Football: Whelan returns to pull Coventry away from mire

COVENTRY CITY 2 (Huckerby 17, Whelan 29) WIMBLEDON 1 (Hartson 74): Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 21,200
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COVENTRY HAD to endure an agonising last 16 minutes to this game as John Hartson pulled one goal back for the visitors, but with all three points secured, Gordon Strachan's side are now virtually certain of playing in the Premiership next season.

For once, they haven't left it until the last game. But they kept their fans on tenterhooks as, after Hartson's goal, first Robbie Earle then Jason Euell went close to pulling off a result that would have kept Coventry's relegation fears very real indeed.

Darren Huckerby and Noel Whelan got their names on the scoresheet for Coventry before half-time but, while both goals were taken calmly, it was down to the vision of their team-mate George Boateng that they had the chances in the first place. The Dutchman's excellence stood out against a Wimbledon side on such a bad run of form they have won only once in their last 18 games.

The first goal, after 17 minutes, was the pick of the two, as Boateng found Huckerby with an exquisite low 40-yard cross-field pass that he latched on to with a burst of pace past Duncan Jupp. The England under- 21 international then coolly hit his shot past the on-rushing Neil Sullivan and duly registered his first goal in 15 games.

Boateng was not finished there, and after one curling pass that Whelan headed straight at Sullivan, the two linked up with a virtual identikit effort with 29 minutes gone as Whelan thumped his volley home from six yards. Then, from Huckerby's pass, Whelan should have made it three five minutes before the break but scuffed his shot.

The Coventry manager Gordon Strachan had recalled Gary McAllister and Whelan after suspension, but had to reshuffle his defence as he was without his powerful central- defender Paul Williams, out through injury, yet a Ceri Hughes shot aside, they were untroubled.

Wimbledon's problems were partly due to being without several first-team players including Chris Perry, Michael Hughes and Efan Ekoku. Their most notable absentee, however, is still their manager Joe Kinnear, who is recovering from his March heart attack .

After keeping a clean sheet in midweek for Scotland against Germany, it was down to the Wimbledon goalkeeper Sullivan just to try and keep the scoreline respectable for his side after their first-half drubbing. And, just two minutes after the break, he pulled off a brilliant flying save to parry a Paul Telfer strike.

Wimbledon failed to pose much of a threat on Hedman's goal, and when Ben Thatcher put John Hartson through, Gary Breen swept the danger off the Welshman's toes.