Football: Breen the barrier

Coventry City 0 West Ham Utd 0 Attendance: 20,818
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The Independent Online
BY TRADITION this is not a fixture to stir the emotions but times change and the Coventry City and West Ham teams of today have the capacity to produce excitement and high quality and this was one goalless draw that lacked for neither.

With more proficient finishing, the scoreline might have read 5-4, either way. Then again, given that there were defensive performances of particular merit among both sets of players, the absence of goals could be explained.

Rio Ferdinand was outstanding in West Ham's back three, in which the recently arrived Neil Ruddock and Javier Margas, the pounds 2m Chile international making his debut, were solid. Between them they reduced Darren Huckerby to diving in search of penalties, for which he was rightly booked.

West Ham linked Ian Wright and John Hartson for the first time in a throwback to their Highbury days. But they found little joy against a Coventry rearguard in which Gary Breen was no less impressive than Ferdinand. The full-back Marc Edworthy, signed from Crystal Palace last week, remained on the bench until Jean-Guy Wallemme, recruited from the French champions, Lens, tired near the end.

Coventry were second best in the opening stages, prompting some touchline histrionics from the manager Gordon Strachan. Eventually they responded but tended towards the lazy tactic of hoisting long balls in search of Huckerby and rarely finding him.

The best opening of the first half fell to Wright, whose powerful header looked good enough to put his side ahead until Magnus Hedman, the goalkeeper England will face in Sweden in their European Championship qualifying match on Saturday, responded with a brilliant save.

Early in the second half, Shaka Hislop pushed a low drive by Paul Telfer around his left-hand post before Wright got the better of Wallemme only to find Hedman barring his way again. Ten minutes from time, Dublin might have done better when George Boateng's pass gave him time to line up his shot at the far post but West Ham, no longer an easy touch away from home, had been good enough to merit a third consecutive clean sheet.

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