Football: O'Neill's less than striking case for Europe

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The Independent Online
Leicester City 1 Coventry City 1

IT IS easy to become confused listening to Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan in close proximity. O'Neill, whose team has 41 points, thinks they have a chance of playing in Europe next season. Strachan, whose team has 44, is still concerned with avoiding relegation.

In O'Neill's case, unlike Strachan's, the logic is just about plausible. If Chelsea win the Cup-Winners' Cup, then seventh place in the Premiership (currently occupied by West Ham with 47 points) will qualify for the Uefa Cup. Leicester are 12th.

This presupposes, however, that Leicester can change the habits of a season (and several before) and start scoring goals, which is presupposing rather a lot. So far they have five fewer goals than they have points.

It is the one area in which O'Neill has yet to find the right answers. He has outstanding defenders and a capable midfield; but his strikers have not been up to scratch.

The most disappointing has been Emile Heskey, who is immensely strong and not lacking in ball skills yet fulfils his essential purpose only occasionally. His two goals against Chelsea in February - when Leicester last won - ended a barren patch spanning almost four months. He has not scored since and totals only five from 28 games.

None the less, only Ian Marshall, who is injured, has more, although eight is hardly worth bragging about. Steve Claridge, whose winning goal in the Coca-Cola Cup final earned this season's passport to Europe, left for Wolves last month having failed to score once in the campaign. Tony Cottee and Graham Fenton have three each, although neither has been employed much, which in the latter's case is odd given that O'Neill paid pounds 1m for him.

"Finding a goalscorer will most definitely be the priority this summer," O'Neill said. "Someone who can enable us to capitalise on possession and kill off the opposition. That has been where we have struggled all season.

"Having said that, I'm not sure where I'm going to find him. I believe Arsenal and Manchester United are after goalscorers, too, and I'll be interested to see how they get on. I'll listen to any suggestions, talk to any agents."

Leicester tried hard enough to make possession count on Saturday, although 40-year-old Steve Ogrizovic, making a determined effort to keep Magnus Hedman on the bench, was threatened mostly from midfield, where the inventive Muzzy Izzet and combative Neil Lennon gave the home side a clear edge.

When they did get their noses in front - through a goal made by Fenton, if finished by Stuart Wilson - the advantage was short-lived, cancelled out by Noel Whelan's opportunism after Leicester's defence momentarily went to sleep.

The goal extended Coventry's unbeaten run to 13 matches, which is not the form of a side going down. Indeed, it is more that of a side heading for Europe. Strachan, really, should be reading from O'Neill's script.

Goals: Wilson (77) 1-0; Whelan (80) 1-1.

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Prior (Wilson, 72), Elliott, Kaamark; Savage, Zagorakis, Lennon, Izzet, Guppy; Cottee (Fenton h/t), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Parker, Ullathorne, Arphexad (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Nilsson, Shaw, Breen, Burrows; Telfer, Boateng, Soltvedt, Whelan; Huckerby, Dublin. Substitutes not used: Williams, Moldovan, Boland, Strachan, Hedman (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Pyrford)

Bookings: Leicester: Lennon; Coventry: Telfer, Burrows.

Man of the match: Izzet.

Attendance: 21,137.