Football: Whelan trickery trumps in game of cards

Leicester City 0 Coventry City 3 Whelan 16, Telfer 90, Froggatt 90 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance:21,207
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The Independent Online
GORDON Strachan will have known stranger weeks in his life, but not many. Sent off last Saturday at Chelsea for his part in a dugout squabble that he later described as like a scene from a Monty Python comedy, yesterday he saw George Boateng push the self-destruct button to reduce his Coventry team to 10 men by half-time and then watched as Coventry turned a precarious 1-0 lead into a convincing victory.

A sending off was always on the cards at Filbert Street after the referee Alan Wilkie managed to book five players in under half an hour of this keenly contested Midlands derby. Boateng became the sixth in the 43rd minute in bizarre fashion. As the Leicester manager Martin O'Neill attempted to lob the ball back to one of his players for a quick throw-in, Boateng, standing just off the pitch, jumped up and blocked it basketball-style. O'Neill complained and the referee upheld his appeal by reaching for his top pocket. Two minutes later Boateng clattered into Theo Zagorakis on the edge of the Coventry area and he had to go.

By that stage Coventry were already one up thanks to a marvellous piece of opportunism by Noel Whelan. After deceiving Frank Sinclair with a deft sleight of foot on the left edge of the Leicester area, he curled a beautiful away swinger across Kasey Keller and into the far corner of the net.

Muzzy Izzet, pressed into service as a striker in Tony Cottee's absence, and Emile Heskey, back after missing the previous weekend's 6-2 drubbing by Manchester United, squandered good chances to bring Leicester level, but as the game progressed and the cards mounted, the feeling grew that yellow would turn to red.

"I don't know if a player can be booked off the field," O'Neill said afterwards. "It was not my intention to get anyone booked, and I said so to Gordon."

Nevertheless, as if Boateng's dismissal was not enough to cap a frenetic first half, two minutes into injury time Heskey was tripped by Paul Williams as he tried to turn in the area. However, the moment proved too much for Matt Elliott, who blasted his penalty well wide of Magnus Hedman's goal.

Coventry's Swedish international goalkeeper, who had already produced one fine save to deny Andy Impey, proceeded to play an inspirational role in defending the fortress in the second half with Strachan electing to leave Darren Huckerby on his own up front.

Hedman's spectacular tip over from Heskey's powerful drive soon after the break seemed to knock the stuffing out of Leicester for a while as they sought to make their numerical advantage pay, and Steve Froggatt ought to have increased Coventry's lead but miskicked horribly in front of an empty net.

As the clock ticked on Hedman saved miraculously with his legs from Heskey, substitute Gerry Taggart headed inches wide, and Izzet shot just over. But time was running out for Leicester. Then, after an incredible scramble on the Coventry goal-line, Whelan broke clear and fed the Coventry substitute Paul Telfer, who raced through unopposed to settle it in Coventry's favour in the 90th minute.

Froggatt finished it off with the last kick of the match in similar breakaway fashion, leaving Strachan to reflect: "We worked tremendously hard and we've got people in there who are physically unwell now. And I've just been told by the fourth official that my behaviour was superb." Somehow you knew it meant significantly less to him than the result.