Football: Liverpool fall foul of Dublin

Liverpool 1 Coventry 2
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The Independent Online
Liverpool 1 Coventry City 2

Will blunders never cease? First Manchester United, now Liverpool: the chance to make a decisive dart towards the championship has passed both of them by. The Premiership appears to be going to the least weak rather than the most strong.

This defeat was almost criminal in its carelessness. Liverpool, who would have gone top of the table for the first time since January had they won, were leading 1-0 thanks to Robbie Fowler's 29th goal of the season and strolling in the sunshine.

The visitors did not appear to have anything to offer other than obduracy and occasional desperate defence yet they escaped with their first win in nine games thanks to goals from Noel Whelan and Dion Dublin, the second three minutes into injury time. Both came from corners, an inevitable source because Coventry did not have a hope of creating anything in open play.

The result lifts Coventry off the bottom of the table and gives them encouragement that the escape clause that seems to have been written in every Highfield Road manager's contract for the last 30 years will come into play again. Certainly, if they are as fortunate for the rest of the season as they were yesterday they will escape the drop with plenty to spare.

"How do you explain that?" Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, asked rhetorically. "We have done everything right and then got caught out by two innocuous corners. It was poor defending. It doesn't matter how many men you have in the area if they don't react and we didn't."

Evans' sense of loss was made greater for the number of chances Liverpool squandered. In the second minute John Barnes' header from Stig Bjornebye's corner grazed the crossbar; two minutes later Steve McManaman pulled his shot wide with only Steve Ogrizovic to beat; after 25 minutes the Coventry keeper saved Stan Collymore's drive with his legs. The flow was relentless and barely broken.

When nothing tangible comes from such dominance teams are entitled to become nervous but just when edginess was beginning to show through the facade of earnest calm, Robbie Fowler gave Liverpool a goal after 51 minutes.

Barnes had his back to goal and barely an instant to weigh up the situation yet he scooped the ball over his shoulder into the England's striker's path. Fowler slowed a little to get his balance right and then lashed a volley past Ogrizovic.

Anfield exulted, the top of the table beckoned and for some reason Liverpool blew it against a team that hitherto had won only three times on their travels. A corner, the visitors' first, was won after 64 minutes and when Dublin flicked on Gary McAllister's kick, Whelan was on his own as he headed into the corner.

Coventry appeared to be as surprised as anyone else to be level and spent the next 25 minutes drawing out proceedings, time wasting, ironically, that benefited them as their second goal came long after the 90 minutes had past. Again the damage came from a corner on the right and again McAllister aimed for the near post although this time no one got a touch to it. Neither did the Liverpool goalkeeper David James, however, and Dublin bundled the ball over the line at his second attempt.

"We're happy with the result," Gordon Strachan, the Coventry player-manager, said. "But it didn't come from Plan A. More like Plan G."

Goals: Fowler (52) 1-0; Whelan (65) 1-1; Dublin (90) 1-2.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Kvarme, Matteo, Harknes; McAteer, McManaman, Redknapp, Barnes, Bjornebye (Berger, 79); Collymore, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Ruddock, Thomas, Kennedy, Warner (gk).

Coventry City (3-4-1-2): Ogrizovic; Dublin, Williams, Burrows; Shaw, Richardson, McAllister, Ndlovu; Whelan; Huckerby (Strachan, 83), Jess (Paul, 57). Substitutes not used: Ducros, Breen, Filan (gk).

Referee: P. Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Liverpool: Collymore, Matteo. Coventry: Williams, Ndlovu, Whelan.

Man of the match: Dublin Attendance: 40,079.

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