Coventry combine graft with ambition

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The Independent Online
A pleasing thing about football today is that managers are more candid, less inclined to conceal the truth than they used to be. Glenn Hoddle is a good example. "We didn't deserve anything," he said after his side lost 1-0 away to Coventry just a week after Chelsea rolled over Middlesbrough to further justify the impression that they are a rising force in the Premiership.

A pitch with the consistency of cold porridge had made it difficult for Chelsea to move the ball around but Hoddle was not looking for excuses. "There are days when you have to adapt and we didn't," he said.

When players cross the white lines, application becomes more important than any form of tactical innovation. There is a lot to admire in what Chelsea are attempting to achieve but, as trainers of horses might sometimes conclude, they did not act on the going.

Troubled as they are, that put Coventry in an unusual position. They had the problem of the dedicated underdog who finds himself in danger of becoming the upperdog. It can be a very unsettling thing.

On Hoddle's admission, Coventry could have crossed over leading by three goals but all they had to show for consistently embarrassing Chelsea's hard-pressed defence was one neatly taken two minutes before half-time by Noel Whelan.

By then Hoddle and his assistant, Peter Shreeves, were doubtless of the opinion that a few of their men, not fancying the conditions, had adopted a negative attitude. Chelsea failed to overcome a fundamental problem. "We'll just have to get back to winning ways," Hoddle said.

The smile on Ron Atkinson's face was understandable. It takes a lot to get the big fella down, to keep the pink champagne corked, but this is a difficult season for him. "I think we deserved it," he said, "and are a lot better than our results suggest."

In every way, style matters to Atkinson. He could no more promote an ugly game, adopt a sad posture of cynicism, than sell off his wardrobe. If, as Hoddle said, there were more divots on the pitch than at St Andrews, other factors came into Coventry's victory. Pushing in on Chelsea's midfield, they defended well and made it difficult for Terry Phelan and Dan Petrescu to get forward.

Nothing startling in that. Just good old-fashioned graft but not at the expense of ambition. In any case you could see Rudd Gullit growing more and more frustrated. The Dutchman sparkled here and there, especially when operating along the right but it was not one of his better days.

With two men up front Chelsea improved in the second half and the introduction of Dennis Wise for hamstring victim John Spencer (Frank Sinclair and the referee, Roger Dilkes, suffered similar injuries) brought more penetration. Paul Furlong headed just over when Petrescu improved on previous deliveries and Steve Ogrizovic made a brave near-post stop to foil Gavin Peacock.

The urgency of relegation struggles puts a terrible strain on the language of urgency. Is it a "big game" or just an "important game" or, heaven help us, a "must game"? Right now they are all crucial for Coventry which is why Atkinson felt a great deal of satisfaction.

Coventry played well enough for their faithful to entertain a clear vision of survival. As for Chelsea they will benefit from some of Hoddle's candour.

Goal: Whelan (35) 1-0.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Borrows, Pickering, Busst, Shaw; Richardson, Telfer, Ndlovu (Williams, 76), Whelan; Dublin, Salako. Substitutes not used: Boland, Filan (gk).

Chelsea (5-3-1-1): Hitchcock; Clarke, Gullit, Sinclair (Johnsen, 74), Spencer (Wise, 57), Peacock; Furlong, Newton, Lee; Petrescu; Phelan. Substitute not used: Colgan (gk).

Referee: R Dilkes (Redhill).

Bookings: Chelsea: Peacock.

Man of the match: Richardson. Attendance: 20,639.

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