FA CARLING PREMIERSHIP
SATURDAY 26TH FEBRUARY, 2000
COVENTRY CITY 0 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0)
Referee:- Paul Durkin
Coventry (4-4-2);- Hedman; Shaw, Breen, Williams ( sub Quinn, 46), Burrows; Chippo, Eustace, McAllister (capt.) Hadji; Whelan (sub Norman, 81), Keane
Subs not used:- Hyldgaard (GK); Konjic; Strachan
Booked:- Keane (Dissent)
Spurs (4-4-2):- Walker; Carr, Perry, Campbell(capt.), Taricco (sub Young, 62); Anderton, Sherwood (sub Clemence, 45), Freund, Leonhardsen; Ginola, Armstrong
Subs not used:- Baardsen; Scales; Korsten
A game which lacked flow, and failed to set the pulses racing was won in typical George Graham fashion - by a solitary goal, and from a set piece, as Armstrong rose to head home Anderton's corner after 82 minutes. This was Spurs first win since 3rd January, and only their fourth goal of the year. Three of those goals have been scored by Armstrong, who brought to an end some seven hours of scoreless football. Soon after his winning goal, Armstrong was given a beautiful chance to double his tally, but this time he failed in front of an open goal, allowing Hedman to save.
Spurs welcomed back Steffen Freund, and Oyvind Leonhardsen, both of whom had solid games. Whenever Spurs did get moving in the middle of the park, oddly, it was more often Sherwood or Anderton who led to the move breaking down. Coventry were without several players, including Palmer, and Cedric Roussel. Transfer listed Noel Whelan played up front with Robbie Keane, and the decision to remove him for Norman with ten minutes to go was roundly booed by the home fans.
Within thirty seconds of the start, Armstrong won a throw on the right, which was taken by Freund, flicked on by Sol Campbell, for Armstrong to try a spectacular overhead kick that went just over the bar. Soon after that, Freund had the first of two shots of the afternoon, both of which needless to say were either off target or too weak to trouble Hedman.
Coventry were finding a lot of space down their left flank, through Hadji and Burrows. This was partly due to Anderton's failure to backtrack sufficiently, as unusually, Freund was playing left side midfield, with Leo on the wing. Whelan and Keane were found offside too often, and Keane got no change out of a strong Campbell, even getting booked for dissent through his frustration at the referee's failure to award a foul against Campbell. One Coventry header got deflected off the target by a colleague, but an offside decision had been given in any case.
Coventry looked a little shaky in defence, and a stronger forward line would have made more capital out of this situation. A poor clearance fell to the feet of Armstrong, who was able to advance on goal, but Hedman pushed his shot round the corner. Despite his late miss, this was one of Armstrong's better games, as he showed the confidence to try some tricks, including one or two Ginola-like back-heels. He did well early in the game to shield the ball, turn well, and pass to Anderton on the right. Darren's cross reached the advancing Sherwood, but his header was too weak to cause any pain.
Leonhardsen followed some good battling work with an over-hit pass, and the ball reached Whelan in a goalscoring position. Perry did well to clear. Freund broke for Spurs, giving Taricco a chance to cross from the left into the 6 yard box. There was no yellow and blue shirted player to meet the decent ball. Ginola was rarely to be found on the wing today, as he partnered Armstrong. This was one of those typical mercurial days for David, but as the game wore on, he got down the left wing, and became more dangerous towards the end of the game.
An effort by Leonhardsen was saved, after a good pass from Armstrong, and then with 35 minutes on the clock, Ian Walker was called heroically into action, as for once, Keane winkled his way between Perry and Campbell, then shot across goal, with Walker beaten. Hadji raced to shoot into an apparently open goal, but Walker made his ground, and dived to make an essential save, to receive the "England's number 1" plaudits from the away support.
Just before half time, Sherwood was replaced by Clemence, and significantly he was clutching his injured groin. Perhaps he will have to have that operation now?
At the start of the second half, Coventry replaced Williams with right back Quinn, and moved Richard Shaw into the centre, alongside Breen. Shaw himself seemed to have been hobbling a bit in the first half. There was then a long pause, as Taricco and Chippo had an accidental clash of heads. In a somewhat comical scene, with Taricco looking punch-drunk, and clearly concussed, the Argentinian tried to carry on, but was eventually replaced by Luke Young. Walker had to make another fine save, this time from Chippo, looking more than suspiciously offside, and then Armstrong and Ginola combined to give Anderton a chance inside the right of the box. Darren skied his attempt to chip the goalkeeper.
Young made a good run, and his cross was met in the middle by Ginola, whose shot was well blocked. Spurs were then awarded a free kick on the edge of the area, which Anderton did at least get on target. Sol Campbell managed to get forward following a lengthy build up, and following an exchange with Anderton, got a left foot shot just over.
Anderton was guilty of a soft pass, which Whelan picked up, and fed to the advancing Keane. This was a good scoring opportunity, but Keane sent the ball well over the bar. Then came Whelan's substitution, and within a minute, Spurs took the lead. Anderton took a corner on the right, which Armstrong met from about 15 yards out. Hedman seemed to get hold of the ball, but allowed it to trickle over the line beneath his body. Armstrong nearly ran the length of the pitch in his ecstasy. If only he had converted Ginola's set-up five minutes later, instead of allowing Hedman to parry his shot, we would not have had to endure the anxiety of the five minutes of injury time.
In truth, though, once we took the lead, Spurs dominated the game, and were then the only team likely to score.
Before the goal, there had been muted chants of "We want our Tottenham back", and "We want Sugar out", but these protests seemed to be out-done by "We love you Tottenham" which followed. Noticeably, no-one was laying any blame at Graham's feet (yet) for another bland performance. At the end, Ginola, true to his word at the December Fans' Forum, led the team over to acknowledge the Spurs fans, and Steffen Freund received adulation "Yiddo, Yiddo" when he donated his shirt to some lucky person in the front row.
I should also mention the commemoration of the passing of Sir Stanley Matthews with a well-respected one minute silence at the start of the game, in line with grounds all over the country.
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