Harford's mystery deepens

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 5 Blackburn Rovers 0

This was a peculiar, suprising and almost extraordinary match. Prefaced by transfer rumours, played in a nostaligic atmosphere with an orange ball on a frost-covered pitch, it produced an unexpected avalanche of goals which not only lifted Coventry off the bottom of the Premiership, but more suprisingly, left their manager, Ron Atkinson, as gloomy as his beaten rival Ray Harford.

The Blackburn boss, who had good reason to go missing, at least had the courtesy to attend the mandatory post-match news conference on time and, with some tersely-muttered replies, provide the quotes. Big Ron, an hour too late, performed in an unseemly huddle at the foot of the Sky Blues' executive staircase and delivered not a sentence worthy of repeat.

It was so odd one suspected that Harford must have succeeded in stealing Crystal Palace's in-demand defender Chris Coleman out of Atkinson's sun- tanned grasp. On this display, his defence certainly needs something to prevent the champions turning into chumps every time they leave Ewood Park.

Blackburn were, almost literally, at sixes and sevens. Harford admitted several of his men did not fancy the pitch, which was hard, frosty, strewn with light snow and manifestly inviting for fleet-footed forwards. Graeme Le Saux, No 3 on the team sheet, played in a No 6 shirt (perhaps hoping for anonimity) while, of course, Chris Sutton (bought as a striker) played in central defence and Paul Warhurst (once a fine central defender) played, as a substitute, in attack.

The outcome was, well, nothing. Alan Shearer had one shot of note, from a free-kick, and it was easy to see why Rovers, so powerful at home, have failed to win any of their nine away League games during which they have scored only three goals. In short, they were pathetic. "One team wanted to win and one team did not want to play," was Harford's pithy and accurate synopsis.

Atkinson, quite rightly, seemed beseiged even after such a resounding triumph. Coventry, after all, remain second-to- bottom, pounds 9m in debt and scrapping as usual to extend their top-flight tenancy to a remarkable 30 unbroken years. But, in Dion Dublin, he has a centre-forward who leads the line; and in John Salako and Peter Ndlovu, two fast and tricky wingers who turn defences.

Defensively, he and his team got away with it as Blackburn offered no punches and allowed Chris Whyte, on loan from Birmingham, an easy debut before he starts a three-match ban.

Atkinson's 3-4-3 system worked well, too, in pulling Blackburn apart so comprehensively two of the goals came from defenders. But there are many stronger away sides to come than this pale ghost of the Rovers of '94 and, when reality returns, this result may fade into fantasyland.

Goals: Busst (40) 1-0; Dublin (60) 2-0; Rennie (64) 3-0; Ndlovu (74) 4-0; Salako (88) 5-0.

Coventry City (3-4-3): Ogrizovic; Whyte, Busst, Rennie; Pickering, Richardson, Telfer, Hall; Salako, Dublin, Ndlovu. Substitutes not used: Isaias, Lamptey, Gould (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, Sutton, Marker, Le Saux; Ripley, Sherwood, Bohinen (McKinlay, h-t), Batty; Newell (Warhurst, 35), Shearer. Substitute not used: Mimms (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Booking: Rennie.

Man of the match: Ndlovu.

Attendance: 13,376.