Football: Blue skies are here again for Coventry

BY JON CULLEY Derby County 0 Coventry City 0 Attendance: 32,450
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The Independent Online
THE STEADY rain falling on Pride Park created an appropriate backcloth for two sides for whom summer, it appears, cannot come soon enough.

Both found themselves entering the last lap of the season in familiar circumstances, Coventry driven by the lingering fear of relegation, mid- table Derby by nothing much at all. "If we can finish with more points than last season [55], it will have been a good year," Derby's manager, Jim Smith, had said, desperate to give the fixture meaning.

With one match to go, Derby cannot now achieve that target. But Coventry, perennial brink-men, can at least be sure of their place in the Premiership next season, their 32nd consecutively in the top flight, having secured the point they needed to be absolutely safe.

Derby, with Paulo Wanchope linking midfield with attack, had the most chances to go ahead in a scrappy first half, of which the one that fell to Mikkel Beck after 35 minutes was the most glaring. Darryl Powell crossed from the left and Wanchope cleverly directed a cushioned header to Beck's feet. But the Dane, with one goal in six matches since his move from Middlesbrough, cleared the crossbar by some distance.

Then again Coventry, while not so threatening, might have scored when Gary McAllister urged Darren Huckerby to take a corner quickly and floated an instant cross to the far post. Noel Whelan, reading his captain's thoughts, failed only by a nose to make contact.

Derby, missing top-scorer Deon Burton among six absentees, made two changes before the hour in the hope of finding an edge, replacing Stefano Eranio with the 17-year-old Adam Murray, their young player of the year, and sending on Francesco Baiano in place of Beck, with Wanchope reverting to his striker role.

Perversely, Coventry now enjoyed their best spell, pushing Derby on to the back foot and finding more space in midfield. Even so, a goal seemed a remote prospect.

Murray, making his home debut, looked at ease with the occasion and almost made a name for himself with 20 minutes left, his first-time shot just inside the Coventry box producing a superb save from Magnus Hedman.

Moments later his heart must have been in his mouth when Marc Edworthy tumbled under his challenge in the other penalty area, but referee Paul Alcock took his side and booked the Coventry man for diving.

Sturridge and Horacio Carbonari had late chances to tilt the scales Derby's way. But this contest always seemed destined to be a goalless draw.