Football: Survival is a victory in itself for Coventry

Coventry City 1 West Ham United 0
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The Independent Online
IT HAS, of course, been common knowledge for some time that there are three tiers in the Premiership and that most supporters can forget about ever being in contention.

That they keep showing up tells us something about human nature but will the present obsession with football last?

Before Coventry went out and took three points against West Ham on Saturday I asked a man who has been showing up at Highfield Road for more years than can be comfortably remembered whether his enthusiasm can survive yet another struggle against relegation.

He did not have to think long about this suggestion of perversity. "What you have to understand," he said, "is that most supporters today, even if they aren't prepared to admit it, have given up on the dream of being the best. It just isn't going to happen. I saw Coventry win the FA Cup and we haven't been out of the top flight since Jimmy Hill brought us up all those years ago, so maybe just being there is enough."

A mid-table position would come as something of a triumph for Coventry's long suffering supporters even if it was achieved with a continuation of the good fortune that accompanied their efforts against West Ham who will have to put in some work on converting chances.

While Gordon Strachan agreed that Coventry got most of the breaks, he was quick to point out that an improvement had been made in collective defending. "Some of our players have been prepared to accept blame," he said, "but today they went out and did something about it.'

However, considering the number of opportunities West Ham squandered the rueful smile on Harry Redknapp's face was understandable. "We did everything but the most important thing," he said. "I lost count of the times we should have scored even though their goalkeeper made some terrific stops."

If Marcus Hedman's agility had a lot to do with Coventry's second victory of the season West Ham's second defeat was all the more discouraging for Redknapp because his team did a lot to overcome the problems imposed by injuries to key men. "We had a makeshift defence out there," he said, "down to the bare bones, a youth team player on the bench. So I was pleased with the way we coped. But the finishing was terrible. How many should we have scored - four, five?

Even when John Moncur was sent off with 18 minutes left for a stupid kick at Gary McAllister, his second yellow card, West Ham saw enough of the ball to bring about a change in Coventry's defensive system and cause anxiety on their bench.

Only Moustapha Hadji's first goal for Coventry, a header in the 36th minute that confirmed Redknapp's concern about equality in aerial combat, stood between the teams, not enough for Strachan's comfort.

Hardly able to get out of their own half, unable to make numerical superiority tell, McAllister withdrawn from the action because of tired legs, Coventry were again indebted to Hedman when he saved Paulo Wanchope's point- blank blast.

An expressive man, Strachan speaks a lot with his shoulders. When it came to speaking about Robbie Keane they went up and down in pleasure. Perhaps you have to make a case for anyone who cost pounds 6m, but Strachan insists that the Irishman is already one of the Premiership's most accomplished players.

"I knew he was worth the money when I signed him," Strachan said, "but I didn't know just how good he is. He does some exceptional things."

Will Keane's burgeoning prowess bring Coventry enough goals to ensure survival? Will McAllister's legs last? Will Carlton Palmer help to stabilise midfield? Will Coventry's supporters be released from the anxiety that arrives with each spring?

Strachan can't answer those questions anymore than Redknapp can find an easy remedy for his team's profligacy. It's all in the mind or is it?

Goal: Hadji (36) 1-0.

Coventry City: (4-2-4): Hedman; Edworthy, Shaw, Konjic, Hall; Telfer, Palmer, McAllister ( McSheffrey, 83), Chippo (Williams, 60); Keane, Hadji. Substitutes not used: Strachan, Nuzzo, Eustace.

West Ham United: (3-5-2): Hislop; Lomas, Stimac, Potts; Sinclair, Foe, Lampard, Moncur, Keller (Newton, 76); Di Canio, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Kitson, Carrick, Forbes, Forrest (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-hill).

Bookings: Coventry: Edworthy, Palmer, Chippo. West Ham: Stimac, Wanchope. Sending-off: Moncur.

Man of the match: Hedman.

Attendance: 19,993.

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