This had always looked like a fixture that could tumble one or other clubs over the cliff. That was the situation even before West Ham had overtaken Coventry in the table by grabbing an 89th-minute equaliser against Wimbledon midweek. With Middlesbrough this week hopeful of a successful appeal against the FA's deduction of three points and beginning to shake themselves out of their stupor for what had looked like a single- track journey to the First Division, the pressure on Coventry had become even more oppressive.
In effect, they should have been tottering before they began yesterday, yet within nine minutes they had benefited from the impressive speed and roaming attacking pressure of Darren Huckerby, Coventry's most consistent hope in recent weeks.
Huckerby twice sliced through the West Ham defence before his pace finally won a corner that was beaten out to Kevin Richardson, whose centre Marc Rieper, under pressure from Dion Dublin, headed past his goalkeeper, Ludek Miklosko.
Continually losing possession, West Ham seemed to run the risk of being further damaged but were afforded a recovery mainly as a result of John Hartson's strength. By heading on a cross from John Moncur, Paul Kitson left the Coventry defence in difficulty and Hartson was left to place in a low close drive. Clearly Coventry were unhappy against Moncur's inswinging centres. After 34 minutes another was headed down by Rieper. Kitson managed to nod the ball on and Rio Ferdinand finished the job in the goal area.
Southampton's half-time advantage over Leicester City brought another concerned groan from the home crowd, but at least now they saw West Ham forced to replace both Tim Breacker and Ian Bishop. Kitson moved into midfield. The arrival of Hugo Porfirio was announced by his shrewd, defence- teasing ball from the right across the line of the penalty area. Steve Potts attempted a shot, Dublin blocked but the ball fell nicely for Hartson to snap up his second goal.
In a last desperate effort, Coventry brought on David Burrows and sent Dublin forward, which gave them some physical presence in attack, but their lack of midfield thought cost them any serious chance of achieving their objectives. Plenty of possession meant little to their overall need.
With a tough run-in, including a visit to Liverpool, Coventry are now hard against the wall and not looking to have the spirit or quality to prevent the ending of their 30-year residence in the top division. Strachan disagrees: "We'll escape - today we played the way we had practised for 15 minutes down the flanks, then the players, in their infinite wisdom, decided they knew a better way."