Ndlovu gives Coventry hope

Wimbledon 0 Coventry City 2
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The Independent Online
At the start of the season, the Coventry City manager, Ron Atkinson, tipped his team to finish above Aston Villa. He knows otherwise now, so it was ironic that after Coventry's spirited win against Wimbledon it was Villa bursting the Sky Blues' balloon again, by failing to put away Manchester City, the team apparently least favoured by the day's fixtures.

"I had a funny feeling that all three teams - us, City and Southampton - might win their last two games," Atkinson said afterwards. "Which is why our draw at Forest was such a vital result."

He might have added that Peter Ndlovu's second goal, a minute from time, would almost certainly come into the calculations next Sunday when the last exit from the Premiership will be decided. For it brought Coventry level with Southampton on goal difference (-18), while stretching their mathematical lead over Manchester City to a margin of 7.

Train spotting aside, Coventry will certainly take confidence into their final fixture against Leeds, drawn from this astute performance and also from the fact that their fans have stayed loyal. "Magnificent," was how Atkinson summed up the estimated 7,000 at Selhurst Park, though had either of their two pitch invasions sparked by Ndlovu's second-half goals turned nasty, he might have been reaching for other adjectives.

City will also boast a defence which has not allowed a goal in its last three matches, after previously leaking 60, and this despite the traumatic injuries to David Busst and David Rennie.

Further depleted by the suspensions of Liam Daish and Brian Borrows, the centre-forward Dion Dublin stepped calmly into central defence, reducing Wimbledon's potency from corners and long throws. Apart from a short back pass which almost gifted Andy Clarke an equaliser, Dublin was splendid, helped by the tough-tackling David Burrows.

But as ever with Atkinson teams, the spirit of adventure was never far away, nor the instincts to control and pass. "Most of our players will be no good in a thrashing match," he said, giving a clue to his team's reluctance to engage Wimbledon in a tear-up.

Despite the self control, Ndlovu and John Salako were always quick to break upfield to support the lone forward, Noel Whelan, and both might have scored in the 38th minute, Ndlovu's header smacking a post, Salako's brushing the angle.

City's first goal, early in the second half, was a fitting reward for a sweet passing move as Marcus Hall, Paul Telfer and Whelan combined before Ally Pickering's cross allowed Ndlovu to score at the near post.

Wimbledon roused themselves, but with their survival battle already won they could not quite summon the meanness to scupper Coventry's. No surprise then when Ndlovu latched on to Eoin Jess's through ball and out bustled Alan Kimble before firing home what could yet be a crucial strike.

Goals: Ndlovu (52) 0-1; Ndlovu (89) 0-2

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Reeves, Kimble; Earle, Jones, Gayle (Goodman, 68); Ekoku, Holdsworth, Clarke (Harford, 68). Substitute not used: Pearce.

Coventry City (5-4-1): Ogrizovic; Pickering, Shaw, Dublin, Burrows, Hall; Salako, Telfer, Jess, Ndlovu; Whelan. Substitutes not used: Filan, Boland, Lamptey.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Booking: Coventry: Whelan.

Man of the match: Ndlovu.

Attendance: 15,790.