Football: Strachan's strategy advocates the value of hard work

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 2

Huckerby 10, Dublin 16

Chelsea 1

Poyet 37

Attendance: 23,042

CHELSEA'S HUGE investment in what their manager, Gianluca Vialli, has called "the best players available anywhere this summer" was made to look as insignificant as the savings in a piggy bank by Coventry City's comparatively small-change team of spirited players at Highfield Road yesterday.

Gordon Strachan had not been absent from the summer's bidding in the markets of international football, but his total outlay of pounds 1.62m had not, he admitted, bought him "quality" of the world standard assembled by Chelsea. "But what we have is something you don't buy -- the benefits of hard work and remembering what you practice."

Vialli had spent pounds 12m in less than three months, which can mean only one thing - a major trophy has to go to Stamford Bridge this season or he will be out and Chelsea will be in financial trouble. Yesterday's performance cast doubt on whether Chelsea can sustain a title challenge with a costly but constantly changing team.

Brian Laudrup was absent with a back injury, but Marcel Desailly, Pierluigi Casiraghi and Albert Ferrer all came into the Chelsea side. So, too did the manager, who had said earlier that he had anticipated that Casiraghi would keep him out of the side except for emergencies.

Coventry are nothing if not defiant. So after having little possession in the first 10 minutes, Dion Dublin, scorer of three goals on the first day of last season also against a losing Chelsea, relayed a long clearance further on to Darren Huckerby. Desailly was transfixed as Huckerby's lob saw Franck Leboeuf helplessly trying to clear off the line.

Chelsea's assembly of almost priceless talent tumbled after 15 minutes. Dublin was fouled, ran straight to the far post and met Noel Whelan's centre to head in Coventry's remarkable second.

It took Chelsea until the 36th minute to find their voice. A free-kick from Dennis Wise was neatly headed over the defence by Gustavo Poyet, and Coventry began to feel some pressure. Yet Chelsea's frustration, compounded by the excellent goalkeeping of Magnus Hedman, surfaced frequently and Coventry played on that.

Vialli ranted and Casiraghi, complaining as his introduction to the Premiership became an increasingly painful experience, watched Hedman touch over his best shot. Vialli took himself off after 69 minutes, leaving Tore Andre Flo to lead the line, but the real need was for Gianfranco Zola to be introduced to link Chelsea's midfield with the attack. He appeared after 76 minutes, bringing Chelsea a line of communication.

Coventry's last 10 minutes became a frenetic trial of their defensive determination. Chelsea forced corners and fired hopeful shots against this side of such massive togetherness, which was highlighted in injury time with a brave and crucial goal-mouth tackle on Wise by David Burrows.

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