Sadlier has last word as Sky Blues fall to earth

Millwall 3 Coventry City 2
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It needed a last 10 minutes, spectacular even by Millwall's often outrageous standards, plus the harsh dismissal of Coventry City's best player, to bring to an end the Sky Blues' 11-game unbeaten run under the management of Roland Nilsson.

Fast emerging as the best Swedish brain in English football after Sven Goran Eriksson, Nilsson exulted at Coventry's effortless dominance of most of the second half and, if he is realistic, will have concluded that what happened to his team could have descended on anyone in this sort of atmosphere.

So, after a run of eight wins and three draws in the League, Coventry have been checked. But they will come again, without any doubt. Full credit to Millwall for forcing this victory against all expectation, but the pathway was cleared for them, in Nilsson's estimation, by the mistake which offered the Belgian substitute, Christophe Kinet, the chance to equalise with a glorious free-kick in the Beckham mode.

Then, with three minutes left, the outstanding David Thompson collected his second yellow card for what was deemed a foul on Paul Ifill and had to go. Incredibly, Coventry opted against shutting up shop and poured forward in search of the winner. Instead, they were cruelly punished.

Millwall broke away for Steve Claridge, on the left side of the penalty area, to shovel over a centre which Coventry's goalkeeper Marcus Hedman flapped a hand at, and pawed only as far as the head of the Millwall captain, Stuart Nethercott. He directed it back towards the Coventry net and Richard Sadlier firmly deposited it there with a joyful thrust of his own head.

"I don't know what we were thinking about, playing with 10 men and wanting to score a third goal," Nilsson said. But this mild man, the divisional manager of the month for October, took quiet issue with referee Keith Hill for the dismissal of Thompson. While conceding that Thompson's first-half booking for obstructing Tim Cahill was deserved, the Swede saw nothing wrong with the second, which ended in a confrontation between Thompson and Ifill. "David didn't hear the whistle, kept on playing and blocked the guy," he claimed.

So Coventry's wretched run at Millwall continues. They have not won there since 1955, a statistic which looked well on the way to oblivion after Coventry had gradually taken charge of a dire first half. Almost 30 minutes had passed before a neat combination between the excellent Lee Carsley and the Belgian Laurent Delorge sent in Lee Hughes for the first shot on goal. It was an effort which Tony Warner was happy to repel – and it turned out to be Hughes' last contribution, due to a stomach upset.

Hughes was replaced after 37 minutes by Jay Bothroyd. It was a switch which immediately increased Coventry's menace, though it was Millwall who went in front against the flow after 54 minutes. Kinet, who had come on for Darren Ward after the interval, took a left-sided corner which Coventry struggled to clear. The ball pinged around until it finished up near Claridge, who volleyed the ball waist-high past a startled Hedman.

It was the wake-up call Coventry needed. A corner was directed by Thompson towards the near post, where it was forced over the line by the Honduran striker, Jairo Martinez. Millwall, in front for only five minutes, were soon trailing. Bothroyd, collecting near the centre circle, set off at rapidly accelerating pace before unleashing a left-foot drive from 25 yards which found the corner of the net low to Warner's right.

There should have been more, especially when a Martinez effort rolled across an empty goal, but Coventry were entitled to think the game was theirs. Until, that is, their captain, Gary Breen, held back Claridge on the edge of the area and Kinet curled the free-kick expertly around the wall. "That gave Millwall the lift they wanted," said Nilsson, laying the blame with Breen. "When we came back from a goal down I thought we were laughing."