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All square on day one

Posted on 16 August 2004  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

A new feature for the new campaign, taking a considered and occasionally offbeat look at our games - starting with Liverpool on day one...

A STRANGE TINGLING sensation invaded the stomach area whilst making the first cuppa of the day before really coming to on Saturday morning. Nerves and butterflies? Maybe, as realisation swifty dawned that the first day of the season was upon us.


And what a prospect to begin with.

On arrival at the Lane the sun was out and the sprinklers added a nice shiny top to a perfect looking pitch - no excuses for misplaced passes here.

Both teams are in the process of beckoning in a new era, Liverpool set for life under the leadership of Rafa Benitez, along with the goalscoring threat of new striker Djibril Cisse - while also coming to terms with life after Michael Owen.

For ourselves, it was the first competitive game with Jacques Santini in charge of playing affairs and a full Spurs debut for Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes, Erik Edman, Noureddine Naybet, and Paul Robinson. Also the intriguing prospect of 17-year-old Philip Ifil taking his Premiership bow and attempting to snuff out the wing play of Harry Kewell.

The phoney pre-season battles are over, this was the real thing.

Much of our reflections from the day were being tapped out as the game progressed, so please allow for the fact that we could hurtle from the incredibly upbeat to particularly downcast depending on what course the game is taking.

A new matchday innovation this season is the introduction of BBC Radio Five Live presenter Brian Alexander hosting the big match build-up on the Jumbotron from pitchside. A big Spurs fan who manages to make this fact clear in almost every show he hosts, Brian now brings his relaxed style to the Lane to help fans while away the minutes before kick-off.

Not that there were too many minutes to while away on this particular day. A 12.45 kick-off is a pretty new one on me, but at least we should be home for Final Score.

The teams emerged to a deafening roar four minutes ahead of the game and the new FIFA handshake was observed. Such is the interest in the game, all areas of the stadium were packed and Robbie Keane elected to plonk himself down in front of me in the press box. The also injured Simon Davies was also suited and booted at the back of the dug out.

Liverpool appeared to have the upper hand in the opening few minutes until Davis, operating deep in central midfield - let first Kewell and then Baros know he was in business.

It was an all new central midfield with Davis operating alongside Mendes, flanked by Jamie Redknapp on the right and Johnnie Jackson left.

The first booking came from an unlikely offender, Fredi Kanoute upending Liverpool's midfield enforcer Didi Hamman.

The atmosphere was crackling and the fans really got behind Ifil, supporting his every touch of the ball and willing him to do well. Another the crowd took to was Naybet, especially when he checked Cisse in full flight on 15 minutes and somehow came out with the ball.

Don't let it be said anymore that our team has no bite in the middle - Davis has put that right and him 'mixing it' with Hamman and Steven Gerrard made for a fascinating subplot in the game. And the boy can certainly play a bit too.

Jamie too got into mixing it mode with a hefty challenge on Gerrard, but the skipper got a booking for his trouble. Just before the second yellow of the game, Naybet through himself in front of a goalbound Baros effort and, at the other end, Davis should have done better when Jackson delivered a perfect looking cross to the edge of the six yard box.

Jackson's shot looked to be going in just after the half hour mark following a long Edman throw, but Riise was on hand to boot clear as Spurs upped the tempo and began to press forward with more conviction.

With this in mind, it was a real blow when Cisse introduced himself to the game on 37 minutes. A Steve Finnan cross from the right - involving a Jamie Carragher flick - was swooped on the by the young Frenchman and he steered his shot low to Robinson's left to score his first goal in English football.

Level pegging would have been about right at the break, after which no changes were made, but a glance down at messrs Keane and Davies in front served as a reminder of the quality not yet available to Jacques.

Not that the players on the pitch were doing a bad job, a clever jink and cross by Jackson nearly gave Kanoute a headed chance and the midfield, once again, clicked into gear early in the second period. Defoe then rocked the Liverpool rearguard back on their heels when he employed clever trickery to weave into the area before, unfortunately, chipping his effort wide.

Kewell flashed a shot just past the post before Liverpool replaced one young French striker with another on 63 minutes - Florent Sinama-Pongolle taking over from the goalscorer Cisse. Gary Doherty then replaced the tiring Naybet with 21 minutes remaining - the Moroccan having only received clearance to play late yesterday, having signed on Thursday. Thimothee Atouba also came on for his debut, in place of Jackson.

Directly responsible or not, the changes appeared inspired when Defoe picked up the ball in the area seconds later, turned and smashed the ball inside Jerzy Dudek's near post. The Lane erupted and Defoe is off the mark - the first of many you suspect. At the other end, Robinson displayed his fine reflexes with a smart tip over from a Carragher header.

Liverpool responded to the game's changing complexion by taking off another striker - Milan Baros - and putting on Stephen Warnock, who went left with Kewell pushing on. The next chance went our way though, with Defoe shooting just wide from Atouba's cross.

Michael Brown was next to join the fray with nine minutes remaining, Jamie making way, with Ledley taking the armband.

This batch of changes did not have quite the dramatic effect of the first and neither side really looked like squeezing maximum points out of the day. So it's a point for starters and a good one at that. It is to be imagined that the 35,105 crowd went home pretty satisfied and looking forward to next week already.