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Spurs v Bolton, 01.03.98

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

Sunday, March 1st, 1998.
FA Carling Premiership.

Tottenham Hotspur : Baardsen; Carr, Calderwood, Campbell, Wilson; Berti, Fox (sub Brady, 87), Nielsen, Ginola (sub Saib, 85); Armstrong (sub Howells, 54), Klinsmann.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Mabbutt, Grodas.

Booked : Nielsen.

Goalscorer : Nielsen, 45.

Bolton Wanderers : Branagan; Cox, Bergsson, Phillips, Pollock (sub Gunnlaugsson, 68), Fairclough (sub Johansen, 80), Frandsen, Thompson, Blake, Holdsworth.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Ward, Sheridan, Strong.

Booked : Fairclough, Holdsworth, Blake.

Referee : Mr P Jones (Loughborough).

Attendance : 29,032.

As the Spurs fans spilled out into the dark gloom of the Tottenham High Road after the match, there must have been many more apart from myself who wondered why we had spent the entire afternoon chewing our nails to the quick. Because the truth of the matter is that Bolton were so poor they scarcely troubled Baardsen in the whole of the 90 minutes. And yet Tottenham have only themselves to blame for the fact they did not improve on the deficiency in their goal difference.

Tottenham needed to win this game because Barnsley's victory on Saturday against Wimbledon had seen them climb off the bottom of the table to within two points of Tottenham. The North Londoners are generally not expected to snatch anything out of their visit to Leeds on Wednesday night so there was a need to ensure there was daylight between them and Barnsley after the game.

Klinsmann was back after his dreadful injury at Barnsley in the 4th Round FA Cup replay. Whilst he looked sharper in terms of fitness, he wasn't match fit. Also, he had never played with Armstrong before in a competitive match. Armstrong had been signed as Klinsmann's replacement in 1995 and had largely been absent from the team since December 1996. It will always take time for a new strike partnership to gel. I can only remember two partnerships to gel from the start : one was Greaves and Bobby Smith (but both had played together with England) whilst the other was Archibald and Crooks. People will point to the partnership between Klinsmann and Sheringham but Sheringham was not, in my opinion, a clear cut striker nor was he a target man.

There had been speculation as to whether Herr Gross would give Moussa Saib his debut from the start but Gross decided to have him on the bench. A relegation 6-pointer is no game in which to throw a key investment in at the deep end.

With Vega suspended, Spurs had little option but to play Calderwood in the back four. Yet I have to admit that, generally, Calderwood played very well and only once passed back to Baardsen to put the goalkeeper under any pressure.

Bolton had only two real chances to score. The first came in the first minute when Baardsen was caught cold at the start of the game and was caught in two minds as Holdsworth bore down on him. Inevitably, this led to the only possible conclusion and Baardsen quickly pulled Holdsworth down. Surprisingly, Peter Jones, who had, otherwise, a very good match, waved all the Bolton appeals away. Spurs could not have argued if, as should have been the case, Baardsen had been sent off.

Thereafter, Spurs generally dominated the first half proceedings without ever looking likely to score. Berti did his best in the midfield to prompt Spurs but there was always someone too slow to react to his promptings. Ginola, also, played very well but lacked the ability to decide whether he should pass to someone better placed or whether he should take a pot shot. Invariably he seemed to settle for the wrong option at the wrong time.

And then, just as it began to look as if the first half would be goal-less, Spurs suddenly snatched the lead. Ginola picked up the ball in midfield and ran around in a seemingly irrational way but then he suddenly pushed the ball to Clive Wilson on the left wing. As the Bolton defence hesitated, Wilson pushed the ball into Nielsen's onrushing path. Nielsen skipped past a challenge from Todd and casually sidefooted the ball that had little or no momentum yet which eluded every outstretched Bolton boot to roll on to the base of the upright and rebound over the goal-line to put Tottenham ahead.

There was a momentary pause of disbelief before a wave of sound echoed to the rafters as the fans celebrated the scoring of such a vital goal. And within seconds the half-time whistled sent the teams back to the dressing room for the break. Never was a goal scored at a more appropriate psychological time!

The second half saw Tottenham pick up from where they had left off. It seemed only a matter of time before they would add to the scoresheet, particularly as Armstrong was looking to be involved in the action. And then, some ten minutes after half-time, Armstrong and Branagan collided at the height of a Tottenham raid. Branagan was soon up but Armstrong needed lengthy treatment and soon departed on a stretcher. However, the news from the dressing room was that he had only suffered a dead leg and ought to be quickly fit again.

Tottenham seemed to withdraw into themselves for a while after Armstrong's departure. Yet though Bolton dominated the midfield, their shooting was wild, often ending up for a throw-in quite a way from the nearest corner flag. But at one point Phillips was denied when his shot was brilliantly deflected for a corner by Baardsen. I was convinced at the time that had Walker been in goal Phillips would have equalised.

With five minutes left, Saib came on for his debut. Ginola left to a standing ovation as the crowd made it clear they regarded him as the man of the match. Saib was not on the field long enough to enable us to see how good he is but he did come close to extending Tottenham's lead shortly after coming on but saw his shot blocked by Branagan.

Brady came on shortly before the end of the game as a further replacement for Fox. I suspect though the aim of this substitution was to waste time as Bolton were flinging everyone forward for the equaliser with Branagan standing on the halfway line to field any clearances from corners gained by deflections rather than from shots on target.

After the match, Colin Todd criticised Peter Jones for not awarding a penalty to Bolton in the first minute. He suggested that if the game had been played at Bolton the decision would have been a very different one!

On the evidence of this match, it has to be said that Bolton look doomed. They never really put Baardsen under any pressure nor posed problems for the back four. This is really surprising given that Bolton won the Championship of Division 1 by a mile and a half last season. Perhaps it suggests there is an unbridgeable gap between the Premiership and the Football League? That thesis can be supported by the fact the current bottom three all came up from the Football League last season.

Spurs now make the trip to Leeds on Wednesday night. They can expect to receive a more searching examination of their pedigree than they had yesterday!

Cheers, Brian

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