Football: Coventry shatter Liverpool illusions

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Coventry City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

Liverpool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

WHEN a side has not won in three months, eventual victory can be a desperately close-run thing, or it can be what Coventry did to Liverpool yesterday. For the winners this utter pulverisation was a kind of delirious liberation, for the losers a body blow to the morale that could well do irreparable damage to their much-trumpeted revival. Bruce Grobbelaar will have reflected that this was one of those rare days when it was good to be Liverpool's third-choice goalkeeper.

Liverpool last lost this badly in 1976 - when they went down 5-1 at Aston Villa - and since Coventry are hardly noted as free-scorers it is no exaggeration to say that as the goals kept on banging in during the second half the match took on a surreal quality. Coventry were without the sparkling Peter Ndlovu, their main creator of chances, but Mick Quinn, Coventry's Liverpudlian who is now no longer on loan, still got his usual pair, making it eight in five matches, and so did Brian Borrows.

No wonder Bobby Gould, the manager of these 11 Sky Blues whose names will doubtless be etched into the consciousness of every home fan who was there on the club's greatest day since they won the FA Cup from Tottenham in 1987, came on to celebrate, but it was to hug one of them in particular. His son Jonathan made his Premier League debut in the Coventry goal and did not put a foot wrong throughout.

He did let one in but that was an unstoppable 30-yarder from Jamie Redknapp, who would have traded in that consolation goal for the two bookings, for charging down a free-kick and then body- checking Kevin Gallacher, that got him sent off.

Redknapp's shove on Lee Hurst as both players chased Robert Rosario's through-ball, and some subsequent handling as they tumbled over, gave Coventry what was effectively their first chance of the match as the interval approached. That was what was most surreal: Liverpool had had enough possession, and with it wrought enough havoc through Mark Walters and John Barnes on the fringe of a five- man midfield to have put the game beyond doubt in the first half-hour. But it was less that their finishing was found sorely wanting, more that the early shower of crosses found a Coventry defence, even shorn of the aerial presence of Andy Pearce, operating at its stingiest.

But Borrows accepted the opportunity from the spot and after the resumption it was one-way traffic again, only this time it was all directed not towards the young Gould but towards Mike Hooper. Liverpool never used to panic after conceding the lead, but this time there was no stopping their flapping. From a free-kick Kevin Gallacher set up Borrows to strike again, then Rosario, Coventry's acting captain and unlikely playmaker, sent Gallacher through to make it three. Redknapp's reply signalled a brief rally which was brutally terminated by his own dismissal (greeted by the Liverpool fans with their traditional graceless applause) and Quinn's double punch.

It was an unhappier debut for the Norwegian international Stig Bjornbye, whom Graeme Souness still identified as his best player. If the Liverpool wingers had been rampant, both Quinn's goals were created on the flanks, one by Kenny Sansom, the other by Gallacher heading back John Williams' cross.

'If you had walked out after half an hour and sat at home and seen the result you'd think they'd got it wrong,' Souness said. The only people that got it wrong were the 11 men wearing red, and while Highfield Road was a good place to be after the final whistle closed a match of sumptuous entertainment, it's a fair bet that that did not extend to the Liverpool dressing-room.

'You've got to remain very humble at times like this,' Bobby Gould admitted afterwards. 'In 1983 we beat Liverpool 4-0 in the game before Christmas, but lost 5- 0 at Anfield in April. I thought we'd be relegated and it taught me there's a hell of a long way to go from now.' So one win does not make a winter, but Coventry ought not to return to their unvictorious ways.

Coventry City: J Gould; B Borrows, P Babb, P Atherton, K Sansom, J Williams, L McGrath, L Hurst, R Rosario, M Quinn, K Gallacher. Subs not used: A Pearce, S Flynn, M Davies (gk). Manager: B Gould.

Liverpool: M Hooper; M Marsh, R Jones (D Hutchison, 60 min), S Bjornebye, T Piechnik, M Wright, P Stewart, J Redknapp, I Rush, J Barnes, M Walters. Subs not used: R Rosenthal, D James (gk). Manager: G Souness.

Referee: K Morton (Bury St Edmunds).

Goals: Borrows (1-0, 37 min); Borrows (2-0, 54 min); Gallacher (3-0, 62 min); Redknapp (3-1, 63 min); Quinn (4-1, 71 min); Quinn (5-1, 73 min).