Written as part of 'Classic Matches of the Week' series for 'The Football Pink'.
Rosenthal sweeps in Tottenham's first goal of the night. Image from here.
Season 1994/95. Blackburn Rovers were crowned Premiership champions, Everton won the FA Cup, and Eric Cantona went kung-fu crazy. However, slipping quietly away from the mainstream headlines, a certain one hundred and twenty minutes of football between two mid-table sides, encapsulated all the wonderful and rose-tinted quirks of nineties football.
The Dell, Southampton’s tight and atmospheric ground provided the location. An FA Cup fifth round replay the occasion, and the date was Wednesday March 1st 1995. The match had everything. For starters, eight goals were shared. It additionally featured; Francis Benali’s ‘tash, a goalscoring Matt Le Tissier, Spurs’ bold and beautiful yellow Holsten kit, the unique atmosphere of an older ground, Bruce Grobbelaar’s intriguing decline, and various ‘johnny foreigners’ in the form of their life. Curiously, one of them was Ronny Rosenthal.
Rosenthal arrived in England to much fanfare. Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalgleish hijacked his trial at Luton Town to bring him to Anfield. Having initially signed on loan, Kenny made Ronny England’s first foreign £1million player in March 1990. The Israeli international, who earned the dubious nickname of the ‘Hebrew Hitman’, moved from Standard Leige to Liverpool, and scored seven in the last eight games of the season on the way to what remains Liverpool’s most recent league championship.
To say Ronny Rosenthal single-handedly won Liverpool the 1990 league title wouldn’t be too far from the truth.
Ossie Ardilles bought Rosenthal to White Hart Lane in January 1994, but much like his successor, Gerry Francis, didn’t often feature Ronny in the starting eleven. A year later, Ronny had further competition as Spurs fans were enjoying the fruits of homegrown talent and a sprinkling of 1994 World Cup stars. Jurgen Klinsmann, George Popescu, and Ilie Dumitrescu, were combining well with Teddy Sherringham, a curiously injury-free Darren Anderton, and the effervescence of Nick Barmby. Behind them lay a curious marriage of promising youth and patchy experience. Spurs regularly started a young Sol Campbell alongside an ageing Gary Mabbutt in central defence, and relied upon names such as Micky Hazard and David Howells in midfield.
Darren Anderton: Not injured, and in combative mood. Image from here.
1994/95 saw Southampton do the double over Spurs. However, an almost equally high-scoring 4-3 victory at The Dell, and a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane didn’t place them as favourites to progress. With a spine of Bruce Grobbelaar, Ken Monkou, Jim Magilton, and Matt Le Tissier, Southampton could flicker between deserving labels of ‘world beaters’ and ‘pub team’ within minutes. Having held Tottenham to a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, there were more than faint hopes of a cup upset.
Live on Sky Sports, the replay became one to miss bedtime for. Southampton, playing true to the weight and influence of an expectant Dell, took their chances in an open first half. Goals from Neil Shipperley and, inevitably, Matt Le Tissier, provided a comfortable two-goal cushion at the break. However, during the break, Gerry Francis hauled off Stuart Nethercott and flung on Ronny Rosenthal. The decision proved decisive.
After little over ten minutes of the second half, Rosenthal hit two in two minutes to level the match. His first, a sweeping finish at the near post, and his second an opportunistic twenty-five yard strike which beat Grobbelaar at his near post. The joyful smile, which burst on to even his own face, couldn’t hide the mix of joy and surprise that Rosenthal of all people had bagged a brace. As the remaining half an hour played out, Le Tissier had a screamer or two athletically spurned by Ian Walker, and Sherringham and Anderton missed chances for the away side. Rosenthal completed his hat-trick in blistering fashion in extra-time. From thirty yards plus, he let fly with his left foot and gave Grobbelaar no chance. Defeated and deflated, Southampton caved in and conceded a fourth, fifth and sixth to a Sherringham, Barmby, and Anderton.
Rosenthal celebrates his hat-trick, and his most famous moment in a Spurs shirt. Image from here.
Tottenham went on to dispatch of Liverpool in the quarter-finals, but lost out to Everton in the semis. Daniel Amokachi providing a couple of killer blows in a 4-1 reverse.
As for the ‘Hebrew Hitman’, he eventually left Tottenham in the summer of 1997. Watford and Divison Two his destination, where he stood out as a true class act, scored the goal of the season in a promotion winning campaign, and retired aged thirty-five.
Southampton and Tottenham went on to extremely different definitions of mid-table security. Following a few late-nineties near misses, Southampton were relegated in 2005, four years after moving into a purpose-built stadium. 2009 would see them in the third tier of English football. Southampton eventually returned to the top-flight in 2012. By contrast, since the late-nineties, Tottenham Hotspur have never been outside the top flight, breached the fabled top four, and dazzled in the Champions League. Since Southampton’s top-flight return, they’ve rightfully gained a reputation as a smart and well-managed club who play good football, and have a knack of appointing very good managers.
The two go head-to-head again on Saturday, and thanks to a recent flow of managers (and players) from the south coast to North London; namely Glenn Hoddle, Harry Redknapp, Mauricio Pochettino, both rivalry and footballing standards are sure to be high.