Atkinson gets that sinking feeling

FOOTBALL

Coventry City 0 Sheffield Wednesday 0

As Ron Atkinson knows from personal experience, as the nights draw in so the revolving door of football management gathers pace. In his case, the darkening of autumnal evenings has twice been the signal to start clearing his desk: two years ago at Aston Villa, a decade ago at Manchester United.

If he could once turn back the clock and change history it would surely be to 1986, to find some way to sustain the patience of United's jittery board and perhaps achieve the championship that had always eluded him. As it was, despite a five-year record of permanency in the top four of the First Division, not to mention two FA Cups, Atkinson was sacked, 10 years ago next week.

When they invited him to leave, United had 13 points from 13 games, a balance Atkinson's current employers can attain only if they beat Everton and Wimbledon away in their next two matches, which is an unlikely prospect. Nonetheless, so far as can be gathered from what is said in public, his job is safe.

But for how long? While pledging loyalty to his manager, Bryan Richardson, the Coventry chairman, has outlined the consequences of relegation more than once. The bottom three in late October is not a straitjacket; but it is amazing how many teams, once there, tend to stay.

Coventry could have escaped on Saturday had they not been let down again by their principal failing. With just four goals in 11 Premiership matches, their scoring record is the poorest in the four divisions, an astonishing fact for a team constructed with Atkinson's usual penchant for attack.

With Peter Ndlovu given a mainly forward role in his first start of the season, and Noel Whelan retained, Coventry effectively played with three up front on Saturday. Even so, Wednesday's goalkeeper Kevin Pressman had only one noteworthy save to execute, from Dion Dublin's first-half header, despite a flow of crosses from John Salako on the left.

Wednesday, meanwhile, were finding the target equally elusive. Although Mark Pembridge twice forced Steve Ogrizovic into decisive action, their striker Andy Booth, in space at the far post, ought to have done better than hit the side-netting when Ian Nolan's early cross arrived at perfect heading height.

Benito Carbone continued his introduction to the Premiership with a virtuoso display of theatrical falls, annoying the home crowd and causing Des Walker to recall some Italian vocabulary to administer cautionary advice.

Coventry City (3-5-2): Ogrizovic; Williams, Shaw, Daish; Telfer, McAllister, Richardson, Ndlovu, Salako; Whelan, Dublin. Substitutes not used: Borrows, Hall, Jess, Strachan, Filan (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-5-1): Pressman; Atherton, Walker, Newsome, Nolan; Carbone (Whittingham, 89), Hyde, Trustfull (Humphreys, 86), Pembridge, Blinker (Oakes, 70); Booth. Substitutes not used: Nicol, Clarke (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

Bookings: Sheffield Wednesday: Hyde.

Man of the match: Salako. Attendance: 17,267.

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