Football: Hedman's courage saves the day for Coventry

Southampton 0 Coventry City 0
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The Independent Online
IT WAS a weekend when goals were in the air. On Saturday afternoon, the scent drifted down the spine of the country, from the north-east, past Manchester and into the Midlands. So potent was it that it even reached south London, for goodness' sake.

Although the scoreline at Southampton might suggest that the trace had dissipated in the crisp blue skies somewhere over Hampshire, goals, too, were here for the taking. That they remained unclaimed was the only downside to a thoroughly entertaining no-score draw played in uninhibited fashion before an engaged audience. Dull at The Dell it certainly was not.

Afterwards, the Coventry manager, Gordon Strachan, likened the whole chaotic affair to a game of basketball, an appropriate analogy which evoked the alternate waves of defence and attack. The result of poor attacking from Southampton and disorganised defending from the visitors, this certainly contributed to a neutral's entertainment. It was only the swish of ball on net that was missing.

Coventry could do little about their defensive shortcomings. Due to injuries to David Burrows, Marc Edworthy, Marcus Hall and Richard Shaw, their back four was radically different to the last outing against Leicester, and midfielders Stephen Froggatt and Paul Telfer, standing in at full-back, suffered from their lack of understanding with centre-halves Gary Breen and Paul Williams.

Unfortunately, Southampton froze in the face of such disarray. The combination of the England Under-21 international James Beattie and the Latvian Marion Pahars, supplemented by Hassan Kachloul, contrived to spare the visitors, but not before Coventry showed attacking qualities which compensated for their defensive frailties.

Coventry opened the brighter, the midfield combination of Gary McAllister and Mustapha Hadji showing too much wit for Matthew Oakley and Jason Dodd, the straight men in the Southampton centre. Hadji emphasised their sharpness with a delightful swerving strike which almost bamboozled Paul Jones in the Southampton goal.

After that, however, it was mostly Southampton, and only a magnificent and brave display by their Swedish international goalkeeper, Magnus Hedman, held Coventry together. His saves aside, the Saints should have scored half a dozen times before the interval. Beattie, who played with the nervousness and self-consciousness of youth, was perhaps the guiltiest party, but Kachloul, too, had an off day, treading on the ball instead of kicking it from six yards out.

The Southampton manager, David Jones, was sanguine about a match his side should have won. "If you'd asked me at the start of the season if I'd accept four points off Coventry I'd have said yes," he said. But was he happy that his side had not scored in four matches? The answer would surely be no.

Southampton (4-4-2) Jones; Colleter, Richards, Benali, Tessem; Kachloul, Dodd, Oakley, Ripley; Beattie, Pahars (Davies, 64). Substitutes not used: Moss (gk), Boa Morte, Le Tissier, Bridge.

Coventry City (4-4-2) Hedman; Froggatt, Breen, Williams, Telfer; Chippo, Palmer, McAllister, Hadji; Keane, Roussel (Whelan, 64). Substitutes not used: Ogrizovic (gk), Strachan, Quinn, Normann.

Bookings: Coventry: Chippo, Whelan.

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

Man of the match: Hedman.

Attendance: 15,168.