Football: Huckerby does business

Coventry City 1 Huckerby 44 Derby County 0 Attendance: 18,705
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The Independent Online
NOT for the first time, the difference was made by Darren Huckerby, whose 12th goal of the season moments before half-time inflicted further damage on faltering Derby's European ambitions. Gordon Strachan still talks in terms of avoiding relegation, but after six wins in seven Premiership matches Coventry might yet be Uefa Cup contenders themselves.

Huckerby, courted by Manchester United, committed himself to Strachan's team by signing a four-year contract last week, a deal said to be worth pounds 10,000-a-week to the 21-year-old striker. With the future of the prized asset Dion Dublin still undecided, the securing of his partner's loyalty will greatly enhance Strachan's prospects of keeping Coventry's momentum going.

In the event, the goal stemmed from a bungled short- corner routine on the right flank, Noel Whelan was forced to wheel around the perimeter of the penalty area to make himself an opening after being fed possession close to the by-line. He crossed left-footed, Gary Breen flicked on and Huckerby, sneaking into space behind the Derby defence, hooked the ball past the goalkeeper Russell Hoult.

Coventry perhaps ought to have won more emphatically, at least in Strachan's view. Before the goal, Dublin had headed against the woodwork and Paul Telfer failed to deliver the pass from which Dublin might well have tucked away his 20th of the season had it arrived. Later, George Boateng made three runs into the heart of Derby's defence without making one count and Huckerby, having dispossessed his marker, skipped past two defenders and the goalkeeper, fired into the side netting.

Then again, Paulo Wanchope wasted an opportunity presented by a Breen blunder before half-time and both Deon Burton and the new signing Lars Bohinen had chances to steal a point for Derby during the closing 10 minutes. Coventry were the better side but were never safely in control.

"I'm still looking to reach 46 points at the earliest opportunity," Strachan said, experience having taught him never to take anything for granted. "Last season we finished with 43 and were 10-1 on to go down on the last day. Only when we are safe will I think about how high up we might finish."

Meanwhile, Jim Smith, his opposite number, remains determinedly upbeat, despite losing four games in six. "We have been hampered by a disjointed March fixture list that has resulted in us playing just two games in a month," he said. "But the eight we have left come at regular intervals and I still think five wins should get us there."

However, the fluency of their early-season form seems to have deserted them at the crucial moment. One suspects that mid-table beckons, despite their manager's optimism.

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