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Spurs v Coveentry, 13.04.98

"It was Twenty Years ago today!"
article published April, 2018, but first written in 1998 by the late Brian Judson. Brian's report is followed by my personal comments at the time.

Monday, April 13th 1998
FA Carling Premiership

Tottenham Hotspur : Walker; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Nielsen; Fox, Saib (sub Calderwood 4), Berti, Ginola; Armstrong (sub Ferdinand, 56), Klinsmann.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Grodas, Anderton, Scales.

Booked : Berti, Calderwood.

Goalscorer : Berti 67.

Coventry City : Ogrizovic; Nilsson, Breen, Shaw, Burrows; Telfer, Gavin Strachan (sub Boland, 72), Whelan, Hall (sub Soldvedt, 65); Moldovan (sub Huckerby, 60), Dublin.

Substitutes *NOT* used : Hedman, Williams.

Booked : Telfer, Hall, Huckerby.

Goalscorer : Dublin, 86.

Referee : Mr M Riley (Leeds).

Attendance : 33,463.

Tottenham are still walking the thin tightrope that separates them from safety or relegation simply because they lack concentration for ninety minutes and lack leadership on the park at crucial moments. This is not intended to be any criticism of Sol Campbell because Sol has worked extremely hard. But even Campbell cannot be everywhere to chastise people who hide when things get rocky or who do not link up with the rest of the team. A regular criticism in these reports of mine has often been the total lack of off the ball running and support. Stephen Carr was the one player who must have shed pounds as a result of the sweat pouring off him as he ran up and down the wings, covered the intemperate positioning of Calderwood and Vega and still had time enough to fulfill his own duties.

Having inevitably lost to Chelsea on Saturday it was obvious that Spurs desperately needed to win this game. For once Coventry travelled to Tottenham with the luxury of knowing that their place in the Premiership for 1998-99 was already assured. They surprisingly left Huckerby on the bench, preferring to play Moldovan up front, which was a pity.

The game was hardly under way before Moussa Saib had departed from the pitch, carried off, apparently unconscious, after being hit on the side of his head by Moldovan. The picture in the Daily Telegraph shows how bad the tackle was. I find it appalling and astonishing that Moldovan was not even lectured about the tackle, let alone being booked for dangerous play.

After lengthy treatment, Saib was removed to the dressing room and the game began again with Tottenham being allowed to collect the ball from a dropped ball. The seconds ticked by as we all wondered whether this would be the cue for Darren Anderton to make his first appearance in a Tottenham match since the home victory over Barnsley last December. (His infrequent appearances over the last three seasons had made it seem to me to have been much further back in time since his last game.) But no, it was not to be Anderton. Calderwood? An artisan coming on as a substitute for just about the only really classy footballer currently on the books at Tottenham?

Tottenham were incredibly inept for the fifteen minutes after Saib's departure but they were not punished for it. Coventry's game plan became increasingly evident as they made little or no attempt to put Walker under the cosh. Considering that they have some of the most mobile players in the shape of Whelan, Huckerby and one or two other players, I was gobsmacked they lacked ambition. I'm sure that if they had really put Tottenham under pressure, we would have cracked open at that point of the match. Coventry, in fact, only bothered Walker once in the first half. A shot from Paul Telfer was blocked by Walker and kicked clear downfield by a Spurs defender.

But, suddenly, Ginola suddenly decided that it was time to flex his hair (as shampood in commercial breaks on TV) and run around a bit. He produced some entertaining football but, again, as all too often in the past, it was a case of Ginola trying to produce the Goal of the Season instead of looking around him and passing the ball to a better positioned and unmarked player. Ginola is a very talented player but he is *NOT* a team player. And a *TEAM* player is what is needed when a team is scrapping for points at the bottom of the table.

Spurs did threaten to score in the first half but lacked conviction. Soon after Ginola woke up, he took a typical corner. Vega headed against the bar and Fox blasted the rebound high into the new North Stand. Then, after 36 minutes, Ginola went on a long run from one end of the pitch to the other, slipping and dancing past a string of Coventry players. He steadied himself on the edge of the area and took a quick look round. With all the fans at that end of the ground urging him to pass to Armstrong, Ginola took a weak shot that undid all the good work he had done to produce the chance.

In the second half, Spurs continued to dominate proceedings without ever looking likely to score. Coventry's Ogrizovic had little to do apart from fielding the ball when it came his way. The main interest at the midway point of the second half was the sight of Gordon Strachan lambasting some of his players from the touchline and refusing to be ushered away by the fourth match official.

Spurs continued to waste chances with Klinsmann seeing a header of his hitting Vega and being cleared by Coventry. It looked odds-on that a goal-less draw would be the outcome of the match. Spurs called off Armstrong, much to his disgust, and sent on Ferdinand. Armstrong stormed off down the tunnel and apparently left the ground before the game was over. But Ferdinand was even less threatening than Armstrong had been and disappeared into the anonymity of the white shirts purporting to represent Tottenham.

And then from out of the blue, Tottenham incredibly scored! Ginola took a corner and Berti timed his run to such perfection that the ball was billowing in the net before the Coventry defence had even spotted him lurking in the packed goalmouth. Ogrizovic lost his temper with his defenders.

The ground erupted in celebration but then everyone began to chew their nails. The seconds ticked away as people began to drift away. And then disaster struck. Berti had already blocked a shot from Whelan so Tottenham could not say they had not been warned that Coventry were waking up.

Coventry's Nilsson took a quick throw-in. Dublin flicked the ball on. Huckerby slipped past some crass defending by Vega and Dublin had all the time in the world to pick his spot as he hammered the ball low and hard behind Walker.

The trickle towards the exits became a torrent in that second. No one seriously thought Tottenham could score another goal and everyone feared that Coventry might flex their muscles and grab another. But, with Strachan dancing on the touchline in incadescent rage, Coventry simply rubbed Tottenham's nose in the ground and passed the ball around with Tottenham players the piggy in the middle. The referee's whistle released us from the trials of being a Spurs supporter and those of us still present in the ground poured out into the gloomy North London streets, hoping and praying Spurs would still be alive when Tottenham next play at home. They are still in intensive care on a life support machine but we are running out of games that will save us from disaster.

Coventry manager Gordon Strachan apologised for the poor quality of entertainment provided by his team. "Anyone who hasn't seen us recently will think that we've been playing in the Highland League. I love watching good football but there was none out there today. Our quality was very poor." He added, "Spurs looked a good, ordinary, hard-working team. That's not being patronising : we've been there and know what they're going through."

Christian Gross commented, "In our situation you have to win the home games and there are no excuses. On Saturday, Barnsley have to win --- and we can't afford to lose."

Saturday's game (at Barnsley) will be the most vital away game we have had since the Oldham game at the end of the 1993-94 season. We have to win this match or suffer the inevitable consequence of relegation. If we slip into the bottom three now, I doubt if we will be able to extract ourselves from the quicksands that lead to relegation.

Cheers, Brian

Here is my supplementary report:-

About the only thing Spurs fans can say after this game was "Thank heavens for Derby and Newcastle" - who beat Bolton ( 4-0 ) and Barnsley ( 2-1 ) respectively, to leave Spurs still above the relegation zone, and 2 points clear of their nearest rivals with 4 games to play.

Surprisingly, Gross showed confidence in the same players who started against Chelsea, which meant that Vega, Nielsen, and Fox ( the usual suspects ) kept their places. Of the three, probably Nielsen can be most pleased with his performance, showing at one stage some real skill and confidence on the ball on the touchline to create a strong attacking move from a defensive position.

Luck was against us from the outset, when Saib bravely made a 50/50 ball his own, and successfully passed to a team-mate, only to be knocked out in collision with ( I believe ) Moldovan. The Coventry player was not malicious, but there was real concern for Saib, who was stretchered off, apparently with concussion, and had to be replaced. The Spurs crowd actually booed Calderwood onto the field, probably wishing to see the introduction of Anderton, but it has to be said that Calderwood had one of his better games, and surely made a very strong claim to replace Vega for the crucial run-in. Calderwood, despite his lack of skill, is at least very willing to get stuck in, and more pacy than Vega, who continues to pose, pause and fail to pounce too often, although as always he was dangerous in the opponents area.

A big question will be, "Have Spurs got the bottle, and pure guts to survive the remaining games?" The tension is there plainly to see, as even from the kick-off, Moldovan stole the ball from the feet of the Lilywhites.

I was only saying that we had not seen Ginola on the ball, when within the first 4 minutes, he received the ball on the right flank, dazzled a couple of defenders, and put a powerful cross over, which was met by Vega, who headed against the crossbar. The rebounding ball was met by Fox, following up, who surely should have scored, even with his eyes shut, but who managed to put the ball well over. This was the start of one of those days when Fox frustrated us to the hilt. I'm sorry, but Fox would be my first candidate to go, based on this performance. Most of his crosses were too high, or simple inaccurate, and as always, he took soooooooooo long to get that ball in. Ironically, on one occasion he did get an early cross in, only to take Klinsmann by surprise.

Interestingly, Fox spent much of the first half on the left flank, with Ginola on the right, but he reverted to the right for most of the second. I have noticed that Christian Gross does seek variety in attacking styles over the last two games. Obviously there has not been enough success, but it is an improvement on the ( dare I mention him ) Gerry Francis days, when so often we saw the ball being exchanged from one goalie to the other. Now, we get wing play, together with attempts at penetrating passing, whilst still deploying the long ball. Say what you will about Jurgen Klinsmann (JK), but he does win an incredible percentage of the high balls, and more often than not heads to a man or into a space where a team mate ought to make himself available. The problem is that that team mate is often Fox, who is just not reading the game as well as he should.

Spurs had a lot of possession, but again failed to threaten the opposition goal enough. Berti was put through by JK into the box, and strongly appealed for a penalty, but had to be satisfied with a corner. From one of the corners Vega had a glancing header saved by Ogrizovic, the veteran goalie who never lets his side down.

One of the most entertaining moments of the first half was a truly marvellous run by Ginola, bringing the ball out of his own half, down the right wing, cutting in, but sadly the strength of his shot let him down, and it dribbled wide.

I think the biggest cheer of the day came at half-time when the Derby- Bolton scoreline was announced. This was already 4 - 0. It is so sad that we have to rely on such results for ( hopefully ) our own survival. If we do survive, it seems that it will only be because those below us are SO bad, rather than through determined, and gritty play by ourselves.

The second half came, and Spurs maintained the pressure, whilst still not getting close enough to goal. Armstrong was substituted after about an hour, by Ferdinand. Armstrong apparently stormed up the players tunnel, and was driven away from the ground after the game , without commenting, but Gross after the game stated his confidence in Ferdinand "an International player", and to be fair, I thought Ferdinand added a lot of strength to the attack. Noticeably he is able to use both feet, whereas Armo is too often let down by his weak foot.

The Spurs goal came from a Ginola corner taken from the right at the Paxton Road end; Berti it was, who met the ball perfectly to loop it over Ogrizovic. I was at the other end of the ground, and I didn't believe it had gone in at first. I suspect this was the same for many others, and the cheers came in stages, which is why the half-time scores got a greater reception. Berti got a lot of stick on "Talk radio" alleging a lack of "bottle" on his part. Well, I would refute this comment. He it was who scored our goal, and he it was who made a match-saving tackle upon Whelan in the penalty area, when the striker would otherwise have had a clear shot at goal. Berti's reaction to the crowd showed that he clearly has the passion for the run-in. ( A clenched fist gesture of defiance ).

Possibly Spurs' best chance after the goal came from a Klinsmann free kick from the edge of the area. He drove low, and hard, but slightly wide of Oggy's left post. Ferdinand also had a header go just over the bar froma cross by Nielsen.

Sadly, over the last ten minutes we let Coventry get back into the game too much. Vega had been lucky to escape punishment ( from strikers - not the referee ) a little before Dublin found himself unmarked just outside the area to shoot home low to the left of Walker four minutes from the end. So Coventry were allowed to equalise with their only real chance of the game. To be fair, I wouldn't blame Vega alone for this goal. Our defence as a whole was too slow off the mark to get organised for a Coventry set-piece.

At this point, Nielsen was seen to go rushing to the bench. Some interpreted this as some form of complaint, but after the game , he simply said he was making the point that we still had time to win.

Only time will tell of course if this is a point gained , or two points lost. Certainly, we have had plenty of opportunites recently to make our situation more secure, having drawn too many home games. Saturday's game at Barnsley assumes new proportions, and must be our most important game since the away match at Oldham at the end of the '93-'94 season. Win this one we must, otherwise, I truly fear the drop, and I suspect a lot of the Tottenham crowd accepts this as a more than likely fate. The game will be shown on the Jumbotron for those interested, as away tickets sold out some time ago.

For my money, the team which ought to start on Saturday is:- Walker; Carr, Neilsen, Campell, Calderwood ( unbelievable - isn't it, Brian? );Brady, Anderton, Berti, Ginola; Klinsmann, Ferdinand.

I am assuming Saib won't be fit.

To cap all our woes, Arsenal won 4-1 at Blackburn tonight. One of their goals came from the "Tottenham corner", except it was Pettit, to Bergkamp, and not Anderton to Sheringham. It hurts me to say it, but the Arsenal "triple" (win the double and us to get relegated ) is on the cards. Thank God there are more important things in life than football - and I really mean that.

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