Football: Selfless Coppell accepts the buck

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

IT WAS a day former Manchester United colleagues debated the mysteries of management. First Lou Macari asserted on Football Focus that the decision-makers can prepare and repair but once their men cross that white line, little real influence can be brought to bear. Four hours later Steve Coppell, who foraged alongside Macari for eight years, was accepting full responsibility for his players' actions - or lack of them.

'The buck stops with me,' the Crystal Palace manager said after apologising to fans for the Eagles' inept performance. 'I brought the players here, gave them the shirt, get them set to play. If they get beat, it's my fault, not theirs.'

Too harsh. The Macari maxim rings truer. There is only so much a manager can do, a fact obscured by the current cult of the manager and the belief that they keep magic wands in their kitbags and briefcases. Coppell, voted Manager of the Month in December, took responsibility for his side's demise - a selfless action and one maybe designed to protect his youngsters - but the real problem lay in the fact that none of the players he sent out (apart from Geoff Thomas and Chris Armstrong) were prepared to take responsibility when the tide turned against them.

The neglect of defensive duties allowed a vibrant Spurs, for whom Vinny Samways excelled in a free- ranging forward role, to hit three in the opening half-hour. First, Richard Shaw was overwhelmed by the fast left-flank break of Paul Allen and Samways; when the latter's cross came in Eric Young and Andy Thorn watched while Teddy Sheringham pounced.

Poor Young. Normally such a presence in the air, his ill-directed headed clearance of Darren Anderton's corner then fell to David Howells. The midfielder's lofted cross was nodded in by a jubilant Andy Gray. Two mistakes: 2-0.

Thorn's case for an England place - as promoted in the programme - was not furthered on the half-hour. Anderton, about the only right-winger in London on Saturday whose progress was not arrested, curled over a fine free- kick from the right and Sheringham, having lost Thorn, headed firmly past Nigel Martyn.

Spurs, and Samways in particular, delighted their vocal support with some more languid build-ups before easing up after the break and conceding a soft goal when Neil Ruddock glanced Simon Rodger's corner into his own net.

Could Coppell have averted any of this? One school of thought argued he was at fault for not deploying Eddie McGoldrick at sweeper. But with Young, normally so reliable, back from a ban and Spurs fielding only one recognised forward, it would have been overcautious to play one of Palace's best attackers in a five-man defence.

Palace's predicament (three points from bottom at the start of a formidable February) may ensure McGoldrick drops back to face Blackburn, Arsenal, Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry. Given Palace's post-rout resilience they will probably win them all.

Goals: Sheringham (14) 0-1; Gray (25) 0-2; Sheringham (30) 0-3; Ruddock og (53) 1-3.

Crystal Palace: Martyn; Sinnott, Shaw, Coleman, Young, Thorn, Osborn, Thomas (Ndah, 45), Armstrong, Rodger, McGoldrick. Substitutes not used: Humphrey, Woodman (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur: Thorstvedt; Austin, Edinburgh, Samways, Mabbutt, Ruddock, Howells, Gray (Van Den Hauwe, 72), Anderton, Sheringham, Allen. Substitutes not used: Turner, Walker (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).