Football: O'Neill's delight with old faithful

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The Independent Online
Leicester City 1

Marshall 45

Coventry City 0

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 20,224

GORDON STRACHAN said he drew no comfort from the fact that results elsewhere almost certainly meant the preservation of his Coventry side's Premiership status.

After lambasting his players after the match for their dismal performance, he kept his public comments to a curt minimum. "Those results don't make me feel any better at all," he snapped. "No one can feel as bad as I do now. I've had my say in the dressing-room and I've asked certain questions. The players have three matches left to answer them."

One can only speculate as to what those questions were, but pretty high on the list must have been why his toothless midfield capitulated so early in the game. And why, with one or two exceptions, was it that his strikers were left stranded for long periods with so little support that their efforts, when they came, were rarely more than speculative.

Martin O'Neill's mood, as one might imagine, was brighter. He praised the efforts of his players, in particular those of the match-winner Ian Marshall. "He's scored two goals in two games for us which has given us six points," the Leicester manager said. "And that's done no harm at all to his negotiations for a new contract. Ian wants to be part of the squad here, he likes it at Leicester, but if we are looking to improve the team he may not be a regular starter."

O'Neill's cold logic was sound. Marshall, now 33, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, but his influence on this game should not be underestimated. His presence alone seemed enough to put Coventry's back line on edge and his power, particularly in the air, frequently tied up two defenders, leaving gaps for Tony Cottee and Emile Heskey to exploit.

As early as the eighth minute Marshall connected with a deep ball and headed into Cottee's path, but he could only shoot into the side netting. Marshall then had the chance to open the scoring with a ferocious volley fired just left of Magnus Hedman's goal. But Marshall's reward for persistence came deep in first-half injury time when his firm header from Steve Guppy's corner left Hedman stranded.

Despite the slender margin of victory, Leicester's dominance cannot be understated and their first home league win against their Midlands neighbours in 13 years was achieved largely at a canter.

The visitors never looked like unpicking a sturdy midfield marshalled with the gusto of Robbie Savage and the guile of Guppy and ultimately they resorted to pumping long balls for John Aloisi and Darren Huckerby to chase, but Matt Elliott, in particular, and Pontus Kaamark were in no mood to relinquish the advantage.

Mid-table security is now assured for Leicester, but the usual suffix - mediocrity - was far from in evidence.