Sure-footed Ferdinand is England doubt

Coventry City 0 West Ham United 0
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Coventry City 0 West Ham United 0

IT WAS almost an excellent day for the Ferdinands. First Les scores the goal that grants Christian Gross a breathing space at Tottenham; then cousin Rio, watched by the England assistant manager, John Gorman, provides a timely exhibition of high-class defending ahead of next Saturday's European Championship qualifier in Sweden.

Perfect - except that Rio's reward for keeping Dion Dublin and Darren Huckerby in check at Highfield Road was a groin injury that threatens his availability for Stockholm.

West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp, had to confess that his prospects were not bright. "He was really struggling for the last 10 to 15 minutes. We'll have to see how he is over 24 hours but it does not look good. It's a shame for him but there is no point in him going away if he is not right."

Not that he need be too perturbed about missing an opportunity to further his international career. As Redknapp was quick to acknowledge, there will be plenty more.

"People talk about [Marcel] Desailly but a couple of years down the line this lad will be the best defender in Europe," Redknapp enthused. "He's got so much quality, so much ability. Even today, with his problem, he was winning balls in the air off Dublin, bringing the ball out of defence at his feet. He can do anything. He's got so much talent, he's like a Rolls-Royce."

This was West Ham's third clean sheet from three matches, which pleased Redknapp no end. No longer are they regarded as a soft touch away from home, as was once the case. He had Neil Ruddock alongside Ferdinand with the Chilean, Javier Margas, his pounds 2m summer purchase from Universidad Catolica. They looked solid. Huckerby, for once, was rarely a problem, so frustrated he ended up diving in search of a penalty and picked up a yellow card for his troubles.

If Ian Wright and John Hartson were no more effective as they renewed their old Arsenal partnership, it was because Coventry were excellent in defence also. Gary Breen is an increasingly reliable centre-back and the arrival of Jean-Guy Wallemme from the French champions, Lens, gives him a partner with a touch of class.

The best chance fell to Wright, whose first-half header brought a superb save out of Magnus Hedman, the goalkeeper England must beat in Stockholm on Saturday, but Coventry had opportunities, most of which fell to Dublin, who for once had mislaid his finishing boots.

Otherwise, Coventry spent too much time whacking long balls in search of Huckerby. The return of Gary McAllister next month is eagerly awaited.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Shaw, Wallemme (Edworthy, 79), Breen, Burrows; Telfer, Boateng, Soltvedt (Hall, 65), Whelan; Dublin, Huckerby. Substitutes not used: Ogrizovic (gk), Williams, M Hall.

West Ham United (3-4-1-2): Hislop; Ruddock, Ferdinand, Margas; Impey, Lomas (Moncur, 83), Lampard, Lazaridis; Berkovic; Hartson, Wright. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Potts, Keller, Abou.

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Coventry: Boateng, Huckerby; West Ham: Wright, Ruddock, Hartson, Moncur.

Attendance: 20,818. Man of the match: Ferdinand.