West Ham United. . . .1
WITH a point on the board at last, West Ham's captain should have been oozing optimism. Instead, Julian Dicks stood by the team bus, signing autographs and reflecting on a doubly dispiriting day.
Dicks had opened his paper on Saturday morning to find Billy Bonds, the West Ham manager, declaring his willingness to sell him to raise money for a goalscorer. Later, the bulldog left-back came uncomfortably close to hogging Sunday's back pages in a brush with Coventry's Sean Flynn.
After the pair jostled for the ball, moments after West Ham's first Premiership goal, the referee singled out Dicks for admonishment. Having been dismissed at Wolves and Derby last season, this latterday Mark Dennis must have expected an embarrassing Midlands hat-trick.
The linesman backed up Flynn's claim that he had been elbowed in the jaw. If that was true - and television tended to support the view - it was a red-card offence, but Dicks considered even the caution 'disgraceful'. The Coventry midfielder had 'had his arms all over my back' and, after all, West Ham received a free-kick once Mr Lodge had done his Betty Boothroyd bit.
Yet the greater indignity, it seemed, was learning via the tabloids that he could shortly be in new colours. 'The club haven't got any money, so they want to sell me to get better players,' the pounds 2m-rated Dicks said pointedly. 'The ball's in their court, but I'm happy to go. I only signed the last contract because of the supporters.'
Two seasons ago, West Ham devised a debenture scam which turned the mildest of fans into pitch-storming militants. Offloading a cult figure such as Dicks could prove an equally despised Bonds scheme, but the evidence here was that a top-class striker would greatly enhance their chances of survival.
West Ham quickly twigged that Coventry's unusual formation, bereft of full-backs, might be vulnerable down the flanks. Tim Breacker exploited the space once and won a corner. On a return foray, his shot was parried for Dale Gordon to score.
It took Coventry almost an hour to shake off their lethargy - which Bobby Gould attributed slightly unconvincingly to the rigours of three games in a week - and fashion what their manager acclaimed as 'an exquisite goal'. A patient move culminated in Peter Ndlovu, who hints at greatness, rounding the otherwise impassable Dicks to set up Roy Wegerle.
Peter Butler, pick of the altogether more positive and precise West Ham midfield, boarded the coach re-living the drive with which he hit the bar late on. Dicks departed under his own steam, doubtless pondering imminent opportunities elsewhere rather than those gone by.
Goals: Gordon (45) 0-1; Wegerle (57) 1-1.
Coventry City (3-4-1-2): Gould; Atherton, Babb, Rennie; Ndlovu, Sheridan (Boland, h/t), Flynn, Morgan; Wegerle; J Williams (P Williams, 73), Quinn. Substitute not used: Ogrizovic (gk).
West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Breacker, Dicks, Potts, Foster; Gordon, M Allen, Butler, Rowland; C Allen, Morley. Substitutes not used: Gale, Robson, Peyton (gk).
Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).