Football: Storm clouds over Spurs

Demonstrations at White Hart Lane pile the pressure on Gross as Wednesday demolish his team
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The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 0

Sheffield Wednesday 3

Atherton 27, Di Canio 35, Hinchcliffe 78

Attendance: 32,129

BOOED OFF at half-time, booed off at full-time. Too early to talk about crisis? Don't you believe it.

Within minutes of Tottenham's crushing 3-0 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday yesterday, hundreds of fans gathered outside the main gates at White Hart Lane.

"We want our Tottenham back," they chanted angrily. Followed by the familiar "Sack the board." Christian Gross was spared, but he could not hide his disappointment at a result which has surely, unless things change radically, hastened his departure from White Hart Lane.

This time Gross could not blame the length of the grass for his side's second successive defeat which left Tottenham, who hit the post through Sol Campbell but otherwise failed to create a single worthwhile chance, at the bottom of the league with six goals conceded in two games and only one scored.

"It is a tough league," said a beleaguered Gross, whose dark suit was matched by his sombre mood and by the storm clouds closing in around his job. "Of course we wanted a good start. The only way to turn this round is hard work and analysis of why we conceded two more goals from set pieces."

Tottenham's Swiss coach was so shell-shocked that he was not prepared to discuss the imminent transfer of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for pounds 5.5m, but Manchester United's Norwegian international could be forgiven for having second thoughts about coming to London. Solskjaer may be the answer to Tottenham's lacklustre attack, but given proper service from midfield and a modicum of pattern and team spirit, Chris Armstrong and Les Ferdinand will score goals. It is at the other end of the field that Tottenham are in deeper disarray.

For all the running of Darren Anderton and Allan Nielsen, the defence was once again guilty of schoolboy errors, with Ramon Vega especially at fault. Vega, replaced at half-time with what Gross said was a bad foot injury, had a miserable afternoon and was taunted by the fans after Wednesday's first goal.

Tottenham had taken the field not to the familiar "Glory, glory hallelujah" anthem, but to a new drum-based piece written specially for the club, but it failed to galvanise the players. David Ginola as usual caused problems down both flanks but Spurs lacked a cutting edge and it was only a matter of time before the defence caved in.

After a bright start they fell behind after 26 minutes when Wednesday's captain Peter Atherton rose unmarked to head Wim Jonk's long free-kick past Ian Walker with the Spurs defence asleep. Wednesday doubled their lead after 37 minutes. Benito Carbone lifted the ball over Vega and despite two superb saves by Walker, Paolo Di Canio made the third effort count.

When Spurs left the field after 45 minutes of disjointed football, Ginola, head bowed, was the last to go off. His patience must have been running out as quickly as his frustration was mounting.

Spurs replaced Vega with Moussa Saib at the start of the second half and resorted to playing three at the back, with the two full-backs either side of Campbell. But they still failed to make any headway against Danny Wilson's well organised team, who showed that no matter how many gifted individuals you have, football matches cannot be won without team-work.

By now, Wednesday's loyal band of travelling supporters had upped the tempo of their now familiar musical accompaniment, at the same time cruelly taunting their dispirited Spurs counterparts with an early season rendition of "going down".

Whatever Spurs tried, which frankly was precious little, Kevin Pressman in Wednesday's goal was equal to the task, cutting out a series of crosses, mainly from Ginola, and holding on to any half-chances. The introduction of Jose Dominguez for the limping Paolo Tramezzani raised a hopeful cheer but only served further to disrupt the shape of Gross' side.

Wednesday's third goal came 12 minutes from the end from Andy Hinchcliffe, whose 25-yard free-kick beat Walker at the near post. It must have been sweet for the former England left-back, who went to Hillsborough last season after Spurs pulled out of a deal to buy him when he failed a medical.

Tottenham's next two games are Everton away and Blackburn at home, tough encounters which Gross conceded should have been approached with points already in the bank. "Everyone knows looking at the fixture list that we would have hoped to have got something from Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday," said the coach, who was so keen to get away from the media that he left his glass of beer half-drunk.

For his part, Wilson was delighted to have won his first game of the season at a venue where Wednesday normally get nothing. "It was a terrific victory," said the former Barnsley manager. "For the first 10 or 15 minutes we had to make sure we weathered the storm. It gave us a platform to go on and win the game."

Wilson picked out Jonk, a member of Holland's World Cup squad at France 98, for special praise. "He was superb at knitting things together," Wilson, who is clearly relishing his new challenge, added. "We kept our shape extremely well and scored three quality goals, two free-kicks and some fantastic interplay between Di Canio and Carbone."

If only Gross could say the same. To add injuries to all the insults, the troubled Tottenham manager looks like being without Vega and Tramezzani for a while.

"I understand the fans' disappointment, they are committed to Spurs," Gross said. His players need to show the same commitment and a lot more imagination.

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