Football: The gloom deepens for Gross

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 4

Huckerby 42, 84 Breen 63, Hall 87

Tottenham Hotspur 0

Attendance: 19,499

As one crisis eased, another deepened at Highfield Road, where Coventry arrested their decline and left Tottenham in dire straits. A goal down at half-time, Tottenham collapsed in the second period with consequences almost as drastic as those Chelsea had inflicted on them last weekend, letting in a second goal a little past the hour mark and two more in the final five minutes.

The task confronting the new manager Christian Gross looks enormous, more so given the Swiss coach's lack of experience of the English game, and he made no attempt to disguise his anxiety. He said: "The situation is critical. We are in the relegation zone and I know that the teams in this position at this point in the season find it difficult to get out."

Gross would like to make major changes to his squad but fears he may not be able to go as far as he wishes. He added: "Maybe we will bring in some new faces now, but most of the players I have are under contract and that does not make things easier. I thought we played well in the first half but we needed to push midfield players forward to try and get back on level terms and the second goal killed us. We will just have to get down to work on the training pitch and we know that conceding 10 goals in two games is just not good enough."

With a match coming up against another struggling side, Barnsley, on Saturday, Gross knows there is little time in which to find the right formula if Spurs are not to be cast further adrift at the foot of the table - they are currently four points away from a position of safety. "But I still believe that we can pull away from trouble and that the players can achieve more than they are doing at present. I certainly believe that," Gross added.

Coventry could not impose themselves initially, even against a Tottenham defence shorn of Sol Campbell and Ramon Vega through injury and suspension. To make matters worse, they lost Gary McAllister after half an hour with a recurrence of the knee injury sustained two weeks ago, and now he looks likely to be out of action for six weeks.

It should have been Tottenham and not Coventry who led at half-time. Three times they went close to taking the advantage. First Les Ferdinand, meeting David Ginola's corner, watched Roland Nilsson clear his header off the line, then Ginola skipped past two challenges only for Magnus Hedman, the Swedish goalkeeper, to mark his Coventry debut with a blinding save. Next Stephen Carr, mimicking the Frenchman, sailed past David Burrows and beat Hedman's dive only for his shot to hit a post.

But Coventry sneaked the lead when Darren Huckerby, running on to Dion Dublin's flick, darted through a back-peddling defence and fired past Ian Walker. It was a goal that altered the tempo and the balance of the contest, infusing Coventry with a confidence that had not, after a run of defeats, been present at the start.

Twice early in the second half they made profitable progress against a vulnerable Tottenham left flank, Paul Telfer finding space to deliver a cross from which Dublin ought to have scored and then Nilsson exploiting similar freedom to deliver a ball with which Noel Whelan, unmarked, failed to make telling contact.

Then came the second goal, sending Tottenham's spirits into a downward spiral. Burrows swung across a free-kick from the left which Gary Breen met first with a downward header and then, given a second chance as the ball rebounded to him, with a snap left-foot shot that flashed past a helpless Walker.

Gross acted - somewhat too late - to remedy his side's weakness on the left side by taking out both Clive Wilson and Andy Sinton but, as a damage limitation measure, it was fairly useless. After 85 minutes, Huckerby powered into the penalty area from the left to blast his second; then Marcus Hall crashed home Coventry's fourth from Telfer's corner.

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