Football: Staunton slays Sky Blues

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 1

Dublin 75

Aston Villa 2

Joachim 29, Staunton 85

Attendance: 21,340

This was rough justice on Coventry who seemed to have done enough to secure their seventh consecutive draw in the Premiership when Dion Dublin cancelled out Villa's freakish first-half lead with 15 minutes remaining. However, the last word rested with Steve Staunton whose 30- yard strike five minutes from the end brought an unconvincing Villa their first away win since 5 September.

The spring in the step a new manager brings was still there to be seen in Gordon Strachan's third game in charge, suggesting a mood of optimism in a club well used to playing brinkmanship at this level. However, the balance sheet published last week emphasised how much is at stake this season, revealing annual losses of almost pounds 8m.

Even so, Coventry were still prepared to add another pounds 1m to their outgoings by signing Darren Huckerby from Newcastle on Friday. The 20-year-old forward started on the bench for his new club yesterday, which was a role also occupied by the Villa striker, Savo Milosevic, following the collapse of his proposed move to Italy during the week.

With Dwight Yorke away on international duty, the option of bringing the Serb into the action was one Little must have welcomed. Indeed, it seemed he might deploy it sooner rather than later, until Villa took the lead.

It was the oddest of goals, resulting from a fumble by Steve Ogrizovic at the edge of his penalty area. Julian Joachim dispossessed the keeper, turned and crossed the ball toward goal only to see it roll meekly into the net despite Liam Daish's attempt to clear.

Joachim was a whisker away from scoring a second goal on the stroke of half-time, when his glancing header struck the inside of the far post before being shovelled to safety. Earlier, Sasa Curcic had watched a 20- yard shot pass narrowly wide.

Coventry's midfield played with a pleasant rhythm, but all too frequently everything petered out once Villa's central defence came into the picture.

In the second half, Villa's slight advantage slipped away as the home side stepped up an already high work rate to mount spells of sustained pressure. But when Noel Whelan dragged an inviting chance wide from 12 yards one was reminded that Coventry's scoring record is currently the poorest in all four divisions.

Huckerby made his entrance with 16 minutes of the game remaining and, within 60 seconds, helped to bring Coventry the equaliser they richly deserved. The debutant turned sharply in the penalty area and pulled the ball back for Dublin to force home from close range.

It seemed this would provide the contest with a just outcome. But, with five minutes remaining and Milosevic on in place of the ineffective Joachim, space opened up suddenly for Staunton on the left and the Irishman silenced the home crowd's celebrations by striking a spectacular winning goal from 30 yards.