Coventry halt Arsenal's bid for the title

Coventry City 1 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Online
If Arsenal's chance of depriving Manchester United of the title did not expire with Saturday's failure to beat Blackburn at Highbury, it almost certainly has now. A point only at Highfield Road leaves United with an advantage of four points and two games in hand. Furthermore, the result increases Liverpool's prospects of claiming the runners-up position and with it qualification for the European Cup.

Arsenal's goal came from the penalty spot and the trusty boot of Ian Wright, tucking away his 28th goal of the season. But Coventry, again producing form that belied their status as relegation candidates, fully deserved their share of the spoils after taking the lead with their first attacking move and thereafter creating the greater number of chances.

Even so, a point from their penultimate home match was less than they needed to feel confident that they will not be engaged in brinkmanship again come the last day of the season. Coventry have seen their fate decided by the final round of fixtures nine times since their present term in the top flight began in 1967.

They are in a timely run of good results, the last four matches yielding eight points, yet continue to make life difficult for themselves, having come from behind in the three games that preceded this one. But they did not need to worry about having to do so again last night: after 83 seconds they were in front themselves.

David Platt's attempt to clear in midfield went only to Peter Ndlovu. The ball reached Gary McAllister, whose shot from outside the penalty area was deflected by Tony Adams into space occupied by Dion Dublin, whose low strike beat David Seaman's dive.

Arsenal were on level terms after 19 minutes but not before their ambitions almost suffered a second dent when Dublin beat Seaman with a header, only for Nigel Winterburn to rescue his side with a goal-line clearance. Confidence flowed through Coventry, the presence of their player-manager, Gordon Strachan, clearly an inspiration, and Arsenal were relieved to be presented with a way back into the contest.

Blame rested squarely with Steve Ogrizovic, Coventry's veteran goalkeeper, who fumbled a through ball from Paul Merson and compounded his error by bringing down Wright as he tried to retrieve the situation. The England marksman sent his adversary the wrong way from the spot, and launched into a typically provocative celebration - which was possibly not the wisest move, given that he had already been cautioned for a foul.

The goal had an immediate and positive effect on Arsenal, who threatened to seize the initiative within a few minutes when Dennis Bergkamp's well- timed run allowed Patrick Vieira's pass to beat Coventry's offside trap. The angle was not favourable for the Dutchman, although it still needed the presence of David Burrows on the line to end the danger.

Not until the closing minutes, when Wright's shot was saved by Ogrizovic, did Arsenal create as good an opportunity. In between, Darren Huckerby, who replaced the injured Dublin late in the first half, wasted a good position by deciding to shoot when Strachan and Ndlovu were better placed, and Paul Telfer, arriving at the far post when McAllister flicked on a Huckerby cross, somehow headed wide.

Coventry City (5-3-2): Ogrizovic; Telfer, Shaw, Borrows, Williams, Burrows; Strachan (Richardson, 77), Whelan, McAllister; Ndlovu, Dublin (Huckerby, 36). Substitutes not used: Hall, Yevtushok, Filan (gk).

Arsenal (3-4-1-2): Seaman; Keown, Adams, Bould; Dixon (Parlour, 84), Platt, Vieira, Winterburn; Merson (Anelka, 77); Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Marshall, Hughes.

Referee: K Burge (Mid Glamorgan).

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