Football: Strachan spirit sparks fightback

Wimbledon 2 (Earle 45, Gayle 54) Coventry City 2 (Whelan 56, Du blin 70) Attendance: 10,307
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The Independent Online
It was tempting to ask what the tenacious Gordon Strachan had done to deserve inheriting extravagant Ron Atkinson's unpalatable leftovers. But his predecessor's appetite for a battle appears to be rubbing off already, since yesterday Coventry fought back from two goals down at Selhurst Park and made Wimbledon look comparatively frail.

Coventry's mid-week defeat by Gillingham in the Coca-Cola Cup was Strachan's introduction to life as a full-blown manager. Having brought himself on in that match, he had to share the ignominy of being booed off the pitch, which at least should have fired him up for his first Premiership game in charge. Yesterday he spent the whole match shouting from the sidelines, and it was more effective.

He experienced the worry of seeing Coventry concede five corners in the first 10 minutes, and continually fail to close- mark. The greatest threat was Oyvind Leonhardsen, whose searing early volley was deflected over the bar by Steve Ogrizovic, who was relieved to see Gary McAllister begin to take control in midfield and Peter Ndlovu start to nag at the right side of Wimbledon's defence.

In recompense for their earlier squandering of chances, Wimbledon crisply took the lead shortly before half-time. Neil Ardley releasing Kenny Cunningham wide, whose cross was well struck in by Robbie Earle. A badly timed attempted interception by Paul Williams on Marcus Gayle shortly after the break allowed Gayle to move into the penalty area unopposed and plant his shot in off Ogrizovic. So Coventry seemed to be heading for irredeemable disadvantage. Yet, after 65 minutes, they achieved not only a rare goal, but a spectacular one.

McAllister, who had drifted back into the anonymity that has beset his season, suddenly pierced Wimbledon's defensive alignment with a fine crossfield ball and Noel Whelan sent in what Strachan labelled a "brilliant" side- foot lob over Neil Sullivan. Equally, it could have been a misplaced pass. Either way, Wimbledon's control had been relinquished. In the 69th minute, a long throw by John Salako was headed down into the goal area and Dion Dublin only had to turn on the ball to equalise.

Confidence as an attacking force, which had been lacking so often for Coventry, now combined with Wimbledon's surprising defensive vulnerability. It created a frenetic finish. It never should have been so. Wimbledon's domination of the first hour ought to have put them beyond danger, but Coventry's renewed spirit and readiness to send numbers forward in support of Dublin, who had two goals disallowed, brought off a result that may not count for much at the end of the season but could make the fight more watchable.

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