Strachan given a foretaste of life among the journeymen

Brentford 0 Coventry City 0
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Coming to terms with their long-predicted and even longer-resisted relegation from the top division has not been easy for the Coventry fans nor, of course, for the ever-defiant manager Gordon Strachan. But at least he is still in his job, thanks mainly to an unusually sympathetic and supportive chairman. Even so, the club's loyalty to Strachan was a welcome change from the norm.

Whether Strachan would survive a season of under-achievement in the First Division is another matter. The club are still talking of building a new stadium and, though that seems to be in abeyance, if it ever goes ahead a return to Premiership football will be essential.

Strachan has managed to retain most of last season's first team squad, and this season the main thrust of his pursuit of instant promotion is to be based on the strength of John Hartson and the South African striker Phil Masinga with whom he played at Leeds. Masinga, most recently seen playing for Bari in the Italian league, would have appeared yesterday at Griffin Park but for a delay in obtaining a work permit.

Strachan had suggested that Coventry treated this match as a serious competitive issue, which in Hartson's case need not have been said since "friendly'' has always somehow eluded his vocabulary. Within seconds he was all arms and elbows against Darren Powell who will have less painful afternoons when the season actually starts.

Brentford's new manager, Steve Coppell, admits that his club's ambitions are always going to be tempered by financial restrictions, but that is exactly the kind of situation that brings out the best in him. Certainly he has a squad of formidable physical strength while Scott Partridge's 25th- minute short sprint, twist and shot, which caused Chris Kirkland to concede a corner, was a moment of subtlety amid a lot of perishing moves on a sweltering afternoon.

As is the way with these games that tend to stretch the devotion of the fans more than the resources of the players, the two most inventive performers, Coventry's Peruvian, Israel Zuniga, and the Honduran, Ivan Guerrero, were withdrawn at half-time.

That left Youssef Chippo to trouble Brentford's frequently reinforced back line of four with his athletic running from midfield that never quite provided the openings Hartson required. Once Jay Bothroyd, the former Arsenal striker, replaced Hartson, the Coventry attack became more unpredictable. It was Bothroyd who brightly offered Coventry the chance to break the deadlock when threading a crossfield ball to Gary McSheffrey whose shot over the bar was unworthy of the invitation.

A predictable succession of changes in the Coventry side allowed Brentford to make better progress in midfield and to counter attack with better effect. Two of their own substitutes created one of the highlights. Mark Williams broke away down the right side and his centre was efficiently met by Ben Abbey whose flicked header skimmed the far post.

Coventry's 34 years in the top division had perhaps given them the impression that in the end luck would always come to their rescue. This season they are clearly going to need to be utterly practical and methodical in their struggle with the journeymen of a lower league. Brentford gave them a useful foretaste.

Brentford 0 Coventry City 0

Attendance: 1,629

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