Coventry escape again

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 0 Leeds United 0

Hard though Noel Whelan tried to bring embarrassment to his former club, Coventry could do nothing to raise anything like the cheers that greeted the breaking news of Liverpool's goals at Maine Road, goals that effectively preserved the charmed Premiership life of the Highfield Road club for a 30th season.

Whelan, sold by Leeds for pounds 2m in December, had the best of several chances 10 minutes from the end, by which time Manchester City were in sight of the victory that would have changed everything. He held his head in horror as his attempt to convert Marcus Hall's cross rolled tamely wide, although he cannot have known quite how critical a moment it might have been. In the event, of course, it did not matter.

Thus Coventry have played brinkmanship again and survived. Nine times since their elevation to the top flight in 1967 their fate has been undecided until the last day of the season and they arrived at this one knowing that only victory would guarantee that they avoided the drop. The last time they sailed so close to the wind, four years ago, they lost at Aston Villa but stayed up because Notts County beat Luton. Now they have Liverpool to thank for restricting Manchester City to a point, enabling them to prevail on goal difference.

The result means, apart from anything else, that Ron Atkinson's career in front-line management will end in the Premiership. Atkinson will hand over control of the team to Gordon Strachan at the end of next season. To have been taking his curtain calls around the Endsleigh League would have been an ignominious way in which to bow out.

In the circumstances, it was such a pity that the mood of celebration at the final whistle was destroyed when supporters of both teams invaded the pitch and fighting erupted. The players ran for safety and it was several minutes before police and stewards managed to restore order.

Had Manchester City won, the undecided relegation place would have been between Coventry and Southampton and Atkinson would have had cause to regret a match in which his side had the greater share of possession against their injury-ravaged opponents but repeatedly let themselves down with poor finishing.

Dion Dublin wasted two early chances, ballooning shots over the bar. David Burrows sent another too high and then Ally Pickering nearly embarrassed himself when an underhit backpass almost let in Phil Masinga to score.

At the start of the second period came the first of Whelan's opportunities, when he was thwarted by a fine save by John Lukic. Moments later, he headed over the bar. But Coventry deserved their point and had Whelan perhaps been a little less eager to make his mark and a little more composed when it mattered, they might have had three.

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

Leeds United (4-4-2): Lukic; Kelly, Wetherall, Palmer, Worthington; Gray (Couzens, 70), Tinkler, McAllister, Radebe; Masinga, Wallace. Substitutes not used: Beesley, Ford.

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Booking: Coventry: Burrows.

Man of the match: Ogrizovic.

Attendance: 22,769.