Football: Coventry City 1 Blackburn Rovers 1 - Kidd's kids thrown in at deep end

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The Independent Online
AS EVENTS across the Atlantic underlined this weekend not everyone judges a sports contest the same way. A few hours before the Big Apple turned sour on Lennox Lewis a very different slugging contest in the mud of Highfield Road finished with a similar divergence of views.

"We deserved to win, that was two points lost, not one gained," said Brian Kidd, the Blackburn Rovers manager. "I can't remember our goalie making a save. We could and should have had the three points," responded Gordon Strachan, his Coventry City counterpart.

Since football matches are decided by goals, rather than opinion, neither could dispute the drawn verdict that left both pondering what might have been. Given their home advantage and proliferation of chances Coventry ought to have won and thus put seven points between themselves and the relegation zone.

Blackburn, having gained a gritty away point, had more reason to be pleased but, having failed, despite dominating possession, to gain the win that would have hauled them out of the bottom three, were also disappointed.

These are difficult times for Rovers. Coventry are used to scrapping among the dead men but Jack Walker's Blackburn blueprint has higher ambitions. Even after falling away last spring they qualified for Europe. A year on, despite massive investment (pounds 36m in nine months, with only a third recouped in sales) they are closer to visiting Blundell Park than Barcelona.

Kidd noted that Blackburn were bottom with nine points from 15 matches when he inherited them in December but the subsequent improvement remains insufficient. If maintained to the end of the season their points-to-games ratio under Kidd will leave them with 38 to 39 points, which is not usually enough to survive.

Kidd himself has spent more than pounds 15m but the impact of this investment has been dissipated by the fall-out from Rovers' dreadful disciplinary record and the constraints of a crippling injury list. On Saturday Darren Peacock and Marlon Broomes were suspended, which is their own fault, but Kevin Gallacher, Jeff Kenna, Tim Flowers, Gary Croft, Christian Dailly, Keith Gillespie and, most damaging of all, Billy McKinlay and Gary Flitcroft, were all injured.

The latter two will not be back this season which explains Kidd's recent pursuit of a central midfielder. In their absence Jason Wilcox moved into midfield where he capped a busy performance with several good breaks down the left, some thoughtful passing and, most importantly, Rovers' equaliser.

That was prompted by the bold introduction of a brace of Damiens, Duff and Johnson, both 20-years-old, to prowl the flanks. Kidd was rewarded when Johnson crossed for the goal but though, as he said, his "background is in kids", he is loath to put too much responsibility on their shoulders.

He said: "It doesn't worry me playing them but you can't play too many - at one stage we had five young pups out there. It can scar them. They need experienced players around them."

Strachan concurred: "This situation can be very hard on young players. I'd like to bring them in myself but this is no time for youngsters."

The upshot is that one relegation struggle can lead to another because it means there is no opportunity to blood youngsters and develop the team without the pressure of results. Kidd is trying to overhaul Rovers but has to combine long-term objectives with the urgent need for points.

"You are not doing your job right if you do not look to the future and try to get the base right," he said. "We've just signed two young Scottish players and Matt Jansen, with that in mind. But they can be scarred if not developed right."

Jansen, indeed, was disappointing. Barely fit and stuck on the left he looked a shadow of the player who sparkled for England Under-21s last month.

Nor was Chris Sutton fit though he battled gamely. Talk of an England recall is premature though Kidd paid tribute to his quality afterwards. He also said Glenn Hoddle had told him he was prepared to reconsider Sutton once he was fit. On the debit side Sutton might have become Blackburn's 10th red card if his first-half elbow on Muhamed Konjic had been spotted.

The form of Coventry's own England hopeful, Darren Huckerby, underlines the stresses on young players. Without a goal in nine games he was dropped to the bench and looked sluggish when he came on.

It was thus left to Gary McAllister to provide Coventry's inspiration. He helped set up the move that led to John Aloisi's well-taken goal and was behind most of their better moments. However, he also departed on crutches with a damaged - but not broken - ankle. Strachan will hope he makes a quick return, as Blackburn have discovered, injuries can jeopardise your Premiership health.

Goals: Aloisi (22) 1-0; Wilcox (68) 1-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Konjic, Burrows; Boateng, Telfer, McAllister (Huckerby, 70), Froggatt; Whelan, Aloisi. Substitutes not used: Shilton, Clement, Solvedt, Ogrizovic (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-3-3): Filan; McAteer, Henchoz, Taylor, Davidson; Dunn (Johnson, 59), Marcolin, Wilcox; Ward, Sutton, Jansen (Duff, 52). Substitutes not used: Davies, Coughlan, Williams (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Coventry: Burrows. Blackburn: Henchoz, McAteer, Marcolin.

Man of the match: McAllister.

Attendance: 19,701.

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