Coventry City 1
THE Sky Blue bandwagon is starting to roll towards Wembley again, sweeping all manner of historical quirks from its path. This was Coventry's first victory at Villa Park and while Viorel Moldovan, their record signing, was doubtless unaware of the historical significance of his 71st-minute goal, a place in the last eight was no less than Coventry deserved.
"I wanted to see if it really was a hoodoo here," Gordon Strachan, the Coventry manager, said. "At half-time I said you can either be another statistic or you can go forward and create a piece of history." The answer could have been even more emphatic. But for the acrobatics of Mark Bosnich - one volleyed save with his left foot was straight out of the Rene Higuita Manual for Goalkeepers - Aston Villa would have been sunk long before the pounds 3.25m Romanian striker came on to settle decades of frustration.
Only the most blinkered Villa fans - and Midlands derbies do not encourage objectivity - could claim any share of the bragging rights. Despite a lively opening hour by Stan Collymore, Villa foundered on their inability to push their midfield men into the penalty box, on the poverty of their crosses and on their clumsy insistence on hoisting long balls up for Julian Joachim, all five feet six of him. Ian Taylor (suspended) and Dwight Yorke (injured), Villa's most productive attacking pair, were sorely missed. Savo Milosevic is still on strike, of course, and Villa have now taken a "no play, no pay" approach to him now.
Coventry had a much better idea of how to utilise the pace of Darren Huckerby and in Trond Egil Soltvedt had the one midfielder consistently strong and intelligent enough to find space in the penalty area. Time and again, the Norwegian exploited slack marking to break forward; he should have scored on the stroke of half-time when, released by the lively Huckerby, his cross-shot missed the far post by inches. Early in the second half, just as Villa were building up a good head of steam without ever finding an effective release valve, he struck a volley which Joachim somehow blocked on the line.
And, in between, came the one champagne moment for Villa, one certain to be enshrined in the post-season video as Bosnich, wrong-footed by the acute angle of Soldvedt's right-foot volley, swung a left boot at the goalbound shot, in midflight, and essayed a volleyed clearance as spectacular and effective in its way as the Scorpion Kick immortalised by the Colombian goalkeeper at Wembley. "One of the most breathtaking saves I've ever seen," Strachan said. Villa might have few other domestic memories to record from a season now resting on a quarter-final of the Uefa Cup. Further moments of elasticity from the overworked Australian staved off the inevitable: a flying save to his left from a Moldovan header and a block from Huckerby.
It was a big day for another Strachan too - Gavin Strachan, the manager's son, though you could not tell from the willowy frame and dark hair. The Strachan clan could be proud of junior's debut. "It's hard to comment on your own son," Strachan said. "He's not physically the strongest, but he is mentally strong. And he's a lucky sod. We've been here 25 times, then he comes along and we win."
The decisive moment stemmed from the arrival of Moldovan as a replacement for the injured Richard Shaw. Dion Dublin, fresh from his international accolades, turned centre-half and the Romanian arrived to torment a Villa defence who had looked uncertain even before George Boateng broke through three of their tackles in the 71st minute. Turning inside, the Dutchman's cross shot was pushed away by Bosnich for Moldovan to score.
"He's been a bit twitchy being left out," Strachan said. "But he's an intelligent man and understands that my other two strikers have been playing out their skins."Reuse content