Football: Spurs have no stomach for fight: Tottenham totter while Manchester City, Southampton and Everton raise survival hopes and Palace and Forest cut promotion odds

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The Independent Online
Coventry City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Tottenham Hotspur. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

THIS summer, when the Coventry squad are relaxing at Butlins, Barbados or wherever, they will probably still be checking whether they really have avoided relegation. For Tottenham, such survival instincts are the last resort, a difference that helps explain why one side are virtually certain of staying in the Premiership while the others are in the bottom five and falling.

Spurs can bemoan the injustice of the penalty which beat them until they are Sky Blue in the face. The truth is that some of their players strutted as if they were saving themselves for a cup final, whereas Coventry, already edging into mid-table, tackled and chased like a team scrapping for survival. At both clubs, old habits obviously die hard.

The failings of others and a superior goal difference may yet spare Spurs. Just as well, because there were scant signs in the way they conceded a second successive double to Coventry that Ossie Ardiles's team have the stomach for a fight that even Southampton are belatedly relishing.

Two victories since Christmas - neither of them at home - is not a record to enhance morale, though watching Spurs one can not help but wonder how much their crisis stems from the legal clash between Alan Sugar and Terry Venables last summer. The leading dissidents, with the critical exception of Neil Ruddock, were persuaded to play for Ardiles, reaching fifth spot by October. However, once Spurs ran into problems, notably the long-term injuries to Teddy Sheringham and Gary Mabbutt, there was no bank of resilience on which to draw.

In this respect, Coventry remain defiantly in credit, a result of 27 years of brinkmanship. Spurs, indeed, would do better to learn from the muck-or-nettles approach of their less gifted hosts than dwell on the refereeing misjudgement by Mike Reed which left Kevin Scott nursing a persecution complex.

For the third game running the former Newcastle defender conceded a penalty, being erroneously judged to have fouled Sean Flynn as the striker overbalanced in front of goal. 'I never touched him,' Scott said. 'When the ref sees that on TV, he'll be shocked at what he's given.'

Peter Ndlovu, who later shook the underside of the bar, converted the spot-kick. That did not stop the home crowd treating Mr Reed with the contempt Coventry people reserve for most things Brum. They felt he favoured the visitors, but Spurs were beyond help.

'We are in big, big danger,' Ardiles admitted, ruing results elsewhere. Even then he was in danger of being out-fretted by Phil Neal, who offered a telling response to the idea that the perennial relegation favourites were practically secure. 'Not mathematically certain,' he cautioned, a reflex to which Coventry managers become conditioned.

Spurs, who still have a six-pointer at Oldham to come and receive Southampton a week on Saturday, can only hope that a little of the never-say-safe mentality rubs off on them.

Goal: Ndlovu pen (63).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Borrows (McGrath, 60), Atherton, Babb, Morgan; Pickering, Rennie, Boland, Jenkinson; Flynn, Ndlovu. Substitutes not used: Quinn, Gould (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Thorstvedt; Kerslake, Mabbutt, Scott, Campbell (Rosenthal, 72); Anderton, Samways, Howells (Dozzell, 85), Sedgley; Sheringham, Barmby. Substitute not used: Walker (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

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