Football: Whelan lays ghost of absent friend

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Blackburn Rovers 1

Sherwood 73

Coventry City 2

Huckerby 54, Whelan 74

Attendance: 23,779

SO there is life after Dion Dublin for the Sky Blues. Their strikers Darren Huckerby and Noel Whelan each scored a cracking goal of which their departed colleague would have been proud to lift Coventry out of the relegation zone yesterday.

But in turning down a move to Blackburn, despite the more attractive wages on offer, Dublin proved to be a wise judge. He rejected Rovers because he thought they could not win trophies. At the moment Roy Hodgson, the Blackburn manager, would settle for winning a match.

If Hodgson had succeeded in securing Dublin, his main problem would have been deciding whether to play him as a spearhead or at the heart of defence as, on this evidence, he would have made a considerable improvement at either end of the pitch.

Blackburn used all three of their expensive strikers - Chris Sutton, Kevin Davies and Nathan Blake, newly arrived from Bolton for pounds 4m - and all three drew a blank. Blake did at least demonstrate that he knew the way to goal, hitting the post with a powerful header in the first half. All Sutton had to show for his afternoon was a yellow card and a half- time substitution by Davies, who pulled his only shot woefully across the face of goal.

Coventry's strikeforce looked altogether livelier and, if the woodwork had not intervened, they could have doubled their tally and Whelan, who twice hit the bar, might have been taking the match ball home as his reward for a hat-trick.

Huckerby twice came close in the first half, while Blackburn's strikers were rarely in the right place to benefit from some good approach work by their wide midfield players, the Damiens Duff and Johnson, who were again the pick of a Rovers side struggling to achieve their potential.

Coventry grew in confidence as the game progressed and Gary McAllister, prompting from midfield, had been threatening to open up a Blackburn defence who looked fragile once Darren Peacock had departed with an injury. It was a simple through-ball from Philippe Clement which broke the deadlock. Huckerby latched on to it, took several strides towards the retreating defenders and struck the ball calmly past Tim Flowers' left hand.

Blackburn bounced back against the run of play when Tim Sherwood rose at the far post to head home Johnson's corner kick in the 73rd minute but, as often happens, the goal disturbed their concentration and within 60 seconds Coventry were deservedly in front again. Whelan was allowed to escape and outstripped the defenders to drive the ball into the roof of the net from 20 yards.

Gordon Strachan, the Coventry manager, said: "The front two were phenomenal and Whelan was absolutely outstanding. When Dublin left, we had to tinker about with our system to get more strikes on goal and it worked."

Hodgson admitted: "Coventry prevented us from playing and made us look poor. We need a few straight wins now to give us a rocket boost."

But with only two victories all season and with Roy of the Rovers still looking for his Roy of the Rovers, time is beginning to run out for both Blackburn and Hodgson.

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