Draw casts cloud over Coventry

Football: Coventry City 1 Wimbledon 1
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The Independent Online
Coventry's quest to secure a 31st successive season of top-flight football ran headlong into Wimbledon's equally implausible bid for a European place last night. The resulting impasse, after Dion Dublin had swiftly softened the blow of Efan Ekoku's first-half goal, advanced neither cause significantly.

Playing their fifth match in 17 days, Coventry created an encouraging number of chances before running out of steam in the final half-hour. They go into Saturday's derby against Leicester still seeking their first home win this year, and with only four points separating them from the bottom three, all of whom have games in hand.

"That's points dropped, no doubt about that," the Coventry player-manager, Gordon Strachan, said. "If there are footballing Gods, they weren't with us tonight. But my players can look people in the eye after that performance and say: 'I've given my best'."

Whether their best will be good enough for Highfield Road to retain its status as a Premiership venue remains to be seen. There is certainly nothing wrong with their morale. Coming off the back of a mauling at Manchester United, they took the game to one of the division's best teams and lacked only a modicum of composure and good fortune in their finishing.

Wimbledon, depleted by injury and facing the fray for the fifth time in 13 days , survived something resembling a Sky Blue siege before taking the lead with a classic breakaway goal. Thereafter, they seldom allowed Coventry to build on their equaliser, and might even have snatched victory in the closing minutes.

Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, appeared marginally more satisfied than Strachan afterwards. "We've got seven home games and only four away now," he said. "Should we get some reward out of those, we should qualify [for the Uefa Cup] by finishing in the top six."

Paul Heald, making his first League appearance this season in place of the injured Neil Sullivan, enjoyed an eventful return in the Dons' goal. Whether "enjoyed" was the apposite word was doubtful at times. After enduring several early scares, notably when Richard Shaw failed to connect with Noel Whelan's cross a yard out, Heald gained in confidence.

Wimbledon went ahead after 32 minutes. There seemed little danger to Coventry when Neal Ardley lofted a pass into Ekoku's stride just inside the home half. But the Nigerian striker first muscled Shaw off the ball, then left the same defender and Gary Breen in his wake before cutting in from the right flank to fire across Steve Orgizovic and in off the far post.

Six minutes later, Heald's failure to do more than push behind a shot by Gary McAllister led to a deserved equaliser. As the captain's corner swung in among the man mountains in red, Dublin was surprisingly allowed a free header to demonstrate that switching to defence has not diminished his striking prowess.

Wimbledon's stand-in keeper redeemed himself early in the second half, palming out Whelan's volley at point-blank range and blocking Darren Huckerby's drive with his legs. Gary McAllister, with a fulminating drive that fizzed inches over from 30 yards, nearly won it for Coventry, though they were fortunate when substitute Dean Holdsworth miscued badly with only two minutes remaining.

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

Wimbledon (3-5-2): Heald; Perry, Blackwell, B McAllister; Ardley, Cunningham, Earle, Castledine, Kimble; Ekoku (Holdsworth, 80), Gayle (Harford, 80). Substitutes not used: Goodman, Jupp, Murphy (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).