Royle's Ipswich rock Coventry to keep on rolling up the charts

Coventry City 1 Ipswich Town 2
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The Independent Football

Royle saw his Ipswich Town side climb to No 2 yesterday between Wigan and Reading at the expense of Coventry City.

Like the pop charts of Joe Royle's teenage years, the Coca-Cola Championship marches to a Mersey beat. Royle, one of six Liverpudlian managers in the second tier, saw his Ipswich Town side climb to No 2 yesterday between Wigan and Reading, who are also managed by natives of the city, at the expense of Coventry City and the most Scouse "gaffer" of all, Peter Reid.

Coventry looked to have rescued a point when Patrick Suffo cancelled out a goal by the outstanding Dean Bowditch. Then, with three minutes left, Coventry's Matt Mills was presented with what should have been a routine clearance. Unhappily for the 18-year-old defender, on loan from Southampton, he sliced it into his own net from 18 yards.

In Royle's 1,001st match as a manager, between two clubs who have both been post-millennium members of the Premiership, Ipswich were marginally superior. However, they were indebted to Lewis Price, who saved Stern John's penalty midway through the first half in his second appearance.

While Royle believed they deserved the points, he expressed sympathy for Reid. "I feel for Peter, and for the lad Mills," he said. "That sort of thing happens when you're on a bad run." Reid, whose side have now taken three of the last 18 points, claimed Coventry were "unlucky to lose". Praising Mills' overall contribution, he sighed: "Mistakes like that are part of his education."

The learning curve is looking ominously like a downward spiral for Coventry and their manager of five months. After an extraordinary and, at times, charmed 34-year life in the top flight, the Sky Blues have finished 11th, 20th and 12th since relegation, and currently lie 18th. Next August they move to the £113m Jaguar Arena, where they might struggle to fill a third of its 32,500 seats were they to slide back into third-grade football.

A failing club is an all-too familiar scenario for Reid. This week brings the first anniversary of the beginning of the end of his reign at Leeds United, where he and the then chairman, Professor John McKenzie, bizarrely discussed his security of tenure in a Pennine pub before Reid left by the laundry door.

What he and Royle have in common, apart from their roots, is a lack of funds. "We're all in the same boat in this division," Royle said. "Everyone's working on a shoestring. Anyone who can spend £2m should go up. Spending power is crucial - it made the difference for West Brom and Norwich last season."

By that criterion, Paul Jewell's Wigan - bankrolled by the sportswear magnate Dave Whelan - ought to be certainties for promotion. Steve Coppell's Reading have less financial clout, which, by Reid's reckoning, puts them on a par with most of their rivals. "Everybody in this league is capable of beating everyone else," he argued, "so there could be a lot of changes."

There were certainly plenty of fluctuations at Highfield Road. On 18 minutes, Drissa Diallo pulled down Tim Sherwood, only for Price, 20, to parry John's penalty. Bowditch, 18, then crashed a shot against the underside of the crossbar. Luke Steele was for once a spectator.

Steele's only mistake, a sloppy throw-out, led to Darren Bent missing horribly after 67 minutes. The Ipswich striker swiftly atoned, crossing for Bowditch to sidefoot home. Yet one Coventry substitute, Bjarni Gudjonsson, soon created the equaliser for another, Suffo, who lobbed Price.

Mediocre away results arguably cost Ipswich automatic promotion last season, so Royle's satisfaction at the result of Mills' misfortune was unsurprising, even if it deepened the problems for his friend Reid. In the cut-throat, cut-price world of the so-called Championship, Scouse solidarity has its limits.

Goals: Bowditch (70) 0-1; Suffo (77) 1-1; Mills og (87) 1-2.

Coventry City (4-3-2-1): Steele; Whing, Mills, Shaw, Staunton; Doyle, Sherwood (Suffo, 73), Barrett (Gudjonsson, 61); Morrell (Jorgensen, 79) Hughes; John. Substitutes not used Shearer (gk), Giddings.

Ipswich Town (4-3-3): Price; Diallo, De Vos, Naylor, Richards; Miller, Horlock, Magilton; Bent, Kuqi (Westlake, 76), Bowditch. Substitutes not used Supple (gk), Counago, Barron, Sobers.

Referee C Penton (Sussex).

Booked: Coventry City Sherwood. Ipswich Town Miller.

Man of the Match Bowditch.

Attendance 12,608.