This report came courtesy of Chris Fincham of the "Spurs list"
FA PREMIER LEAGUE
Saturday 26th December, 1998
Coventry City 1 (0) - 1 (0)Tottenham Hotspur
Referee: Keith Burge
Coventry City:- Ogrizovic; Nilsson, Shaw, Williams(Breen 61), Edworthy(Aloisi 65), Boateng, McAllister, Soltvedt, Froggatt, Huckerby(Shilton 76), Whelan.
Tottenham Hotspur:- Walker; Carr, Young, Campbell, Sinton, Fox, Anderton, Nielsen, Ginola (Clemence,81), Armstrong, Ferdinand (Iversen 88)
Weather:- Rain, Swirling Wind.
Coventry's best crowd of the season, bolstered by Spurs selling their full ticket allocation, witnessed a scrappy affair in difficult conditions.This was certainly the proverbial 'game of two halves' with the travelling side having the best of the first 45 minutes but ending up thanking Ian Walker for gaining a point from this game.
The game started in bizarre fashion as (first) 41 year old Steve Ogrizovic was called upon to replace Magnus Hedman in the Coventry goal, as the latter had complained of dizziness in the pre-match warm up, then in a 5 minute spell before Spurs opened the scoring, a Referee's assistant left the proceedings with a pulled hamstring and McAllister and Huckerby contrived to knock each other out in an incident which few (including myself) saw, as the ball was 15 yards away at the time. The incidents seem to unsettle the Home side and Spurs gradually took control of the game, culminating in the opening goal. In a training ground move, from Anderton's corner, Ferdinand flicked on and Sol Campbell bundled the ball home from close range.
After that, Spurs defended the fightback well and Coventry were reduced to one clear chance before half-time, when their Man Of the Match, Whelan, contrived to miss a good opportunity with his head from barely 6 yards, after getting between Campbell and Young. Looking forward to a well deserved cuppa at Half Time,for those of us that were sat in the lower tier and thus open to the elements, some bright spark at Highfield Rd had decided not to reopen the tea bar at the corner of the ground, and so we had to make a decision to queue 15 deep under the stand and/or miss the start of the second half. Being reasonably pleased with the way we had played in the first half and looking for more of the same in the second, I decided to forgo the tea and took my place alongside my brother and son just as the teams re-appeared from the tunnel.
This proved to be my first bad decision of the afternoon as Coventry, clearly hotfoot from another Strachan half-time ear-bashing, set about getting what turned out to be a deserved equalising goal. Spurs in contrast, had clearly forgotten everything that was good about their earlier play which was a mix of decent passing movements, combative midfield challenges and cool defensive play. It was as if they had suddenly remembered that we infamously lack the guile or 'Where with all' to soak up pressure and defend a lead. The majority in Purple shirts (and I mean majority) started to think they were footballers that should be seen on a higher stage, rather than grinding out a win on a wet weekend in Coventry.
Fox drifted out of the game almost as anonimously as he had drifted in, Nielsen looked like a little boy lost, Anderton starting passing to the opposition with equal accuracy, and at one stage even Campbell tried a comical 'reverse flick with tuck' on the edge of his own penalty area that brought the meories of Lacy, Price and (more recently) Vega, flooding back. Spurs' attacking options were reduced to Ginola making runs from the half way line, with no support and 2 Coventry defenders desperately trying to stop him, which they usually did through 'Fair means or foul', resulting in his man-marker Boateng being inevitably cautioned for the 'tackle' from behind, and the home fans booing Ginola's every move thereafter, due to the occasional 'theatricals' after similar challenges.
Ferdinand and Armstrong's contributions after that were to try and 'show willing' and chase down the Coventry defenders, thus preventing them from having time to start moves from the back. In terms of anything resembling goal attempts during the entire second half, I can only recall three. Armstrong with a pathetic close range effort after a decent counter attacking move,a good save from a long range Anderton free kick which, in truth, was probably already going over the bar and another powerful mid-height shot from the old Sheringham corner kick routine. I can vaguely remember a Ginola effort too.
The most exciting moment of the match was about 10 minutes into the second half when Froggatt ghosted? past Fox and bent in a vicious shot which (somehow) Walker got his fingertips to, to send it round his left hand post. This moment later prompted the Coventry Manager, Strachan, to say that he had just witnessed the save of the season, and capped a good performance from the keeper which might just prompt Espen Baardsen into having another re-think over his new contract.
Within minutes, Spurs had another let-off when Froggatt floated a telling far post cross onto Whelan's head which Walker managed to push onto his post (despite Whelan being only 3 yards from goal) and the ball agonisingly rolled along the goal line before Campbell made a half clearance in the ensuing confusion... Whelan was first to the follow up which Walker managed again to parry, this time to safety. However, with 19 minutes to go, Spurs lost concentration at the back and an early ball found the Australian, Aloisi, making his home debut as a second half substitute (did Venners buy him for Portsmouth?), he turned between Carr and Young (who had both given him too much room) and he sent a low shot past Walker's left side.
From that point on, Spurs were hanging on and Graham signalled his intentions by replacing Ginola with Clemence, presumably to 'stiffen up' the midfield, although I am personally yet to see Clemence stiffen anything up ( no doubt the female fraternity of N.17 will confirm my views?!). Spurs other substitution was also telling as Graham immediately replaced Ferdinand with the welcome sight of Iversen, after the former made a pathetic attempt to control a pass aimed at him and the substitute was greeted with loud cheers from the Spurs contingent.
So, a point gained or 2 points lost? I'll leave the final word with George Graham who apparently beat a hasty retreat from the Press Conference by saying; 'The equaliser was a schoolboy goal, the game was a scrappy affair and the result was fair'.
· Brian Judson's match preview
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