Football: Survival instinct still eludes Spurs

Chelsea 2 Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Online
FOR Tottenham's sake, one can only hope that Christian Gross is a much harder, more demanding man in the privacy of his team's own dressing-room than he appears during press conferences. Support for his players in public is all very laudable, just so long as behind closed doors he is letting them know what he really thinks of them. If he is, the visitors' dressing- room at Stamford Bridge should be in need of a repaint job this morning.

Yet somehow I doubt it. A disciplinarian the austere Swiss may be, but he looks as ill-equipped as his team to survive a relegation dog-fight. Of course it was ever so with Tottenham, but at least when they last went down 21 years ago they had one or two, like Steve Perryman, who were prepared to roll up their sleeves and scrap. The present Spurs side, one senses, consider it beneath them.

Looking at the players Spurs had at their disposal on Saturday - Les Ferdinand, Darren Anderton and John Scales were all finally back, albeit starting from the bench - it was difficult to understand what a side of such apparent quality was doing down among the dead men. Closer examination, of course, reveals several flaws, most of them of a serious defensive nature.

Should it all end in tears on 10 May, the fans' anger will all be directed at one man - chairman Alan Sugar. And yet until the inexplicable appointment of Gross, he appeared to give the fans exactly what they wanted in terms of managerial selections: first Ossie Ardiles, whose attacking principles reflected the club's traditional virtues, and when that went awry the more pragmatic Gerry Francis, definitely a tip for the top at the time.

It could be argued that Sugar did not release the money as readily as he might have done to Francis, but when he did there were numerous bad buys.

Left-back has been an Achilles heel of Tottenham's all season and it is an indictment of their falling standards that they should find themselves pining on Saturday for the likes of Justin Edinburgh and Clive Wilson in that position. Gross attempted to mend and make do - and not very well - by deploying a midfielder, Allan Nielsen in the problem area. It could have been a calamitous error against a side who, though in general had little to play for, individually were playing for their places in Thursday's Cup-Winners Cup semi-final, second leg against Vicenza - and none more so than Tore Andre Flo.

If the lanky Norwegian was not exposing his fellow Scandinavian's defensive frailties, his player-manager Gianluca Vialli was, and it was pure luck that neither goal stemmed from Nielsen's flank.

Nothing short of victory at home to Coventry today will suffice, and Spurs can only hope that some of that club's famous instinct for survival rubs off on them.

Goals: Flo (73) 1-0; Vialli (86) 2-0.

Chelsea (3-5-2): De Goey; Clarke, Leboeuf, Duberry; Petrescu, Morris (Myers, 83), Harley (Poyet, 58), Wise, Le Saux; Flo, Vialli. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Zola, Hitchcock (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Nielsen; Fox, Ginola, Berti (Anderton, 77), Saib; Klinsmann (Calderwood, 66), Armstrong (Ferdinand, 57). Substitutes not used: Scales, Baardsen (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset).

Bookings: Tottenham: Berti.

Man of the match: Flo.

Attendance: 34,149.