free at last

And after many a long discussion over a transfer table somewhere between N17 and PE2, the Peterborough Two were freed to come and play the game of football for Tottenham Hotspur. The protracted deal, in which it was mooted that Spurs had first option on the two talented teenagers, finally came to a conclusion in the early New Year after they had been withdrawn from Posh’s trip to Exeter City. Matthew Etherington, who was the subject of a £4 million transfer rumours on his own when linked to Newcastle United last year and Simon Davies became the first Tottenham players signed in the new century/millennium.

Rumours circulated thick and fast. They were both injured and with Tottenham’s record on buying knackered players, they wouldn’t be coming. Why were Spurs going for them if they were only costing £1.2 million for the pair ?? Well, why pay top dollar, when you can get quality in the January Sales ?? For all the gossip in the papers, it appears that Tottenham were the only club to come in with a firm offer. With Peterborough being in some financial distress, they accepted a deal, which, if everything goes to plan, will be worth £4 million plus they get 20% of any sell-on transfer fee.

The two youngsters have long been spoken about in glowing terms. Davies has already played for Wales B and Etherington for England Under-18’s. Both were highly sought after and in fact, trained with Manchester United earlier this season, but a deal could not be agreed. Etherington, being a natural left footer playing on the wing, would be an asset to any side and Davies, a skilful creative midfielder has the benefit of a couple of years on Matthew.

The first chance to glimpse the future was at St. Albans on a chilly January evening when Spurs reserves entertained Crystal Palace. Spurs featured a few players with some first team experience – Baardsen, Vega, Piercy and Gower; while Palace produced a list of names new to all the Spurs contingent gathered at Clarence Park. The game did feature one of the new boys – Simon Davies. A slightly built figure, he looked like a malnourished Taricco. However, he showed that he wouldn’t be kept out of the limelight and smashed in a fierce drive from the edge of the box in the first minutes of the match. The keeper did well to push it away. Korsten was playing to get match fit, but looked mostly disinterested and only got going when he got niggled by an opponent, ending up with a booking for the Dutchman for an ankle tap.

Surprisingly, a young blonde Swedish centre-half was in the line-up, named Richard Henriksson. Nobody seemed to know much about him, but we later learned that he was a 17 year-old from Djurgarden, who was on trial. He had a solid game and hardly put a foot wrong alongside the Swiss international Vega.  It’s a shame the club have let him return for the moment, but in view of the signing of Gardner, perhaps understandable.

Spurs took the lead in the first half, when Piercy’s ball into Fenn was prodded against a post and the rebound fell kindly for McVeigh to score from close range. Palace did their share of attacking, but really they couldn’t have scored if they had played against 11 dustbins. Their build-up wasn’t bad, but their finishing was dreadful.

The second half produced some more chances for Tottenham, but the goalkeeper was playing heroically in the Palace goal. Simon Davies showed that he has the strength and ability to do well at the club. He won a couple of crunching tackles, often was the last man tracking back and his passing was of a level above this, even on a difficult pitch he only gave the ball away once. The good habits learned at Peterborough’s excellent youth system will stand him in good stead. His presence was of obvious concern to the opposition as they tried to rough house him out of the game, but Simon rode the tackles and went about his job without any great fuss. He seemed at home in (and even a little above) the side, especially as he had little time to train with them.

Etherington had to wait until Spurs Reserves played their Charlton Athletic counterparts at White Hart Lane for his public bow. He started the friendly against Torpedo Moscow, but this was his first exposure and he was impressive. 

Sitting behind the Charlton dug-out, which Gary Stevens (Charlton's manager) refused to sit in as it gave "the worst view in the house", it was intriguing to watch the game from the front of the West Stand.  The game had been moved to White Hart Lane because of the St. Albans pitch being used the night before, which was an unexpected shift and getting in free was an unexpected bonus !! 

Etherington's first run was lightning. He brought the ball down very quickly and his run was ended in the box when he was squeezed out by two defenders.  His quick feet dazzled on the wing and created a couple of good opportunities for himself. A good one-two with Davies saw the keeper make a good save to deny him on the penalty spot and he put McVeigh in on a couple of occasions with accurate crossing. In the second half, his blistering pace was displayed to great effect, when he ran three-quarters of the pitch and won a corner, really turning defence into attack !! There is an obvious understanding with Davies, which will help both settle in quickly.

The play was mainly all Spurs to start off with.  McVeigh got in on a good run down the left, but delayed releasing the ball and Willem Korsten put in an early ball, which the Charlton defender managed to clear just wide of the post. Baardsen was called into action, when Konchesky, the Charlton No. 2, made him scramble a 20 yarder for a corner.  A shot from a similar distance from Ian Hillier went wide, before the play swung to the other end.  Lisbie skinned Taricco and with a shot on, he crossed low where Scales blocked it for a corner.  Espen's opting to punch nearly put Spurs in trouble, when he punched a corner straight against a Charlton head and only a scrambled clearance off the line saved his embarrassment.  Scales was playing in his first reserve game for some time and made a well-timed block on Fortune, as the Charlton man lined up a shot.

Fox had a shot blocked and McVeigh's spectacular overhead kick brought a god save from Royce in the Athletic goal.  Baardsen saved a good one-on-one with the Charlton centre-forward, MacDonald, before Hillier broke on the right to put in a pacy cross, which McVeigh headed at the near post across the keeper and in for 1-0.  Then Tottenham got a taste for it. Korsten beat two men and cracked a fierce shot over the bar, then Willem, Hillier and Fox both made Royce work to keep the ball out.  The last chance of the half came when a volley on the spin went wide of the Spurs post.

Five minutes into the second half and Korsten went down under challenge from two Charlton defenders in the box.  He appeared to stumble and stub his foot on the turf and although he did rejoin the action and side-foot over from five yards out,  he left the field midway through the half and was substituted by Neale Fenn.  Both sides missed free headers from corners and Fenn was then involved in Tottenham's second goal.  Fox's through ball to him was laid off to McVeigh, who with a clear sight of goal squared the ball to Mark Gower to walk the ball around the keeper and score.  Some say McVeigh scuffed his shot, but it looked a clean enough pass and he did look up before he played the ball.  Gary Stevens considered that McVeigh may have been offside and asked one of his substitutes if it was off.  He got a shrug and then asked if the sub had "given the lino some grief" over the decision !!

It was all Spurs and Fenn forced a good low save from Royce and as the ball spun up, he mis-punched and the ball fell to the edge of the area, where Simon Davies ripped in a low shot, just kicked off the line by a defender.  

Etherington was showing exactly what he was capable of. On a couple of runs he was stopped by heavy tackles and it was one of these, into the second half, that saw him injure his right ankle and leave the pitch shortly after. He had showed excellent touch and an ability to pass first time to feet, obviously lessons well learned from his time at Peterborough. His tricks to beat players were well developed and he showed confidence in his ability, while also exhibiting a hunger to work back and block clearances. All round a very encouraging beginning to his Spurs career.

Piercy came on for the winger, but Charlton then seized the initiative. Scott Parker (the McDonald's ball juggling kid from an advert five years ago and Spurs supporter) grazed the bar with a 25 yard shot.  Fox managed to break away, but his first shot was saved and he could only pull the rebound wide across the goal.  This was almost replayed exactly by Fenn after McVeigh had slipped him into the box.  Stevens considered the decision offside again - making a comment along the lines of just because Spurs are paying his fees today, he doesn't have to give them al the decisions.  However, his demeanour improved as Young made a terrific tackle on the edge of the box, Espen was forced full length to punch away a across and then saving on the line from a header at a corner.  Even better for the former Spurs man, was when Lisbie ran through the middle and Scales and Baardsen failed to stop him and the ball looped up for the Charlton winger to run it into an empty net.

However, all that was left was time for a John Piercy pile driver from 25 yards to be pushed wide by Royce and then it was all over.  A Spurs win, but a bit nervy at the end as Charlton pushed forward.  Interesting to compare the two managerial styles as Hughton was shouting the whole time, while Stevens preferred to quietly encourage his players with his frustration released by discussing things with the physio.  Also Fenn and McVeigh did well together and have an obvious understanding, but they rarely get an opportunity in the first team - even when Spurs are so short of striking options.  Mark Gower also impressed and could be an ideal replacement in the Nielsen role.

In the same game, Davies also played well again. He works hard and his distribution is eye-catchingly simple, but accurate. He even came close to getting his first goal in our colours, but for a  clearance off the line. Another performance which consolidated his early progress at his new club.

I predict that Davies will be the first to break into the first team, but not quite yet, with Matthew being broken in gently and he has confirmed he is happy to play reserve team football for the time being. Both appear confident in their own ability and have the attributes to go a long way in the game.  I think that they may be forcing their way into the reckoning if some of the deadwood ever does get shifted from the club.  

If only there was a top class forward to score all the chances created in the first team !!

 WYART LANE

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