Football: Mustapha chance, but nothing doing

Southampton 0 Coventry City 0 Attendance: 15,148
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The Independent Online
COVENTRY'S long wait for their first away win of the season and Southampton's stumbling form continued at the Dell yesterday, but there are days when goalless draws and unfulfilled ambitions seem less important than value for money. This was certainly one of those.

Southampton had dealt their confidence another blow by losing 4-0 to Aston Villa in the Worthington Cup. That followed a defeat at Leeds which ended with the manager David Jones making an enraged verbal attack on the referee - usually the first sign of deferring responsibility. He knew Southampton had not played all that badly in either match but were in danger of entertaining defeatist thoughts - not surprisingly after winning only one of their previous nine League matches, a record that cannot be blamed on referees.

Coventry's unbeaten run of seven games had gone the week before and they were still hampered by away form, which was something they needed to correct quickly if those somewhat over-the-rainbow thoughts of a place in Europe were to turn to reality. Starting yesterday's game without David Burrows, Marc Edworthy, Marcus Hall and Richard Shaw gave no cause for optimism, though Southampton were hardly less denuded being without Trom Soltvedt, Mark Hughes and Claus Lundekvam.

Coventry overcame their problems the quicker with Mustapha Hadji - one of three Moroccans on the pitch - having a dipping, well directed shot handed on to the crossbar by Paul Jones. Southampton needed to remain alert to Robbie Keane's pace and Hadji's shooting from any distance. Keane began a sequence of near goals. He had a vigorous header cleared by Dean Richards who promptly joined a Southampton counter attack and struck the crossbar with an out-stretched foot as he encroached into the Coventry goal area. The miss was no worse than that of Hassan Kachloul who somehow got the ball lost under his body from Marian Pahars' centre with a goal seeming inevitable.

There was not a paper's width between the teams. A brave and painful save at the feet of James Beattie by Magnus Hedman deprived Southampton of what seemed certain to be an opening goal, but it simply added to the enjoyment of a match full of absorbing unpredictability. Only Hadji consistently looked capable of breaking the deadlock. His shooting was not always along the right lines, but he found space in a busy midfield and used it effectively. Much the same could be said of Southampton's Pahars but surprisingly he was substituted midway through a second half in which Paul Jones again rescued Southampton with a block from Cedric Roussel.

Both goalkeepers contributed considerably to maintaining equality. In the last 15 minutes vitality left the game and originality, which had never been its strong point, withered. Typical of the game, in the last moments Kevin Davies rolled the ball slightly wide of a Coventry goal invitingly undefended.