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Coventry Reserves v Spurs Reserves, 20.08.02

Thanks to Chris Fincham for this exclusive report for Spurs Odyssey.Some of the views and expressions are of course personal to Chris!

FA PREMIER RESERVE LEAGUE
Tues. 20th August, 2002
Coventry City Reserves 1 Spurs Reserves 1
at Highfield Rd, Coventry

Coventry scorer:-
(McSheffrey, pen)

Spurs scorer:-
(Marney)

Attendance: est. 600

Teams:-
Coventry:-Gary Montgomery; Craig Pead, Barry Quinn, Sean Cooney, Steve Walsh, Avun Jephcott, David Pipe, Robert Betts, Lee Mills, Gary McSheffrey (sub Osbourne, 46), Eddie Stanford

Subs not used:- Richard Brush (GK); Stephen Grant, Stuart Giddings, Rory May

Spurs:- Lars Hirschfeld; George Snee, Chris Perry, Ronnie Henry, Stephen Kelly; Rohan Ricketts (sub Bowditch, 66), Diego Bortolozzo (sub Marney, 66), John Jackson, David Galbraith; Les Ferdinand (sub Sutton, 84), Lee Barnard

Subs not used:- Gavin Kelly (GK); Mark Hughes

On a mild, summer evening, I was joined by Spurs supporting friends (all season ticket holders but possibly making their Reserves 'debut' ) in making the short trip from Leamington Spa to see the 'Stiffs' in action in their first league fixture of the season.

Having just signed contracts, I was particularly keen to see Messrs Hirschfeld, Ricketts and Bortolozzo in action. First teamers Les Ferdinand and Chris Perry were also in the starting line up in what otherwise appeared to be a young side. Coventry had the veteran ex Leicester City player Steve Walsh in defence and their striker signing from last season, ex Bradford City 'lump' , Lee Mills.

Ironically, I came away from the corresponding fixture last season waxing lyrical (and silently urging David Pleat to take a look at) a young classy forward from Coventry, by the name of Lee Bothroyd who is now a first team regular Ed:- He's an ex-gooner too. This was the first time I had seen the (locally raved about) Gary McSheffrey and he was a 'lone star' on display tonight in what was a turgid affair, played with a lack of real commitment it seemed, from both sides but particularly Spurs.

The overriding memory though was the deep disappointment at witnessing very poor performances from both Ricketts and Bortolozzo and I just hope I caught them on a bad night, otherwise I doubt we might ever see them in a regular first team shirt at the Lane.

Spurs lined up with Perry partnering Henry in the middle of a conventional back four with Kelly on the left and Snee on the right. Bortolozzo was the deepest of the midfielders, playing in a sort of Bunjevcevic role with a licence to bring the ball forward. Ricketts, Jackson and Galbraith made up the midfield four with the latter playing out wide. Ferdinand played the deeper role supporting the skilful Lee Barnard up front.

Spurs started brightly in the first 10 minutes and looked the more assured side with Jackson and Barnard seeing plenty of the ball and Les looking quite sharp.Unfortunately, this turned out to be Spurs only consistent period of control in the whole game.

As early as the 2nd minute, Barnard hit a low hard shot just past the keepers left post after a good move involving Snee and a minute later, another Barnard effort was blocked by Walsh with the ball on target for an early goal. After 5 minutes, Les hit an excellent speculative effort on the angle, bringing out a fine save low to the keepers left, the resultant corner saw an unmarked Kelly head over the bar from 10 yards.

With 8 minutes gone, Kelly was again involved in a direct run at the defence which momentarily created a gap for him to shoot over the bar, from 25 yards. Unfortunately this bright start with a 'shoot on sight' policy was not a taste of things to come and Spurs attacking game became too fussy and often included one pass too many or a pedestrian build up allowing the Coventry defence to regroup, and thus difficult to break down.

After 10 minutes, with their first real attack of the game, Coventry were awarded a penalty after a clumsy challenge by Bortolozzo on the livewire Coventry striker, McSheffrey, who picked himself and planted the penalty kick low and hard to Hirschfeld's left, giving the Keeper no chance. Spurs responded with a decent passing move ending with a 'cross come shot' from Barnard from the angle of the area which harmlessly went wide.

The goal gave Coventry confidence and they started to pass the ball better and had a bite to their tackles, an approach which seemed alien to their opponents. Ricketts tried some tricks but made himself look foolish almost very time as he contrived to lose the ball allowing Coventry to break up our attacks, and Bortolozzo's 'aggression' only came across in a niggly, pushing and shoving sort of way which revealed a Latin temperament and possibly borne out of frustration as the game went on, as he struggled to impress on this lesser stage.

In the 17th minute, Coventry had a McSheffrey shot blocked by Snee and the resulting corner caused confusion in the Spurs defence with Hirschfeld flapping at fresh air. Spurs then launched a quick counter attack, ending with a poor Ricketts shot, unnecessarily put out for a corner by a Coventry defender which Galbraith took and was subsequently cleared. Spurs then had another corner, this time taken by Ricketts but like subsequent ones, it lacked conviction and did not clear the fist defender whose clearance came out to Kelly, 25 yards out, who hit a misjudged shot into Row Z.

After 25 minutes, Spurs almost went 2 goals down when Hirschfeld dithered over an ordinary looking Perry backpass, almost allowing McSheffrey to block his attempted clearance, but he just got his kick away in time. Coventry then forced 2 quick corners in succession as Spurs started to struggle with the aerial power of the (otherwise hopeless) journeyman Lee Mills and a goal mouth melee ensued with Coventry threatening to increase their lead.

With half an hour gone, Henry tried to protect a though ball to the onrushing Hirschfeld, almost allowing McSheffrey in. 2 minutes later, the same player left Perry on his backside, with a quick turn but shot weakly to allow Hirschfeld to gather comfortably. Despite the energy and confidence of Jackson, who at this point must have felt he was playing in a one man midfield formation, Spurs just couldn't get and keep the ball, allowing an otherwise ordinary Coventry side to take control.

In the 44th Minute, McSheffrey appeared to have got a yard on Perry who managed a characteristic last gasp sliding tackle which allowed the ball to roll harmlessly into the arms of Hirschfeld. This probably proved to be a turning point of the game as the challenge appeared to leave the young striker injured and he did not appear in the second half, much to the relief no doubt of all those connected with the Spurs team and to me in particular who was sick of writing his name on the notepad!

The last goal attempt of the half appeared to have come from Spurs in the shape of Les, who hit a quick shot on the turn but was cleared for a corner, taken by Ricketts, but which came to nothing. In the 2nd minute of added time, Coventry then wasted a golden chance to go 2 goals up when the ball was slipped through to Mills, running into the penalty on the angle, he hit a hard shot into the side netting, when he surely should have at least brought a save from the advancing Hirschfeld.

[half time] Good pies and Kenco coffee! Decent fayre.

Coventry replaced the injured McSheffrey with Isaac Osbourne but Spurs remained unchanged. The first chance of the 2nd half fell to the Coventry winger Pipe, who went on a 40 yard run to collect a long ball, but Galbraith caught him and made a perfect sliding tackle to clear the danger for a corner kick which Spurs then cleared easily. On the hour mark, a cross from the left hand side from one of the more impressive Spurs players on the night, Jackson, just failed to connect with Barnard's head. A minute later, Ricketts again lost the ball in midfield allowing Pipe to make a direct run into the penalty area, stopped by a lunging tackle by Perry. Soon after, Coventry mounted another attack with Perry out of position which Henry managed to steer clear for a corner.

Spurs responded with a counter attack ending in Bortolozzo being fouled, deep into Coventry territory. Jackson floated a free kick into the box which came to nothing as Spurs offensive players, yet again, failed to attack dead ball situations, exerting little pressure on the Coventry defence. After 64 minutes, Coventry mounted a dangerous attack with the resurgent Steve Stone look-alike (Pipe) hitting a low shot, saved reasonably comfortably by Hirschfeld. A minute later, with no obvious danger, the otherwise quiet Coventry midfielder Stanford launched an audacious drive from all of 40 yards but Hirschfeld was alert to it and carefully watched the impressive effort clear his bar.

This saw the last involvement in the game of the hugely disappointing Ricketts (are you still a Gooner in disguise?!) and the temperamental Bortolozzo who were replaced by a lively Dean Marney who took a wide right position, and Ben Bowditch who failed to stamp any authority on the game in the middle of the park. Jackson continued to be our most creative player and after 69 minutes, he was brought down, Galbraith floated a quick free kick into the area but Mr Nobody unsurprisingly failed to connect, and Coventry again cleared easily, the ageing Walsh must have though it was his (37th)? birthday.

Coventry were the next to put together any sort of meaningful attack after 73 minutes in a game which was otherwise fading away into obscurity, when a long ball seemed to put Pipe through on goal but was thwarted at the last moment by a joint but fair challenge by Kelly and Henry. After 79 minutes, a sliced clearance by a Coventry defender gave Spurs a corner taken this time by Snee, but the lack of an aerial challenge allowed Montgomery to gather the ball easily. 2 minutes later, a smart move involving Snee and Barnard allowed the latter to hit a low shot which went whistling past the keepers right hand post and it seemed like Spurs were at last making a serious attempt at an equaliser.

After 84 minutes, John Sutton replaced the increasingly tiring and disinterested Les and positioned himself in a 2 pronged attack alongside Barnard who, after an encouraging early start, was completely starved of the ball in the second half, as a result of a distinct lack of creativity from Spurs. In the 87th minute, Coventry threatened to wrap the game up when their midfielder Jephcott was put through against a square looking Spurs defence but he ballooned the ball over the bar.

Then, in the last minute of normal time, Spurs contrived an equaliser out of nothing, in somewhat bizarre circumstances. Galbraith and a Coventry defender both challenged for the ball near the corner flag with both ending up in a heap and seemingly injured. With neither physio seemingly aware, the game carried on, Galbraith picked himself up, received a quick short pass from the corner kick and floated over an accurate cross which Marney headed in from 6 yards, despite the attentions of 2 Coventry defenders. Marney came over to the Main Stand and celebrated his goal in slightly over zealous fashion, and the 50 or so Spurs supporters in the crowd suddenly made themselves known!

The 2 minutes of added time were played without further incident and Spurs snatched an unlikely looking point and led the home supporters who had sat comfortably for 90 minutes in relative comfort, and who had just enjoyed a 5 minute session of keep-ball, now looking decidedly glum. Colin Calderwood will be presumably satisfied with a point from the Reserves opening fixture, but could not have ben happy with the performance against a Coventry team who have been 'forced' to play a number of last Seasons reserves in this Seasons first team, due to theIr relegation from the Premier League and severe financial problems.

Chris F

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