Babb returns to haunt Coventry

Football: Coventry City 0 Liverpool 1
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Phil Babb, returning to the club he left in a pounds 3.6m deal two years ago, scored his first goal in 91 appearances for Liverpool to steer them into fourth place in the Premiership last night. According to Babb, the visitors' dressing room was in "a state of shock" afterwards.

The Republic of Ireland defender's close range effort also left Coventry - who have become a spending club since Babb's departure - propping up the embryonic table with only a point to show from four games.

Victory was all the sweeter for Liverpool given that their previous five visits to Highfield Road had produced a mere two points. Defeat there in April effectively killed their championship challenge.

That match was marred by the badly broken leg sustained by Steve Harkness, the Liverpool defender crumpling after an injudicious challenge by John Salako. It seemed there was a residue of resentment among the Liverpool players when Jason McAteer cut him down after only eight minutes.

McAteer was cautioned by Graham Poll, who issued a total of 78 cautions last season. Poll brandished a further five yellow cards, but the game was never nasty; talk of vendettas proved to be nothing more than that.

Ron Atkinson, who has lavished pounds 17m on rebuilding the Sky Blues, has tended to err on the side of idealism in team selections and tactics. On this occasion he deputed Brian Borrows to track Steve McManaman wherever he went. Coventry were also uncharacteristically quick to mass behind the ball whenever Liverpool moved forward.

McManaman, like Robbie Fowler in the rudest of health after the pair presented sick notes before England's haul to Moldova, took a while to shake off his shadow. When he did, however, he put in a shot which brushed the post on its way behind. Then, as the game opened up in the aftermath of the goal, he shook the underside of the bar.

Coventry, driven on by Gary McAllister in his first match as captain, had another late escape when Stan Collymore fired wildly over. But Atkinson's team had their moments, too, notably when Dion Dublin headed narrowly wide shortly before half time. Andre Ducros, a late substitute, was denied an equaliser only by the acrobatics of David James.

The decisive moment arrived 21 minutes from the end following a free kick conceded by the former Liverpool player, David Burrows. McAteer, who had apparently staked a substantial sum against Babb scoring all season, curled a cross in to the far post. His international colleague, who would have been off-side had McAllister followed his men out, seized his opportunity. A booking in the final minutes scarcely diminished his delight.

Coventry City (3-1-4-2): Ogrizovic; Shaw, Daish (Isaias, 81), Burrows; Borrows; Genaux, McAllister, Jess, Salako; Whelan (Ducros, 81), Dublin. Substitutes not used: Filan (gk), Williams, Strachan.

Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Wright, Matteo, Babb; McAteer, Thomas, Barnes, Bjornebye; McManaman; Collymore, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk), Ruddock, Redknapp, Berger, L Jones.

Referee: G Poll (Berkhamsted).