Whelan keeps Coventry rolling

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Coventry City 1 Southampton 1

Noel Whelan is wasting no time in establishing himself at Highfield Road. The former Leeds forward, signed for a club-record pounds 2m last month, left the pitch to the chant of his own name yesterday after earning a point for his perilously placed team seven minutes from time.

Whelan's third goal in successive games produced a roar which mingled joy with disbelief after he had run from the half-way line and half dribbled, half staggered past six defenders before rolling the ball inside Dave Beasant's left-hand post.

Coventry's subsequent surge for a winner was abruptly checked when the referee, Keith Cooper of Pontypridd - to general consternation - blew for time with only 88 minutes showing on the electric display. After a consultation with his linesmen, witnessed by a crowd of players from both sides, he sheepishly accepted his error and restarted the game for a further one minute and 35 seconds.

It had not been time, but last orders. And as the final drops of the afternoon drained away, Whelan was almost in for a late double as a dubious backpass from Richard Hall was taken off his toe by Beasant, the Southampton goalkeeper.

"I think the referee started the New Year well," said Dave Merrington, the Southampton manager. "The only thing you want is for him to get a new watch." At least it makes a change from new glasses.

Until Whelan's moment of startling enterprise, Southampton - despite lacking Matthew Le Tissier with a calf injury - appeared in control of a largely dire game thanks to their five-man midfield.

Apart from a 35th-minute header from Whelan which hit the post, the visitors restricted Coventry to hitting and hoping, and three points seemed to be heading Southampton's way after Neil Heaney had given them the lead after 67 minutes, sidefooting home unmarked at the near post after Alan Neilson had knocked on Jim Magilton's short corner.

Merrington was dismayed at the way his team had failed to defend adequately against Whelan's run. Ron Atkinson, the Coventry manager, was understandably thrilled by it. "I don't think you will see a better goal all season," he said. "It looked like he went past 12 players."

Mr Cooper will indeed be seeking a new watch, if not two. "I had a new one for Christmas and the stop watch on it didn't work," he admitted. "I always carry two watches and so I double-checked the other, but that was obviously wrong as well. It's never happened to me before and I hope it never does again."

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; M Hall, Shaw, Busst, Pickering; Telfer (Lamptey, 67), Williams, Richardson, Salako; Whelan, Dublin. Substitutes not used: Boland, Filan (gk).

Southampton (4-5-1): Beasant; Charlton (Benali, 63), R Hall, Monkou, Neilsen; Heaney, Maddison, Venison, Magilton, Dodd; Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Grobbelaar (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Pontpridd).