French fancy beguiles Barnsley
Even the best French dressing can do only so much to redeem an indifferent salad. David Ginola has now inspired two wins for Tottenham in the four matches since Christian Gross arrived from Switzerland but much more needs to be done if Spurs are to be rescued from their limp lettuce of a season.
On Saturday Ginola was as influential in the 3-0 victory over Barnsley as in the 2-0 win at Everton three weeks before. As well as scoring twice he plagued Barnsley's defence with his combination of close control and sudden turns of speed.
Yet in both matches, it was less a case of d'Artagnan vanquishing the Cardinal's guard than Athos having a bit of fun at the expense of Richelieu's men-in-waiting, and at White Hart Lane a Barnsley team laden with defenders were punished for doing just that. Tottenham remain in the bottom three. This victory has merely kept them within striking distance of the four teams above them who are now separated only by a point and goal difference.
Failure to defeat a Barnsley side who have now conceded 50 goals in 19 matches, half their league programme, would have driven Tottenham's supporters to even deeper depths of despair. At least beating Danny Wilson's team will have cheered up the fans for Christmas, but beyond that lies a St Stephen's Day game at Aston Villa followed by Arsenal's visit 48 hours later.
In the New Year, Tottenham are at home to West Ham but away to Manchester United, Derby County and Blackburn, a sequence which should give a clearer indication of whether Gross really is the man to revive Spurs or whether they would have done better whistling up a St Bernard.
Barnsley's promotion last season warmed many a cockle beyond South Yorkshire but they were always going to struggle to justify their higher rank. Hard though Wilson has worked to give them greater strength and durability, there was a glum familiarity about the way his side suffered their 13th Premiership defeat.
Sluggish defending contributed to Tottenham's first and third goals. Darren Anderton's through-ball to Allan Nielsen, who put Tottenham ahead after six minutes, was firm and true but Barnsley were late pushing out to catch the Dane offside. The well-timed nod with which Ginola met Ruel Fox's centre in the 18th minute earned him a champagne reception from Gross, who with untypical Swiss rashness had promised the Frenchman a bottle of the same each time he scored with his head, but again Barnsley's defending was as dull as brown ale.
In between times Lars Leese had brought the spirit of lend-lease to his goalkeeping by allowing a low 20-yard shot from Ginola to slip under his body and into the net. "We had hoped to stifle them a bit," said Wilson, "but we shot ourselves in the foot." It's a wonder Barnsley have any toes left.
Naturally Ginola captured most of the attention, and deservedly so. He has always had the capacity to turn games through moments of individual expertise, and when he is not collapsing in pain or throwing himself around for free-kicks he can have a mesmeric effect on defences.
Tottenham, however, will be looking to more than idiosyncratic French nods and winks for their salvation. At Newcastle, Kevin Keegan could have promised Ginola whole cases of Moet for a covering tackle without having to find the key to the wine cellar.
Understandably, therefore, Gross's praise for the magpie-turned-mockingbird was guarded. "Ginola's performance today was good but he can do better," he said. "I want him to play in a way that brings other players into the game. If we are going to win together it is not only about one man."
True enough. Although Ginola did most to catch the eye, the return of Sol Campbell to Spurs' defence will be equally crucial to the stiffer tasks which lie ahead, along with the midfield industry of Nielsen and Andy Sinton, and Anderton's return to full match fitness.
Having scored their goals, Tottenham took the rest of the afternoon off and, though Barnsley did not emulate the recovery that had seen Sheffield Wednesday, in similar circumstances, drag the score back to 3-2, Spurs' defence was exposed enough times to leave little room for complacency.
Tottenham Hotspur: Walker, Calderwood, Fox, Neilsen, Anderton (Domingues 70), Ferdinand (Iversen 46), Carr, Ginola (Clemence 88), Wilson, Sinton, Campbell. Subs Not Used: Baardsen, Mabbutt. Booked: Domingues. Goals: Neilsen 6, Ginola 12, 18.
Barnsley: Leese, Eaden, Appleby, Moses, De Zeeuw, Redfearn, Liddell (Hristov 67), Tinkler, Barnard, Ward, Markstedt (Bullock 46). Subs Not Used: Watson, Sheridan, Hendrie. Booked: Appleby, Ward, Eaden, Moses.
Referee: M D Reed (Birmingham).