Big Ron suffers big problems

DAVE HADFIELD

Coventry City 2 Tottenham Hotspur 3

At Coventry, you can buy Big Ron mugs and Big Ron T-shirts. It is that merchandise, rather than generic club souvenirs, that the Highfield Road scoreboard advertises. You can even call Big Ron on an 0891 number, although on Saturday's evidence, you could be in for a rather terse conversation.

Although the personality cult is still alive and well, the personality itself is showing the strain. Atkinson has ridden out any number of crises with a quick one-liner and a flash of teeth and gold jewellery, but he has surely never resembled his namesake, the tight-lipped, ashen-faced Neasden manager, Ron Knee, as closely as he did after this defeat.

Coventry have been in worse positions than this later in the season, but the prospect of entering the club's annals as the man who took them down after all manner of unlikely characters had kept them up over the past 20-odd years is siphoning away the familiar bonhomie.

If a tight-lipped, ashen-faced man can also be incandescent, then Atkinson was. "We've thrown it away with defending that was nothing short of scandalous," he scowled, following up with heavy hints that heads would roll and that new faces would be brought in.

The nearest thing to a wisecrack was telling a radio reporter to "mind your own business" over what he said to his side at half-time.

Although Coventry's marking left much to be desired, however, Atkinson's angry analysis does less than justice to some impressive attacking play from a Tottenham team beginning to re-establish itself as a force.

After going behind to a cleverly made goal by Dion Dublin, Spurs, who surrendered a two-goal lead in the Coca-Cola Cup tie here 10 days earlier, scored three - all, in their different ways, finely constructed.

With Chris Armstrong starting to produce some good touches and Ruel Fox looking a Tottenham natural on the right, Teddy Sheringham has the support that he clearly feared he would lack this season and the side is thoroughly dangerous going forward.

Gerry Francis, although several shades less ashen than his counterpart, was less impressed with their defensive work. Their lack of assurance at the back brought Coventry a second goal and gave them the prospect of snatching an equaliser until the very end.

Maybe that would have put a faint smile on Big Ron's mug, even if one of City's grimmer battles still lies ahead.

Goals: Dublin (7) 1-0; Fox (20) 1-1; Sheringham (25) 1-2; Howells (46) 1-3; Williams (48) 2-3.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Filan; Borrows (Pickering, 74), Busst, Rennie, Hall; Telfer, Williams, Richardson, Salako; Dublin, Lamptey (Isaias, 74). Substitute not used: Gould (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Austin, Mabbutt, Campbell, Wilson; Fox, Howells, Dozzell, Rosenthal (Calderwood, 70); Sheringham, Armstrong. Substitutes not used: McMahon, Thorstvedt (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

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