Football: Brilliance of Boateng keeps Coventry afloat

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 2 Wimbledon 1

GORDON STRACHAN'S nerves were still jangling after a tense finale to what should have been a straightforward win for his Coventry side, who have rarely made life easy for themselves. Knowing that a win would virtually guarantee their Premiership future for another season, they nearly contrived to throw away what ought to have been a straightforward victory after being two up in less than half an hour.

Having witnessed Robbie Earle head over from close range and Magnus Hedman punch out a powerful drive by Jason Euell, all after John Hartson had pulled a goal back for Wimbledon, Strachan had every right to gasp afterwards: "It's hard to enjoy things like this. Maybe I'll enjoy this result later."

If he had settled down and watched Match of the Day, Strachan would have been soothed considerably by the performance of George Boateng. The former Dutch Under-21 midfielder expressed his discontent last week at playing wide on the right, as he feels his talent deserves the stage of centre midfield, and on this evidence he is right for he set up both his side's goals.

Boateng found Darren Huckerby with a 40-yard pass which the latter did not have to break stride for as he slotted the ball past Neil Sullivan, and then he curled a pass behind the Wimbledon defence for Noel Whelan to volley home. Strachan rightly praised his Dutchman afterwards, saying: "They were two wonderful passes by Boateng. He tired later but I didn't want to take him off."

As fatigue overtook Boateng, Huckerby came into his own having scored his first goal in 15 games. One treat was the way he tricked his way around three defenders and into the area, only to finish tamely.

As for Wimbledon, this defeat could be put down to being without several first-teamers, although on the plus side Hartson did score his second goal in two games. However, their most significant absentee is still their manager, Joe Kinnear, who suffered a heart attack in March and is not due back until the summer.

Their impressive early-season form meant Wimbledon ensured their survival long ago, but for Coventry the struggle is not quite over as, of the teams in the relegation zone, they can still be caught by Blackburn. If they can hold on to Boateng and Huckerby, those fears should be banished not just this season but for many after as well.

Goals: Huckerby (17) 1-0; Whelan (29) 2-0; Hartson (74) 2-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Burrows (Hall, h-t), Shaw, Breen, Edworthy; Telfer, McAllister, Soltvedt, Boateng; Whelan, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Clement, Aloisi, Quinn, Kirkland (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Thatcher, Blackwell, Cunningham, Jupp; C Hughes (Leaburn, 53), Euell, Earle, Kennedy; Gayle, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Heald, Kimble, Castledine, Francis.

Referee: G Poll (Tring). Bookings: Coventry: Whelan. Wimbledon: Thatcher, Jupp.

Man of the match: Boateng.

Attendance: 21,200.