Noel's first is at home

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The Independent Online
LIFE in the Premiership's basement department eased slightly for Coventry City when they beat Everton at Highfield Road yesterday. Even more important, perhaps, was the vibrant performance of Noel Whelan, the former Leeds striker signed by Ron Atkinson for pounds 2m, who crowned a dream home debut by scoring the winner six minutes from time.

The Sky Blues were without Peter Ndlovu but busy Whelan almost set up a goal for John Salako, via Dion Dublin's head, in the third minute. The former Crystal Palace winger's header flew just over the bar.

Everton soon tested Steve Ogrizovic, back in Coventry's goal after suspension, when Graham Stuart's pass gave Daniel Amokachi a clear run on goal. But the Nigerian's shot was wide. Coventry hit back as Dublin's header thumped against Neville Southall's bar.

Three minutes after the interval, David Busst, the Coventry defender, broke the deadlock, heading his second goal in two games from Salako's corner. The Everton manager, Joe Royle, took off a disappointing Anders Limpar, sent on Paul Rideout and reaped the dividend when the former Coventry striker equalised against his old club. That only set up Whelan's happy ending. But Coventry remain in the relegation places.

A banker draw fulfilled predictions at Selhurst Park where Wimbledon, without a win in 15 matches and languishing in the relegation places, entertained the champions Blackburn Rovers, who now have not won an away league match in 10 attempts this season.

The Lancastrians, after playing neat football with little impact, had a lucky break when Graham Fenton crossed and the Dons' defender Alan Kimble headed goalwards. Paul Heald parried the ball but it spun across the line.

In the second half, Joe Kinnear sent on Vinnie Jones as substitute and his robust presence galvanised Wimbledon who got the equaliser they deserved from Robbie Earle seven minutes from time.

In view of Sheffield Wednesday's 6-2 humbling of Leeds United last week you could hardly blame the Owls' manager, David Pleat, for resisting the temptation to give debuts to Darko Kovacevic and Dejan Stefanovic, his new signings from Red Star Belgrade, for the visit of Southampton. They were both on the bench.

The Saints, without Matthew Le Tissier, their perennial saviour, were a goal ahead after only seven minutes. Neil Shipperley's shot hit the post and Neil Heaney hammered in the rebound. Seven minutes later, Wednesday were level when Richard Hall handled Lee Briscoe's cross and David Hirst converted the penalty, his third goal in two games.

Five minutes into the second half, Hall transgressed again when he hauled Mark Bright off the ball. Hirst again despatched the penalty. Ten minutes from the end, Southampton were awarded a penalty of their own and Jim Magilton filled the boots of Le Tissier, their usual spot-kick expert, to salvage a point.

There are new leaders in the Endsleigh First Division after Derby County beat Sunderland 3-1 at the Baseball Ground to swap places with them at the top. The visitors scored first but a minute later Marco Gabbiadini equalised. A Ron Willems penalty and Dean Sturridge rammed home County's point.

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