Keane compounds Gregory's misery

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The Independent Online

Robbie Keane, the striker for whom John Gregory would not stump up an extra £1m, collected his seventh goal in 12 appearances for Coventry last night, to cap a virtuoso display and increase the pressure on the beleaguered Aston Villa manager.

Robbie Keane, the striker for whom John Gregory would not stump up an extra £1m, collected his seventh goal in 12 appearances for Coventry last night, to cap a virtuoso display and increase the pressure on the beleaguered Aston Villa manager.

The Dubliner's 65th-minute winner not only lifted his new club to the dizzy heights of 12th place - top of the bottom half of the Premiership - but also above Villa.

While Coventry are now unbeaten in seven matches, Gregory must try to halt an identical sequence since Villa's last victory more that two months ago. The question now is whether, after a rollercoaster reign over the past 20 months, he will survive long enough to do so.

Gregory's job security was by no means the only sub-plot adding intrigue to a derby Villa had won on each of their previous six trips down the M6. There is no love lost between Coventry's chairman, Bryan Richardson, and his opposite number, Doug Ellis, the antipathy stemming from the defection of Dion Dublin and George Boateng to Villa Park.

As if their return were not sufficient provocation for many home fans, the presence in the Sky Blues' ranks of Keane was a further source of controversy. Gregory tried to prise the Irish prodigy from Wolves for £5m before Richardson allowed Gordon Strachan to meet the £6m asking price - "out of spite", the Villa manager claimed yesterday.

Unsurprisingly, given such a build-up, the atmosphere was highly charged. Villa, whose followers had taken up only half the club's allocation of 4,000 tickets, twice came close to silencing their detractors in the opening minutes, their first opportunity directly involving both targets of the Coventry supporters' "Judas" taunts.

Boateng began the attack with a sweeping pass wide to Mark Delaney. Dublin met his centre with a sharp downward header which reared up off the turf and flashed over the bar. Almost immediately, Paul Telfer's back-pass was seized on by Julian Joachim, who fell under Paul Williams' last-ditch challenge. Mr Barber waved aside Villa's justifiable appeals for a penalty.

None of the Villa contingent seemed up for any reciprocal booing of Keane, perhaps because their hearts were in their mouths whenever the 19-year-old was on the ball. After only eight minutes, he took Youssef Chippo's pass and jigged past Delaney on the byline before crossing. A glancing header gave Cedric Roussel his first goal since arriving on loan from Ghent.

David James' full-length save kept out Moustapha Hadji's 25-yard drive as Coventry dominated the first half, while an even better, if less dramatic, touch by the Villa keeper turned Keane's shot on to the post. Alan Wright cleared off the line, and the upturn in the visitors' fortunes continued in the 41st minute when Dublin rose unchallenged to head in Steve Stone's corner.

Keane's magic, the fuel which fired Coventry's self-belief, had diminished shortly before Dublin's riposte when he switched flanks; a mysterious move in view of the way he had been tormenting Delaney. His wanderings again took him to the right early in the second half, from where he linked with Roussel to set up Chippo for a volley which swerved narrowly wide.

But Villa no longer resembled an embarrassment waiting to happen and began to press forward as if they felt they could retrieve more than just a point from the game. Steve Stone, restored to active service after an unproductive start to the season, looked determined to make the most of a rare opportunity, and the challenges became stern where they had earlier been tentative.

Lee Hendrie had been the only player cautioned in the first half, and for dissent at that. Yet a spate of heavy fouls as tempers frayed after the interval led to the referee adding the names of Villa's Ian Taylor and Boateng either side of a yellow card for Paul Telfer.

Boateng's offence was to pull Keane down in full flight, but Highfield Road's new cult hero did not have to wait long for the sweetest revenge. Chippo, feeding the ball in low from the left, saw Keane turn his pass deftly past James. "You're getting sacked in the morning," crowed the Coventry fans at Gregory, though they should really have singing the scorer's praises.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Telfer, Breen, Williams, Hall; Hadji, Palmer, McAllister, Chippo (Burrows, 89); Keane, Roussel (Whelan, 88). Substitutes not used: Konjic, Eustace, Ogrizovic (gk).

Aston Villa (4-4-2): James; Delaney (Watson, 75), Calderwood, Southgate, Wright; Stone, Boateng, Taylor, Hendrie; Joachim (Vassell, 75), Dublin. Substitutes not used: Merson, Carbone, Enckleman (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Tring).

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