Hughes debut is a real Sky opener

Stockport County 0 Coventry City 2
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It was rarely pretty and only sporadically entertaining but in all other respects this was the perfect start to life outside the top flight for Coventry City. There is, of course, just one aim this season for Gordon Strachan and in order to achieve it there will be more days like this, but few of the travelling contingent will complain about quality if sufficient points are amassed.

A scrappy opening to the fixture was perhaps to be expected. Stockport, in their fifth season at this level, clung on to their status last term by their fingertips while Coventry, having spent more than three decades in an unbroken run in the top flight, were clearly finding their feet in the lower divisions.

Little of note was created, although Lee Hughes, Coventry's £5m replacement for the Celtic-bound John Hartson, turned and volleyed from 20 yards and, in the process, tested the agility of the Stockport goalkeeper Lee Jones. Hughes was fouled as he did so and David Thompson's subsequent free kick just cleared the crossbar.

While Gordon Strachan's side had the classier, crisper moves, the difference in class was mitigated by Stockport's application to the task. And, in their Frenchman Karim Fradin there is artistry and imagination too. Had Scott Taylor been more alert, he might have converted Fradin's delicately weighted chip.

But Hughes had his own agenda and a fine burst into the box might have brought an opener were it not for a fine Colin Woodthorpe challenge. The former West Brom man's next involvement brought the debut goal after what appeared more of a clearance than a pass landed kindly for him and he slotted home one of his easier opportunities from close range.

County's Aaron Wilbraham was unfortunate not to level matters in one of his side's increasingly rare upfield ventures when his well-struck shot from just inside the box went over. But the visitors, a goal to the good, began to assume control of both possession and territory.

The interval served only to upset the rhythm of the visitors' play, although a roaming Thompson attempted to inject more passion into a game which was beginning to stagnate in midfield. Indeed both sides had useful bursts towards goal but the respective architects of the moves – Lee Carsley for Coventry and Glynn Hurst for the home side – saw good opportunities evaporate because reinforcements were too slow to arrive.

Carsley did not have long to wait to make his mark. He rose first to meet Thompson's firmly struck corner with a header that gave Jones no chance. Despite County's best efforts to stifle and frustrate, they were creating nothing to concern Kirkland while Jones was forced to make a stunning save to deny Thompson.

With Hughes on the scoresheet, Coventry's other debutants showed they may be made of the right stuff for a sustained campaign at this level. Keith O'Neill, formerly of Middlesbrough, showed an aggressive, feisty streak on the left wing, though he was fortunate not to be dismissed for a late challenge on Ali Gibb. Roland Nilsson, too, a summer signing from Helsingborgs, gave an able and relatively untroubled display at right-back. As for the home side, a lack of firepower suggests another season where survival is the best which can be reasonably expected.

Stockport County 0 Coventry City 2

Hughes 29, Carsley 75

Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 9,329

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