Palmer makes his point

Coventry City 0 Stockport County 0
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It was never expected to be pretty, this fixture, but few could have anticipated such suffering mediocrity from the hosts as they struggled to match the team with the worst recent record in English football.

Despite, or perhaps thanks to, the best efforts of their player-manager, Carlton Palmer, installed in the job in November, Stockport had suffered 11 successive defeats before yesterday's visit to Highfield Road, where Coventry were attempting to escape from a rut of their own in which they had been beaten nine times in 13 outings since topping the First Division on 27 October.

Remarkably, on this afternoon of scrappy midfield muddles, it was also notable that the hapless Palmer was booed by the home fans at one of his former clubs.

Ten years ago, while at Sheffield Wednesday, he had embarked on an England career that brought him 18 international caps but little popular acclaim. Now, using his experience in this more challenging environment, he faces one of football's most unenviable struggles for recognition and success.

Like Coventry, Stockport were rebounding from a midweek FA Cup exit at the hands of a superior League club. Tottenham and Bolton, respectively, had ended their dreams and given this contest a dismal sense of desperation, but it was expected that Cov-entry, with their pedigree and players, would establish superiority and quickly regain some confidence.

Their manager, Roland Nilsson, had made four changes to the side tumbled by Spurs, but stuck with an adventurous 3-4-3 system. Yet it was Stockport who appeared the more dangerous. After surviving a seventh-minute scare when a 20-yard shot by David Thompson smacked against Andy Dibble's right post, Jonathan Daly, with a diving header, caused alarm and, after Magnus Hedman had parried his effort, the on-loan Damien Delaney fired into the side-netting.

Coventry raised their game in the second half, but Palmer played an inspiring role in a rearguard battle as his team fought to remain level.

Despite enjoying much greater possession, Coventry carved out few chances. These were limited to a 20-yard drive by Lee Carsley that was deflected over, and Julian Joachim was foiled by a brave save from Dibble after Thompson's pass.

In the end, Palmer's heroics deservedly earned him the last laugh as his team claimed a point for the first time since mid-November. It may not be enough to prevent relegation, but it certainly cheered the souls who had travelled down to the Midlands to witness it.

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