Football: Strachan proves there is no substitute for class

Southampton 2 Coventry City 2
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The Independent Online

Southampton 2 Coventry City 2

The temptation for Gordon Strachan to pick himself for tonight's vital Premiership match at home to Arsenal must be enormous. If he is at all superstitious, there will not be any question about it.

At Anfield a fortnight ago the Coventry player-manager's arrival as substitute coincided with an improbable victory; he started against Chelsea when they won again last week; and then, on Saturday, the little talisman surpassed himself when a two-goal deficit was turned around no sooner had he set foot on the field.

If he is not careful, Strachan will start thinking he is Houdini, which, coincidentally, is pretty much what he has accused his players of believing until of late. "They seem to think because they play for Coventry they can't be relegated," he said in a radio interview before the game. After Saturday's escape at The Dell, who can blame them?

After an hour Southampton were so much in command, both in terms of goals and performance, that they could be forgiven for allowing their concentration to drift to how they would secure their Premiership future up at Roker Park tomorrow night. Without hindsight, it would have been hard to argue with Graeme Souness' assessment that the introduction then of Strachan and his fellow veteran Kevin Richardson - "I wanted to bring on a bit of experience, although looking back it was more like history" - should have been to Southampton's advantage.

It probably would have been had not Francis Benali, three minutes later, struck such a miserable back-pass. Peter Ndlovu, who had had little joy throughout against Ulrich van Gobbel, took his one chance quite sublimely, whereupon Southampton visibly deflated. Such is the frailty of confidence of teams down among the dead men.

Souness said beforehand that he envied his old Scotland teammate Strachan that he was still able to come out to play at 40. And although he sounded a bit bitchy about Strachan's decision to do so here - "I could have gone on and there would have been a hundred years between us" - he must have been particularly envious of Strachan's ability to have a direct input into events.

"Sometimes it can work for you when you're watching from the dug-out and you can go and tell the players right away exactly what they're doing wrong," he said. "A few players needed a kick up the backside - and others were told how to use their energy."

And what of his own available energy for tonight's game? "We'll have a body check in the morning, a quick rub down with the WD-40 and take it from there," he said.

Goals: Evans (28) 1-0; Ostenstad (47) 2-0; Ndlovu (62) 2-1; Whelan (74) 2-2.

Southampton (3-5-2): Taylor; Dodd, Lundekvam, Benali; Van Gobbel, Berkovitch, Magilton, Oakley, Slater; Ostenstad, Evans. Substitutes not used: Dryden, Maddison, Neilson, Basham, Beasant (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Borrows, Williams, Shaw, Burrows (Richardson, 59); Telfer, McAllister, Whelan, Ndlovu; Dublin, Huckerby (Strachan, 59). Substitutes not used: Hall, Breen, Filan (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Coventry Huckerby, Shaw, Burrows.

Man of the match: Strachan.

Attendance: 15,251.