Football: A real job on his hands

Coventry City 2 Salako 57, Whelan 65 Leeds United 1 Couzens 1 Attendance: 17,297
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The Independent Online
There is an Arsenal fanzine entitled One-Nil Down, Two-One Up after one of George Graham's previous team's famous victories. His new team's fans might now start one called "One-Nil Up, Two-One Down".

Graham had the best possible start to his management of Leeds United - overlooking a morning newspaper report about his current financial affairs, that is - when a goal by Andy Couzens after only 50 seconds gave his team the lead. Thereafter, however, all the shortcomings which have led to Graham being in the job were evident. "There is a lot of work to do," he admitted.

Consequently, Coventry went on to prove themselves the hungrier for the points to lift themselves off the bottom of the Premiership, which they duly did with goals by John Salako and Noel Whelan, the latter confirming the old lore about scoring against a former club.

Having been sent to Coventry by the Football Association for a year for his acceptance of an unsolicited gift from an agent, the venue for Graham's return to the game was entirely appropriate. But just when he thought all interest in his money matters had subsided, it seemed he had walked into more trouble following his swift appointment after the sacking of Howard Wilkinson last week.

A report yesterday suggested that he was paid pounds 100,000 by the club's new owners, the Caspian Group, in the summer as a retainer so that he would decline other offers and remain available for the job should Wilkinson, who appeared last summer on Graham's behalf at the FA's disciplinary tribunal, be dismissed. Graham "emphatically" denied it. "I had a laugh about it," he said. "It is absolute nonsense."

What was undeniable was that Leeds were second best after their early goal, scored when Andy Gray sent in a low cross from the left, Ian Rush laid the ball back and Couzens struck an excellent shot from 20 yards with the outside of his right foot into Steve Ogrizovic's left-hand corner. "We probably scored too early," Graham said, his voice growing hoarse after what must have been intense coaching sessions this week. "They came out and put us under pressure."

Leeds, though, allowed them to by sitting back in a self- satisfied manner - and they are not strong enough yet to do so - rather than seeking a second goal, as Coventry established a rhythm. It took a while, however, as the match went through a messy, error-strewn period.

For a while, only the chanting of the Leeds fans - not content with having re-ordered their own house - for the dismissal of the Coventry manager, Ron Atkinson, and jeers for their transferred former captain, Gary McAllister, punctuated the tedium.

Gradually for Coventry, strength came out of adversity, which found the left-back David Burrows playing competently in central defence because of Coventry injuries that all but matched those of Leeds, whose record pounds 4.5m signing, Lee Sharpe, was out with a calf strain.

The home side might have had a penalty when David Wetherall clambered over Whelan and were unfortunate again when Martyn splendidly turned the lively Paul Telfer's volley on to a post just before half-time. Encouraged, they emerged after the break reinvigorated.

A spell of pressure was duly rewarded when Salako, gaining possession on the left of midfield, advanced unchallenged and drove in a low left- footed shot from 20 yards into the net off the inside of a post. Salako himself deserved the goal, Coventry's first in 405 minutes, for his industry and persistence.

Leeds now stirred themselves and bayed for a penalty when Carlton Palmer went down under pressure from Marcus Hall, but it was Coventry who were the more roused. Their second arrived when Dion Dublin met Brian Borrows' cross from the right and headed down for Whelan to hook a volley over Martyn.

Although he had been encouraged by Leeds' new young breed this week, Graham was clearly irritated by the two goals conceded, as might be expected from the former niggard of Highbury. "They were winning too many second balls," he said.

Coventry survived a last-gasp scare when Rod Wallace's volley rebounded from their crossbar; a rare and belated attack from a side feeble in going forward.

Atkinson said afterwards: "My team-talk today was just: 'Let's have an old-fashioned Saturday, hopefully get the right result and then go out and have a few drinks'. It seems to work better than all these tactics."