Football: Coventry well placed to shift the pressure

Coventry City 2 Charlton Athletic 1

AFTER ALL these years, a football season just would not be the same without Coventry teetering on the brink. Mid-table is all very well but, given that they are unlikely ever to win the title, it is only by jousting with disaster from time to time that they give meaning to their existence.

On occasions this season they have looked far too good to be mentioned even as outside candidates for relegation. Yet there they stood on Saturday morning, one place - one point - above the bottom three. Good they may be but not, regrettably, every week.

During 32 years in the top division, luck has frequently been their friend, casting misfortune on somebody else at the critical moment. This season they might not need it. Half of their remaining 10 games are against sides, like themselves, whose survival cannot be guaranteed. Three of those provide their next three home fixtures, against Blackburn (next Saturday), Southampton and Middlesbrough.

Thus can Coventry influence the fate of others as well as determine their own. It is an opportunity they cannot think of passing up, especially with a new ground in the offing. Fine facilities are all well and good but even the smartest stadium loses its lustre if the football played within is second rate.

But the run-in has begun well enough. Coventry were superb at Aston Villa and full of character on Saturday, the catalyst on both occasions the perceptiveness and general authority of Gary McAllister in central midfield. Here they put three vital points between themselves and Charlton - also contenders for the drop, of course - even after losing a player to a contentious red card.

As Gordon Strachan said, had you been watching events unfold on Teletext you might not have given Coventry much hope after Charlton went ahead and the home side's John Aloisi was sent off, all in the space of 90 seconds.

Aloisi, feted after scoring two of the four goals his side put past Villa, was the casualty of a running battle with Charlton's Danny Mills, whom, he alleged, had been sledging throughout the match as well as leaving studmarks on his chest. Their little spat was not in the Fowler-Le Saux bracket but unseemly none the less. Aloisi was foolish to react but had cause to feel hard done by after Mills responded to an outstretched arm as if punched by Mike Tyson.

The incident reshaped the match, but not to the benefit of Charlton, whom their manager, Alan Curbishley, said had not known how to win against 10 angry opponents. "I wanted people to be upfield, keeping their players away from our goal," he said. "But when they attacked us we panicked. We pulled people behind the ball but they weren't doing anything, weren't marking people."

Coventry did know what to do and scored twice in the last 24 minutes, first through Noel Whelan, who took up a striker's position after Aloisi's red card, having started as suspended George Boateng's replacement on the right of midfield, and then Trond Soltvedt.

The Norwegian midfielder, whose goals this season have been scored as substitute, pulled off the trick for the third time, with the help of a deflection off - somewhat aptly after a week discussing the hind quarters of a footballer's anatomy - Danny Mills's bottom.

Goals: Robinson (55) 0-1; Whelan (67) 1-1; Soltvedt (85) 2-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Williams, Burrows; Whelan, Telfer, McAllister, Froggatt; Huckerby (Soltvedt, 75), Aloisi. Substitutes not used: Konjic, Gioacchini, Shilton, Ogrizovic (gk).

Charlton Athletic (3-5-2): Royce; Mills, Brown, Tiler; Robinson (Barness, 69), Jones, Kinsella, Redfearn (Barnes, 63), Powell; Pringle, Hunt (Mortimer, 79). Substitutes not used: Mendonca, Ilic (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Sending-off: Coventry: Aloisi (57). Bookings: Coventry: Hedman, Whelan; Charlton: Redfearn.

Man of the match: McAllister.

Attendance: 20,259.

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