Football: Quinn's essential instincts: Coventry prey on contenders

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The Independent Online
Coventry City. .3

Aston Villa. . .0

A SOBERING thought for the festive season: if Mick Quinn were to maintain over a full campaign his Coventry scoring rate of 10 goals in six matches, he would finish with a total of 70. That would make him, in statistical terms, the greatest striker ever in the English game.

He can't, won't and isn't, though neither is Quinn quite the sumo centre-forward his kidology- conscious manager, Bobby Gould, would have the rest of the Premier League believe. A little fleshy round the posterior, perhaps, but with instincts as sharply honed as anyone in and around the penalty area.

With two more marvellous examples of the predator's art against Villa, Quinn's ability to bring goals from Newcastle appears undiminished. The pertinent question, which will be answered in today's match at Manchester United and those in the new year away to Blackburn and Norwich, is whether his spree is simply a glorious aberration or a fresh factor in the struggle for the championship.

The pounds 250,000 newcomer's latest two-goal feat was particularly galling for Villa. It was precisely the same single-minded, ruthless approach in front of goal that persuaded Ron Atkinson to pay nine times as much for Dean Saunders; ostensibly the final piece in the jigsaw. Yet after his initial Quinn- style spree, the Welshman has scored only three times in his last 13 appearances.

It is not that Saunders is missing chances, rather that he is not receiving any. As he floundered in the fog, and Villa's hopes of closing on the leaders, Norwich, vanished in a mist mainly of their own making, he must have looked enviously at the service Coventry laid on for Quinn, whose own efforts off the ball make Eric Cantona look conscientious.

Where Quinn had his tireless captain, Robert Rosario, fighting for him in the air, Saunders was dependent on a clearly unfit Cyrille Regis, himself deputising for the indisposed Dalian Atkinson. A deft header by Rosario made the first goal, Quinn's left foot hooking the ball instantaneously beyond Nigel Spink.

Where Quinn had pacy wide players stretching the defence, notably Kevin Gallacher, Saunders had to forage ever deeper for the ball. The wing play of the injured Stephen Froggatt was vital to his early success, and Coventry's second, expertly converted by the right boot of Quinn after Rosario's cross, was a reminder of an element Villa have lost.

Rosario, after a reciprocal gesture by Quinn, completed a burst of three goals in 10 minutes, and it could have been more. After Ron Atkinson's angry rebuke - 'The worst performance since I've been at the club . . . we were hopeless and then we got worse' - Villa will relish an immediate opportunity to redeem themselves against Arsenal tonight.

But as with Liverpool's 5-1 defeat at Highfield Road a week ago, when the analysis concentrated on the losers' shortcomings, Coventry may be receiving insufficient credit. Quinn believes as much, calling them the best team he has played in during a six-club, 215-goal career. 'No one talks about us as title contenders, but not many sides want to face us now,' he said. 'We could have a big say in things.'

Realistically, that may be the most they can hope for, whereas Villa have the depth and quality to sustain their challenge. However, it is a sign of the openness of the race that Coventry, whose only other successive home victories in 1992 came in the final game of last season and the first of the new one, remain heavily involved.

Goals: Quinn (52) 1-0; Quinn (55) 2-0; Rosario (60) 3-0.

Coventry City: Gould; Borrows, Babb, Atherton, Sansom, Williams, McGrath, Hurst, Rosario, Quinn (Pearce, 89), Gallacher (Ndlovu, 83). Substitute not used: Ogrizovic (gk).

Aston Villa: Spink; Barrett, Staunton, Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton, Parker (Cox, 84), Saunders, Regis (Beinlich, 65), Small. Substitute not used: Bosnich (gk).

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).