Football: Coppell deep in the doldrums
Crystal Palace 0 Coventry City 3 Telfer 1, Moldovan 40, Dublin 77 Attendance: 21,810
Sunday 01 March 1998
Those are some of the facts and the stats, combined with the one about Palace still being without a Premiership home win all season which may well tip the balance when Terry Venables decides whether to accept an offer to become Palace's new manager tomorrow.
Dublin scored the third, his 63rd goal for City to pass Cyrille Regis' top-flight record, with 14 minutes to go, against a Palace side which had already had their spirit drained by first-half goals from Paul Telfer and Viorel Moldovan. As Coventry continue to hit new heights, Palace are as low as they can go with little sign of climbing back up.
The current Palace manager, Steve Coppell, claims to be as clueless on his future as the club's supporters while the takeover attempt of the computer businessman Mark Goldberg progresses unpredictably. But Coppell's pride does seem to have been hurt by his death-row status and it has not been easy to protect his players from the distractions. "Ask the players how they feel," he snapped. "Back to the drawing board? It's worn out," he smiled. "Panic? I've changed my underpants three times already.
"Look, I'm going home to prepare for training on Monday and will do that until told otherwise. But I have not got my head in the sand. I recognise the situation and if it has been decided that Terry Venables is the right man for the club then I will go along with it. I'm a Palace supporter and will do my best for the club."
Coppell has no option but to carry on as if nothing is wrong, but that freedom does not extend to his players who were very poor despite the necessity to win this match.
The defender Dean Gordon was on a mission from the start, charged with the will to make amends for his contribution in the midweek FA Cup defeat by Arsenal, when he was sent off for conceding the free-kick which led to the winning goal. So imagine how he felt just 47 seconds into this crucial game when he committed a schoolboy error to gift Coventry the lead.
Gordon was under no pressure to clear after Darren Huckerby's fine run and cross but took his eye off the ball and missed it completely. Telfer had watched it all the way and pounced to shoot into the back of the net before Gordon could recover.
Ironic cheers greeted Palace's first shot on goal, but they showed sufficient spirit to get back into the match and Andy Roberts lifted one of a few long-range shots a foot over.
The game and the atmosphere fell so flat for a while, you could measure it with a spirit level. Maybe the turgid midfield battle was what put the Palace defence to sleep when Moldovan scored Coventry's second goal in the 41st minute. Huckerby rolled the ball to him 10 yards beyond the penalty area and Moldovan strolled forward unchallenged before sliding the ball into the net.
Headers from Bruce Dyer and Hermann Hreidarsson almost forced a Palace goal just before the break but, with their confidence at such a low ebb, a fightback seemed unlikely. Palace attempted to attack in the second half but were finally defeated when Dublin came up from defence to head in a 76th-minute Telfer cross. Up went his hands, down went Palace.
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