Football: Strachan shines in battle of blues

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Coventry City 3 Chelsea 1

Coventry may yet again pull off their annual feat of Premiership escapology. Having snatched an unlikely victory in injury time at Liverpool on Sunday, the Midlands side were inspired by a first starting appearance for almost a year from their 40-year-old player-manager, Gordan Strachan, to overturn lacklustre Chelsea's half-time lead in a breathless nine-minute frenzy of scoring early in the second half.

Goals from Dion Dublin, Paul Williams and Noel Whelan left Ruud Gullit's side an undisciplined shambles after Paul Hughes had provided an advantage they scarcely deserved, and they prepare for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Wimbledon beneath a cloud of internal strife and disintegrating form.

Their third successive defeat was prefaced by another untimely episode in the continuing feud between Gullit and his disaffected Italian striker, Gianluca Vialli, who responded to the manager's criticisms of his performance in last weekend's dismal home defeat against Arsenal with strong words of his own on Italian television.

But his plea for "human respect" from Gullit fell on deaf ears as he was left to nurse his familiar place on the substitute's bench for more than an hour, despite anxiety over the fitness of his compatriot Gianfranco Zola, who looked a jaded shadow of his sparkling best.

Gullit restored Mark Hughes, Roberto Di Matteo and Frank Sinclair, who had been suspended, as well as the injury victims Franck Leboeuf and Eddie Newton in five changes from the team swept aside in the London derby. Improvement, however, was negligible.

Strachan dropped Darren Huckerby and Kevin Richardson from Sunday's winning line-up and, with better finishing, his side might have been in front before Paul Hughes poached the lead for Chelsea two minutes before half-time. Strachan himself had gone closest after showing Sinclair and Craig Burley a clean pair of heels.

In the second period, though, Chelsea wilted under a determined assault. First, Peter Ndlovu combined with Whelan to set up an unmarked Dublin to rifle home the equaliser, then Dublin flicked on Paul Telfer's long throw from the right for Paul Williams to head home his first goal of the season at the far post. Before Chelsea could respond, Whelan had slid home the third after the visiting goalkeeper, Frode Grodas, had raced from his area to challenge Ndlovu only to direct his headed clearance straight to the Coventry man.

Forced to play in the red and navy check shirts of Coventry's change strip because their own blue colours were deemed to clash with the home side's sky blue and navy stripes, Chelsea looked a poor imitation in more ways than one of the team that had lit up the Premiership on better days.

Gullit, furious after the debacle of the Arsenal defeat, was inclined to shrug off this one as further evidence that his players had their minds on the Cup semi-final. "I just want to forget about this and do what we have to do against Wimbledon," he said.

Coventry City (5-3-2): Ogrizovic; Telfer, Borrows, Shaw, Williams, Burrows; Strachan (Richardson, 87), McAllister, Whelan; Ndlovu (Huckerby, 79), Dublin. Substitutes not used: Hall, Breen, Filan (gk).

Chelsea (5-3-2): Grodas; Burley, Sinclair, Leboeuf, Clarke, Minto; P Hughes (Vialli,62), Newton, Di Matteo; Zola, M Hughes (Granville, 85). Substitutes not used: Johnsen, Morris, Forrest (gk).

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

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