Football: Big changes promised by Strachan

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The Independent Online
The new Coventry City manager, Gordon Strachan, yesterday gave a "do things my way or there will be changes" ultimatum to his players as he surveyed the wreckage following the worse possible start to life in the Highfield Road hot seat.

The Coca-Cola Cup has not been Strachan's favourite competition in recent years, with his previous club, Leeds United, suffering a string of embarrassing results against lower division opposition most notably Third Division Mansfield two years ago.

But even they paled into insignificance compared with Wednesday's 1-0 third-round replay home defeat to Second Division Gillingham - a performance the like of which Strachan will not tolerate again.

Strachan, reflecting in the aftermath of his first match since replacing Ron Atkinson, said: "If I fail it will be because we've done things my way and not anybody else's way.

"The performances will change and, if the players listen to what I have to say, and play to the level of standard and effort I require, then they should be all right.

"If they decide to join me and where I'm wanting to go with the club, then fine, but if not then there will have to be changes. It is up to the players.

"Maybe on this last occasion the lads were too nervous and trying too hard to get me a win. I don't know about that, but certainly myself and everyone connected with the club can't put up with a performance like that again.

"Gillingham were well-organised and wanted it more than us. They wanted to win the scrappy ball more than us and it's when you win the battle that you can play the football."

Strachan admitted: "I had some horrendous results in the League Cup at Leeds. I've had body blows before but that doesn't mean that it softens the pain this time around. We've also got to be very brave about Wednesday's game and look in the mirror and say: `That will never happen again.'

"Leeds had those knockbacks but went on to achieve great things like winning the League championship and qualifying for the European Cup. We've also got to look to bounce back - starting with Wimbledon on Saturday."

Strachan hinted that he is likely to encourage a more direct "shoot-on- sight" policy after his side's chances could be counted on one hand. He said: "If your style of football is very nice-looking but there are no shots on goals or crosses as the end product, then it is failing. There were times against Gillingham when we played some nice football without getting anywhere."

Strachan at least may take heart from the comments of his striker Noel Whelan, who is determined to repay the faith shown in him by his new manager after being charged with drink-driving and becoming involved in a training- ground fight with his team-mate, Dion Dublin.

Whelan said: "I have messed up. I have got myself a bad name by doing what I did and also earned the club some bad remarks which isn't fair. I want to rectify my mistakes by doing well, getting sorted out and scoring some goals."

Charlton's England Under-21 defender Jamie Stuart could be back in action within two weeks after being injured at Liverpool on Wednesday. The Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, believed his 20-year-old left-back had suffered a broken leg during a challenge with Michael Thomas in his side's 4-1 Coca-Cola Cup replay defeat at Anfield. However, X-rays revealed that Stuart, who was carried off in the 56th minute, had suffered only severe bruising.

Neil Ruddock looks likely to retain his place in the Liverpool starting line-up and revive his Premiership career at Leeds on Saturday. His manager, Roy Evans, gave him his chance against Charlton at the expense of Phil Babb and Ruddock responded superbly. Babb had been an ever-present this season but paid the price for a poor game in the 3-0 defeat against Blackburn. Now the former Tottenham defender appears set for a run in the team after withdrawing a transfer request.

Evans saluted him following the victory over Charlton: "Razor has had to be patient. But we have thrown him in and he has responded in a way we would have hoped.

"We have a big squad and that can give you a headache. We have a lot of good players and it is a problem many people would like to have."