Tottenham Hotspur 2 Middlesbrough 0
A White Hart Lane crowd reared on the first league and cup double of the 20th century, a subsequent Uefa Cup triumph and various successes in the knock-out competitions, expressed its relief on Sunday at the smallest of small mercies. With their victory over Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur avoided the ignominy of equalling a club record of seven successive defeats.
It neither mattered that Middlesbrough played their last 50 minutes with 10 men nor that Spurs completed their victory with a freak goal, nor that they were far fresher than their opponents. Spurs had won, never mind how.
The hosts did, in fact, finish the game well on top, creating several chances that could have been turned into further goals and a more handsome first victory for their new manager Martin Jol.
Whether Tottenham would have benefited against opponents not suffering from fatigue is doubtful. Middlesbrough looked much the more impressive side early on, finding their men with an ease that was beyond Tottenham but with the rigours of Thursday's Uefa Cup tie against Villareal still in their legs, they had begun to tire before Frank Queudrue's rash two-footed lunge on his fellow Frenchman, Noe Pamarot.
Though it was Queudrue's sixth dismissal in four years he is unlikely to be censured by his manager Steve McLaren, who considered the red card waved by referee Phil Dowd unduly harsh.
"That decision cost us the game," said McLaren. "The decision was made too quickly. I know referees have to make split-second decisions but he didn't need to make that one instantly. It was the first bad tackle of the game. A yellow card would have calmed everyone down."
The 10 men survived only until the 48th minute when Pedro Da Silva Mendes raced down the right for his low cross to be swept in by Jermain Defoe, who marred the moment by taking off his shirt in the celebrations. His fifth booking means he misses Wednesday's Carling Cup tie with Liverpool.
The crowd could hardly contain their glee at the second, bizarre Spurs goal, stemmed from a back-pass by Ray Parlour, who had been booed throughout for the mere fact that he used to play for Arsenal. The clearance from Mark Schwarzer flew straight past the stunned goalkeeper off Spurs' substitute Frederic Kanoute to sum up Middlesbrough's sad day.