Football:Strachan suffers

Coventry City 1 (McAllister 59) Derby County 2 (Rowett 49, Sturridge 670 Attendance: 22,839
Click to follow
Coventry's yearly flirtation with relegation now resembles a deathly embrace, after a landslide of adverse results flooded in from their fellow strugglers yesterday. Even victory at Spurs next Sunday will not guarantee Coventry's safety, although Derby's win here ensured they will be in the top flight next season.

Coventry's player-manager, Gordon Strachan, who limped off with a hamstring injury after Derby's first goal, had no recriminations against his players for the defeat. "Their attitude was right and we made chances, but we've only got ourselves to blame for where we are now," he said. "We didn't do ourselves justice earlier in the season."

Coventry's nerves got the better of them in an edgy first half. Too many passes were hacked aimlessly forward, and it took a switch by Strachan from right to central midfield for them to acquire a meaningful shape. They were almost rewarded by a 30-yard Gary McAllister free-kick which struck the post.

Two second-half defensive errors, though, cost Coventry goals and, probably, their record 30-year run in the top flight. A bizarre sequence of events led to Derby's first strike five minutes into the second half. Strachan was incensed when he thought a Coventry free-kick had been illegally blocked. He then clattered into Chris Powell, was booked for dissent and the resulting free-kick from Gary Rowett deflected off David Burrows's head into his own net.

Coventry's equaliser also smacked of controversy: Christian Dailly climbed all over Dion Dublin in the area but the referee, Roger Dilkes, waved play on and, after the ball was pumped back into the area, Dailly committed an identical offence. This time Dilkes awarded the penalty. McAllister converted coolly.

By now, Highfield Road was at the point of hysteria. But as Coventry pressed forward, Mart Poom cleared speculatively, Ashley Ward headed on, Gary Breen missed a header, and Dean Sturridge scrambled a chip over the advancing Steve Ogrizovic.

Coventry still had their chances: substitute Darren Huckerby's first touch was a shot, which Poom saved well. Dublin, too, had the ball in the net, but the effort was disallowed for his challenge on the keeper.