton cut into the box and was sent flying from a challenge by Appleby. Although the crowd at the Edmonton end made claims for a penalty, I didn't think it was one. Certainly Mike Reid turned it down as Barnsley players surrounded Sinton, claiming the Spurs winger dived. I could see Sinton explaining that he had lost his balance as he checked his stride to change direction, which is what I thought had happened.

This incident was followed by a REALLY bad tackle on Ginola by De Zeeuw. There were long anxious moments as Ginola needed prolonged treatment to the foot, before he carried on. Surprisingly, the Barnsley player was not booked.

As the teams went in for the second half, one hoped that Spurs would make the most of the opportunity. Barnsley were so poor they looked as if they would provide Tottenham with the perfect opportunity to improve their dreadful goalscoring record. But Tottenham took their foot off the pedal in the second half and did not score again.

Part of the reason why Spurs did not score again was the substitution of Iversen for Ferdinand, who was apparently taken ill during the course of last week and was asked to play by Herr Gross because of the continuing absence of Chris Armstrong. Iversen was soon seen to be completely lacking in any sort of confidence, preferring to lay off the ball to other players. If he did try to shoot, his shot was either very weak or woeful in execution.

One could visibly see the Tottenham players exchanging glances and collectively deciding to do all they could to provide Iversen with a goal, even if it was merely a deflection from someone else's shot. But try as they did, they could not manoeuvre him into a position where he could score. If he did find himself in a good position, he laid the ball off for someone else to take a pot shot, such was his lack of confidence in his own ability.

When Anderton went off to a standing ovation when Jose Domingues came on with some 20 minutes left, I have to say that I did not think Anderton deserved the applause. I thought he hid too much during the game instead of trying to run the game as we all know he is capable of doing. He seemed to be content to allow Ginola to do all the work whilst Anderton ran around without actually doing a great deal. In my mind's eye, he reminded me of Matt Le Tissier who has the same lack of confidence at Southampton.

But when Ginola went off to another standing ovation, some two minutes from the end, that was really merited. Ginola had worked very hard in Tottenham's cause, even tracking back on several occasions, which is more than Hoddle did in his hey day at Tottenham. There had also been less of the spectacular diving by the Frenchman which has annoyed match officials in the past.

Barnsley are clearly destined for one of the relegation spots. Their confidence drained away the moment they fell behind. They are an honest outfit who are clearly above the level of their competence. I hope for their sake they do not, as Swindon did, tumble straight through the First Division next season.

This was a missed opportunity for Tottenham. Had I been the manager, I would have berated the players for not racking up the goals against Barnsley. Other teams, notably Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, have hammered Barnsley this season. We will be unlikely to have another opportunity like this to score goals with so inept defending to contend with as Barnsley so generously provided.

We must build on this win and travel to Villa Park in high hopes. On the evidence of Match of The Day last night, they have still to sort out how to bring the best out of Collymore and Milosevic. With Yorke absent through long-term injury, we will never have a better opportunity for winning at Villa Park. A win there will set us up nicely for next Sunday's titanic clash with those upstarts from that depressing 1930s slum close to Finsbury Park station.

"COME ON YOU SPURS!"

Cheers, Brian

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