Football: FA Cup - Moldovan the destroyer of myths

Aston Villa 0 Coventry City 1
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The Independent Online
FATE, Oscar Wilde pronounced, is just another word for failure. Coventry's achievement in beating Aston Villa away at the 27th attempt, and reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals in the process, owed much to the fact that Gordon Strachan shares the great dandy's disdain for defeatist thinking.

Coventry had supposedly been destined not to win at Villa Park ever since the team bus crashed on its way to the clubs' first meeting there in 1936. After finally seeing the biter bit by his new striker from Transylvania, Viorel Moldovan, Strachan revealed how he had invoked the so-called curse for his own ends.

"I said to the players at half-time: 'You can either create a piece of history or be another statistic'," the Coventry manager said. "I told them that if they were the better team, they'd break the hoodoo."

When the final 20 minutes arrived with the scores level, evidence for the existence of a jinx was mounting. Coventry had been palpably superior, but found Mark Bosnich in the kind of form which convinces forwards that some things are pre-ordained.

Significantly, it was the newest members of Strachan's squad - whose lack of grounding in the mythology of Midlands football may have rendered the psychological barrier irrelevant - who lifted the spell. The Dutchman, George Boateng, drove through three challenges. Bosnich did well to parry his shot but Romania's Moldovan pounced on the rebound like some latterday Keith Houchen.

The form of Dion Dublin and Darren Huckerby means that Moldovan, Coventry's record recruit at pounds 3.25m, has still to start a match. According to Strachan he is "twitchy" about the lack of opportunities to impress his country's coach in World Cup year. If the Romanians are not watching then perhaps England, their first-phase opponents, ought to be.

It is also time the Netherlands took a look at Boateng. Snapped up for pounds 250,000 because Feyenoord knew he could soon leave for nothing under Bosman, the 22-year-old midfielder may not be as technically accomplished as Clarence Seedorf. But he has a big heart, not always a conspicuous quality in Dutch sides, and his distribution has improved so dramatically that Gary McAllister has hardly been missed.

The Scotland captain's influence on Gavin Strachan, the manager's son, was transparent. He oozed maturity on his full debut, while Dublin switched seamlessly to centre-back after Richard Shaw gave way to Moldovan. Strachan Snr may have rued his luck when Shaw was hurt but, if fate was at work, it was a benign variety.

On such twists are Cup legends forged. Coventry are in the last eight for the first time since they won at Wembley in 1987. Far from stopping Sky Blues supporters from believing in history's capacity to repeat itself, Saturday's poke in the eye for precedent has encouraged them to see parallels. Why, even the final is on the same day, 16 May, as when Brian Kilcline led a similarly unsung band to collect the trophy.

Villa's season goes from bad to worse. Brian Little, already saddled with the record of the club's worst-ever start, will also be remembered now as the manager who lost at home to Coventry. Arriving long after Strachan for his press conference, he was smiling, though probably not joking, when he said: "I hoped you'd have gone by now."

The fixture list offers Villa scant respite, with Manchester United and Liverpool due to visit before they go to Atletico Madrid. Fortune was no friend against Coventry - Villa might have had two penalties - but there is a disjointed, ponderous look about them. The nonsense of a pounds 7m striker, Stan Collymore, crossing high balls for the diminutive Julian Joachim summed them up.

When Villa lost their opening four games, Little promised shareholders a trophy this season. It looks more likely to be the Fair Play League than the Uefa Cup. Coventry, meanwhile, could end up, like their predecessors of 11 years ago, being forever feted.

Goal: Moldovan (72) 0-1.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Bosnich; Scimeca, Ehiogu, Southgate, Wright; Hendrie, Draper (Byfield, 67), Grayson, Staunton; Joachim, Collymore. Substitutes not used: Nelson, Collins, Walker, Oakes (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw (Moldovan, 57), Breen, Burrows; Boateng, Gavin Strachan (Boland, 88), Soltvedt, Hall; Huckerby, Dublin. Substitutes not used: Haworth, Johansen, Ogrizovic (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Coventry: Boateng, Hall, Soltvedt, Breen.

Man of the match: Boateng.

Attendance: 36,979.

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