Coventry City v Everton


FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 26
Saturday 22 February 1997
Highfield Road, Coventry

Result: Coventry City (0) 0 - Everton (0) 0

Coventry City: Coventry: Ogrizovic, Shaw, Williams, Breen, Richardson, McAllister, Telfer, Ndlovu (Whelan 73), Hall, Dublin, Huckerby.
Subs Not Used: Filan, Jess, Burrows, Evtushok. Booked: None.

Everton: (From:) Gerrard, Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Short, Thomsen, Phelan, Stuart, Speed, Barmby, Ferguson.
Booked: None.
Subs Not Used: Southall, Ball, Branch, Rideout, Allen. Unavailable: Hinchliffe, Parkinson, Grant, O'Connor, Hottiger (Injured).

Ref: Jeff Winter Att: 19,497 League Position: 10th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Everton v Nottingham Forest - Next Match: Everton v Arsenal

Match Summary

SoccerNet:Darren Huckerby, Coventry's Formula One racer in a Peugeot shirt, found himself gridlocked at Highfield Road. Huckerby seemed the one player with the ability to break the tedium as entertainment mainly took a pitstop. His storming run on to Gary McAllister's through-ball 10 minutes into the second half looked certain to ease Coventry's relegation fears.

Past the floundering Dave Watson he tore into the box and towards the stranded Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard. But, as the fans roared, so Craig Short launched an immense smothering tackle just on the side of legality. It was Short's way of making amends for an earlier miss which further dimmed Everton's hopes of a challenge for a place in Europe.

Nick Barmby's 20th-minute free-kick was headed down by Duncan Ferguson and Short, seemingly astounded to find himself clear so close to goal, stubbed his shot against the post. Maybe there were excuses for Everton, playing their first game in three weeks since that FA Cup defeat at Bradford. But their football lacked a sense of direction apart from survival at the back and a high ball to the head of Ferguson, passed fit just before kick-off.

Coventry restructured, dropping Noel Whelan to the subs' bench to make room for Peter Ndlovu. There was a home debut for central defender Gary Breen, their £2.5million signing from Birmingham. And the beanpole youngster looked an impressive capture, dealing compitently with Ferguson if dwelling at times a moment too long on the ball.

Ferguson was relegated to long-range shots. First when he turned Richard Shaw and volleyed over and then when David Undsworth's muscular advancements gave him the space to hit a left-foot shot low and wide from just inside the box. The excitement, though, was coming mainly from Coventry and that man Huckerby. One piece of wizardry down the left sent Earl Barrett the wrong way and his centre teed up Ndlovu whose powerful shot was blocked by Short.

Huckerby hit another shot into the side netting just on half-time asnd then Dion Dublin's knock-on allowed the striker to outpace the cover again but goalkeeper Gerrard was off his line to smother.Whelan's entry as a substitute for Ndlovu after 72 minutes brought an instant chance for the tall midfield man, but he blazed over from 14 yards. In the final moments Coventry appealed long, hard but in vain for a penalty as Huckerby was upended while again creating the main menace.

No Voucher, No Park

Guy McEvoy: The most entertained I got all afternoon was prior to the kick-off as I arrived at the ground. Next to Coventry's main stand, as at most grounds, there is a medium sized car-park full of status cars which is sign posted 'Vice-Presidents Car Park'. It was here I overheard the following conversation between a bloke in a smart suit standing by his BMW and an attendant blocking his way;

"Why can't I Park here?"

"No voucher, no Park." The suited bloke pointed to the sign and argued;

"This is the Vice -President's car park!"

"No voucher, no park"

"I'm the bloody-vice president!"

"I can't let you in without a voucher."

"You're not letting the bloody vice-president park in the bloody vice-president's Car Park?!"

"Not if you ain't got a voucher. You have to go elsewhere. I don't make the rules, the management do."

"I'm on the bloody board!, I am the bloody management! Does it strike you as reasonable that you are not letting me, the vice president of this club, park in the car park that is called 'the vice presidents car park?"

The attendant paused to consider this for a short time, then to the delight of everyone watching just shook his head and responded;

"No voucher, no park."

And on it went until the VP drove off elsewhere red-faced and no doubt missed kick off. If anyone is desperate for work I have a feeling that there may be a car-park attendant's job up for grabs in Coventry on Monday.

First Half

Anyway, come three o'clock, those of us that had successfully parked our cars sat down for a game so dull it would make most sedatives seem like uppers. The absence of anything noteworthy at all means that this report will be short. Everton were as good as playing a flat back five. Most likely Barrett and Phelan had been told to play the wing-back system again, but the reality, excepting a few raids forward from Phelan, was a solid line. Speed and Thomsen and Stuart held the midfield (sort of), and Barmby and Ferguson were the front men.

The pattern of play was quickly established, and both teams were playing a similar sort of game. Ferguson and Dublin are both target men that invite the long ball, -- when it works it looks brilliant. Short early on put a magnificent 40-yard through ball to place Ferguson on his own in the box. Unfortunately his first touch forced him to turn the wrong way and a good opportunity went amiss.

When this system doesn't work (as it hasn't for most of the season) it looks abysmal and the game screams out for plan B. Regrettably, neither team seemed to have a plan B, though Coventry had one slightly different dimension to their game in Darren Huckerby. He certainly had both Barrett and Watson licked for speed, we must be thankful for Short's last ditch tackle of the season for making sure that this Newcastle reject's presence didn't prove the decisive factor.

The Evertonians did get the chance to be briefly excited when we flirted with the wood-work. Barmby's free kick was inevitably aimed for Ferguson who found that man again, Craig Short, who's shot rolled painfully against the upright and bounced back to Ogrizovich. All-in-all, the stalemate at half-time looked fair enough.

Second Half

As the second half progressed with more of the boring same, utter frustration began to creep in for all. We had only one truly glorious chance after the break when a suicidal backpass fell gift-wrapped with a ribbon on to Duncan; it was a present he was unable to accept.

Coventry also clawed back one or two fair chances but like us their final ball always looked more Sunday League than Premiership quality. With 20 minutes to go the paying fans patience was getting stretched to the limit. Everton where attempting to play football like Italy did when they were sitting on the one-nil lead, soaking up all the pressure and showing no urgency to initiate any further attack. Some may think this admirable, certainly a chap two rows in front curiously marvelled without a hint of sarcasm at 'our wonderful patience'. But to me the strategy seemed obviously flawed in two ways; firstly, we aren't Italy; secondly, and more saliently, we didn't have a 1-0 lead and at this rate we never looked likely to have one either.

The boo boys started, and no doubt the fans their will get stick for not showing proper support. I never condone booing your own team, but in this case I could sympathise. The fans had been very vocal and got right behind the team throughout the first half putting the home support to shame, the passion displayed by the players on the pitch though seemed inversely proportional to that shown by the support.

As the end approached even Joe Royle looked in despair with the team, when yet another build-up move was played a full 50 yards back to Gerrard by Unsworth, you could see him stand with his hands on his shaking head and meladramatically turn his back on the team for a full 30 seconds. Perhaps a more appropriate gesture would have been to make use of a substitute -- if ever a game cried out for a change it was this one, it never came.

So much for the three-week break giving us a chance to build on the Forest win. This was a clueless, shapeless, unambitious display that seriously short-changed the fan.

Individual Performances

Subs ignored: Southall, Ball, Branch, Rideout, Allen.

Oh aye, surely Coventry should win a prize for 'least inspiring tune to come onto the pitch to'. "Mr Blue Sky". Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  You may have gathered from the above I didn't have the best day out ;)


Who needs a holiday now?

Steve Kirkwood: I've many memories of this fixture, having spent my teens in the Midlands; 2-4, 2-3, 0-3? defeats, a few draws and a famous 2-1 victory on a Friday night -- anyone else go to that?

The ref is always against us here and we've been robbed and denied by all sorts of injustice. No need of a ref today, though he did not fail to disappoint; he was unorthodox to say the least, ignoring please for pushes and tackles from behind from both sides.

First Half

We stated with the team that started versus Notts Forest -- but with Phelan advanced to left midfield. The massed away support -- 4000plus? -- was placed in what must be the best away section in England, with the halfway line easily seen and a walkway between the upper and lower sections reminiscent of an Italian piazza where acquaintances were renewed, and the words 'Alright Terry?' just heard a bit too often. Anyone wondering why I'm avoiding the main point, the match? That's right, we were... er... not very good.

To be fair we were ok in the first half, and made the best chances in what were very blowy conditions. Two early corners, Ferguson put out, but he turned the wrong way and spooned over. After 15 mins, Gerrard saves a deflected McAllister shot, the first of a few useful saves - -solid game he had.  Down the other end, a free kick floated in by Barmby is headed back by Dunc, to Short who sidefoots it in! No, against the inside of the post!!!!!!! Bugger. Sit down everyone.

Down our end, Short makes a great tackle and blocks a low shot with his chest I think, -- a goal saved. Most of the good football is being provided by Unsworth and Phelan, that's right, those two. The final ball however was too often poor and a Coventry side lacking in confidence is very much in its own half.

Its all very dour stuff, they have three free kicks from 30 yards -- all coped with, and Short heads tamely at Oggy from one of ours. Huckerby fires into our side netting after the linesman says he's not offside. This guy needs no such help and was comfortably the best player on the pitch, by yards...... Worth a fortune: buy him, Joe!

Second Half

The second half displays our lack of creativity to the extent that the AWAY support were booing 8 minutes from the end. We had a dreadful 45 minutes and whatever any post-match press conference says about clean sheets, this was our worst attacking performance this season. It needn't have been. After 48 mins, a great backpass direct to Duncan who fires hard into the side net, from 15 yards. Didn't trouble the keeper -- seems all he was good for was flicking on headers to their defence.

Coventry gained in confidence slowly and could have wrapped up the points Huckerby through against Gerrard, and Hall free at the far post. Abject stuff.

I'm on a plane from Gatwick at 2am Sunday. No doubt I'll have forgotten how bad we were in the 2 weeks I'm away. Like I said in my last report, Everton fans are not stupid, we know when we play well, and badly. It was plain to see which it was today.


Joe Royle: Spent the second half stood up on the bench, with his hands on his head. Sort it out, Joe!

Disappointed and a bit peed off

Robbie Newton: After the three week break and a 10-1 romp in Jersey, we were looking forward to playing against a defence that struggled to contain Woking. In typical Everton tradition, we got a boring 0-0 draw that was more suited to the league that the afore-mentioned minnows play in.

This was a very poor game, and when you consider that it was 18 quid for a ticket you have to have a go at the players. And the 4,000 strong travelling Evertonians made sure the players knew just how we felt about such a negative performance.

The game started off with the now customary first minute assault on our goal by our opponents. It didn't lead anywhere and there was very little action for the next 44 minutes -- and when there was it was from the crowd.

Craig Short hit the post with a header (which I didn't see because of flippin' big pillar) and that was the only effort we had on goal until the 63rd minute when Duncan Ferguson fired at Steve Ogrizovic. Just prior to that, Ferguson showed that when it comes to shooting he just fails miserably. He's missed chances on the deck far too often this season at crucial times and it's now time to realise that his only goal-scoring threat is from the air.

Everton's next -- and final -- effort was a Gary Speed half-volley which landed ten yards the wrong side of the post.

It wasn't such the score-line that was annoying our fans, but rather the blatant inability to create any chances other than by throwing the ball up to Ferguson. It was dreadful -- and that's being generous. And as if that wasn't bad enough, Paul Gerrard decided 0-0 was a good result and kept hold of the ball when 4,000 fans to his left were screaming and booing at him to get the ball forward.

When things were this bad you expect your manager to throw somebody on to change the course of the game. But no, does he hell. Royle stands there and throws his hands on top of his head at every two minute interval, much to the annoyance of the fans in my vicinity. Even the most ardent Joe Royle fans (particularly the one with the 'JR True Blue Must Stay Everton FC' flag -- I was seriously considering running off with it and burning it after the full-time whistle) would have to ponder just how far Everton HAVE really come, judging by this kind of performance.

Every team has an off-day, that's perfectly acceptable, but we're having off-days every time we play. I haven't heard any post-match comments from Royle, but I bet they'll be bang on. What's the problem then? The problem is that he says the right things after every away match but yet we get served up with the same old toss the next time.

The boos rang out well before the final whistle and rightly so. We lost count of how many times our players had to pass back to Gerrard -- but it was so bad that in the end our fans just started booing at how tedious it was. I'd love to change the record, but once again, Everton had absolutely no idea what to do with the ball once they had it and so every time took the easy option of launching it towards Ferguson or knocking it back to Gerrard.

If this is a sign of a Championship side in the making for next season, then I'm a bloody Manc. It's quite obvious that we need a couple of new defenders, a new winger, a new creative midfielder (Grant isn't good enough yet and doesn't have the right technique yet) and a new striker. That's almost half a new team and when you consider how many of today's team that Royle has bought, it says an awful lot for his ability to pick up good footballers. Just for the record, of today's team, Royle has signed 8 of them - 7 if you discount Duncan

Team Ratings

Food for the Critics

Dave Shepherd: A tepid draw in a torpid town was littered with unimaginative, boring and third rate football which will only serve to double those indignant voices who accuse Royle of destroying Everton's traditions and leading them down a path to permanent also-rans.

First Half

The team badly missed Parkinson again, leaving Thomsen 'alone' in central midfield (such help as Speed, Stuart make is not enough to control it), and the lack of ideas at the front was so dismal that spectators were looking at their watches and thinking about post match pints by as early as 15 minutes.

Two seasons ago, this fixture was the season closer, after both teams were safe and Everton were trying not to get injured for the Cup Final. That game had no ambition or atmosphere and few goal chances. This game was almost the same except colder.

Goal chances there were. A modest return for both sides could easily have yielded a 2-2 draw, but neither side could shoot straight and both keepers were otherwise unbeatable.

Everton's best chances were from Short in the first half and Ferguson in the second. A weird Winter decision, a Barmby free kick and Dunc near the edge of the six-yard box was unmarked and only had to stoop to nod the ball into the path of a charging yellow & black shirt, Short, who's shot from 5 yards -- and bang in front of the goal -- hit the post and rebounded straight to the league's statistically-greatest shot-stopper, Ogrizovic lying on the floor.

Second Half

A strange deflection as Coventry tried to move forward from the last third of their right flank left Ferguson alone in the area running with the ball and all day unchallenged to pick his spot -- he struck it with power but it hit the side netting.

Coventry were incredibly bad too, but sadly this made the contest even. Huckerby looked the only player on the field worth more than a bag of marbles -- which, my fellow sufferer Matt reminded me, is about what Coventry paid for him.

The Huck attacked his left wing dangerously many times -- he moves a bit like Kanchelskis, but without the thunderbolt shot. Luckily the home attackers couldn't link with him, or missed their targets by embarrassing amounts. There was a highlight when he raced clear wrong-footing the offside line, because not only did Watson recover and catch up and block the eventual shot, but Short (who had already made one excellent saving tackle) joined him too.

Late on, the game gave up all pretence and became mostly genuine long-ball garbage. Everton have been accused of playing long ball by several critics who do not appreciate the target-man game this season, but in this instance, Ferguson was no longer the target. More often he had to chase the ball. If he or anyone else (Thomsen!) did get free, the support jogged along behind as if Strachan himself was waiting to break the legs of anyone who tried to play well.

In the last 10 minutes the Everton crowd woke up, but only to express their overflowing anger at the dismal performance and lack of interest. It made JR's comment about needing 2-3 quality players an understatement.


TEAM PERFORMANCE 5 After a blip v Forest it's back to the half-hearted, overcautious bunch of joggers with no originality.

Ref: J Winter ('Cleveland') An enigma. His interpretations of foul challenges are strict and consistent (he doesn't stand for an elbow or backing in), but so unlike all his fellow refs that he causes a lot of frustration amongst players and fans. Too card shy, perhaps in overreaction to warnings from his superiors.

The Last Word

Robbie Newton on Joe Royle's post-match comments: In my match report I said:

"I haven't heard any post-match comments from Royle, but I bet they'll be bang on."

Well I was wrong. I woke up this morning expecting to read in the Mirror that Royle was 'disappointed' or 'angry at the team's performance'. Instead, I read that Royle was happy with a point and how the team played! I could not believe it. Here's what he said:

"We have been in a nightmare run"


"It was a very ordinary 0-0 draw but it was out of the ordinary as far as we were concerned"

Ordinary? Ordinary?? ORDINARY?? It was DIABOLICAL. A rip-off. And how can it be out of the ordinary? So what, we've been in a bad run, but a boring 0-0 draw doesn't exactly 'halt the slide' ... in my opinion the slide continues. Let's not forget that Coventry are a poor side struggling near the bottom of the Premiership here, Joe.

"We needed to get something from the game after winning only one in the last seven"

Oh, so just because we have only won one in the last seven, it makes this a good result? We should win against Coventry no matter what - or doesn't our history or club motto mean anything (not forgetting the money spent and predictions made for our team)?

"We could have won the match had Craig Short got a decent touch on his shot that hit the post. Then Duncan Ferguson went clean through and failed to hit the target"

Yes, two excellent chances squandered again. Not for the first time is it Joe? You're the one who's said "Duncan can be the best Everton centre-forward of all-time", but then we see him miss chance after chance after chance which rather makes the above statement seem sarcastic. In any case, these are the only two chances -- one created from a set-piece, the other from a long ball, yawn -- we had in the whole match, a disgrace.

"But I'm really quite pleased because the team showed a lot of character and we are going to be okay if we carry on like this"

YOU WHAT?? Quite pleased with such a negative, boring performance? Quite pleased even though the team was booed off the field and booed before the full-time whistle? Who do you think you're kidding?

A lot of character? Since when has passing the ball back to the goalie and booting it up to the centre-forward all the time rather than taking the responsibility and having a go at the opposition been classed as showing good character?? And if we carry on like this, we'll have no fans left ... 'football is supposed to be an entertaining game', but the current 'football' Everton are producing leaves that statement debatable.

And what do you mean 'we are going to be okay'? We're not in some kind of relegation tussle here (yet). We were led to believe a top-three finish was obtainable, yet here we are, 11th in the table behind Sheffield Wednesday and just above Sunderland who have yet to spend any money in the Premiership.

Now talking about the second half and Coventry coming at us, Royle says:

"That was the test and we passed it. There was some very good defensive work on there"

Now I know for sure that Royle had a blind-fold on during the match. Joe, just because we came away with not conceding a goal doesn't mean we defended well. Coventry had enough chances to have won the game comfortably -- that's not the sign of a good defensive performance. We shouldn't even be giving Coventry a sniff of goal. It was only down to poor finishing and a few good saves from Gerrard that kept us in it, so quite how we 'passed the test' is beyond me. You wouldn't see the Arsenal's, Man Utd's, Liverpool's or Newcastle's giving away this many chances. Look at the match Joe, not the result.

As you can probably tell, this has annoyed me no-end. Quite honestly, I don't think JR knows what he's on about. I'm not going to say 'Get it sorted Joe' cos I don't think he can anymore. Forget getting it sorted Joe, you've got no chance if you come out with this garbage. It's deceiving the fans who weren't at the match.

Everton's slow starters quick to fade

James Mossop, Electronic Telegraph: FROM the first windswept and clumsy touches it was clear that odds of 8-1 against a goalless draw should have been snapped up. Empty seats, as people bolted for the exits early, told the story of a game with nothing to commend it. The 19,497 spectators may well ask for their money back.

Dion Dublin lined up in the Coventry attacking role alongside Darren Huckerby and the pairing began with a flourish, Dublin putting his partner in for a shot that Paul Gerrard held confidently. Everton played most balls up to Duncan Ferguson, a lighthouse of a man, and one spin-and-shot flew wide.

Two evenly-matched teams, both out of the championship race but not totally clear of relegation worries, looked capable of an unattractive stalemate. The spell was broken with a sudden surge from Everton. Ferguson rose to meet Nicky Barmby's free-kick and his nod down fell to Craig Short, whose hurried flick hit the foot of the post before being claimed by goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic.

The incident lifted Everton's morale and Barmby sent the Coventry defence the wrong way with a run and feint inside. Ferguson was unable to get on the end of it and when Coventry responded Short threw himself at the ball for a saving block-tackle on Peter Ndlovu.

Coventry's Gary McAllister tried to spread the play but his colleagues were in too much of a hurry. Eventually Gary Breen moved in to connect with a header from a corner but he was left punching the air in dismay as he missed the target by a yard. Even two McAllister free-kicks on the edge of the penalty area were squandered as he blasted them into the wall.

Barmby had a chance from a similar free-kick after Kevin Richardson tripped Gary Speed. The goalkeeper was able to usher it past the post. A break by Huckerby, again put through by Dublin, had the crowd rising but shots into the side netting count only as near misses.

The second half mixture was as the first and when an error by Dublin, back hindering rather than helping his defence, put Ferguson in possession he should have done better than drive the ball wide.

Coventry began to show a hint of better things with two quick thrusts by Huckerby, who found Short and Gerrard too alert. Huckerby also shot wide at the end of one run, Marcus Hall almost connected with the corner flag and Gerrard continued to look like an ideal replacement for veteran Neville Southall.

At least a sense of urgency had entered the afternoon with Coventry looking for added firepower by sending on Noel Whelan to replace Ndlovu after 73 minutes.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

Coventry make their point

Deryk Brown, The Sunday Times: LIKE the poor, Coventry City are always with us. In May, it will be 30 years since they were promoted to the old First Division, and here they are still, scrapping away in forgettable matches such as this and, probably, doing enough to survive. At least, though, Coventry were better than dreary Everton.

And at least City had the one exciting player. He was Darren Huckerby, a floppy-haired 20-year-old who has pepped up their attack since arriving from Newcastle United in November. He has pace, a surprisingly rare commodity in the Premier League, and control.

Coventry's tactics, such as they were, seemed to be to feed either Huckerby or Peter Ndlovu and to hope they would dribble through Everton. Alas, only once did Huckerby find his dream scenario, a straight race between him and the 35-year-old legs of Dave Watson. Huckerby outran Watson, only for Craig Short to get back to make the day's best tackle.

That happened after 55 minutes or so and, from then, it was a question of whether Coventry's increasing pressure might yield a goal. It did not, with Marcus Hall shooting wastefully across goal from perhaps the best opening, and Huckerby rattling the advertising hoardings.

Everton had not played since February 1. That was not, as might be supposed, because of public demand, but because Bradford City had knocked them out of the FA Cup. When Everton finally did kick a ball in anger, they appeared a side whose season is going nowhere. The most depressing aspect was the struggles of Nick Barmby. Not so long ago he was a bright, up-and-coming England player. Here he looked lost and, alongside him, even that arch-trier Duncan Ferguson was liable to knock the ball eight yards and hope.

Everton had an ordinary first half in which they almost scored. Ferguson won a free kick and, when that came over, he won a header down, too. Short prodded, the ball hit the foot of a post but Everton were too shocked by this sniff of goal to react. Soon after half-time, Ferguson hit the side-netting when he should have hit the target, and little was seen of Everton after that.

Dion Dublin, back after seven matches suspended, worked hard for Coventry but achieved little. Ndlovu's freshness and bite has deserted him and he was substituted. Unwisely, Coventry hit too many high balls and Short and Watson, also Ferguson, could have defended those all night. Happily, however, the referee ended it around 4.50pm.

Report Copyright The Sunday Times

School of science shows lack of class

Mark Redding, The Guardian: As the old hippie posters used to say, just because you're paranoid dosen't mean they're not out to get you, and Joe Royle is nowadays looking nervously over his shoulder.

'There's a feeding frenzy on among you lot at the moment and I've got to be very careful what I say because it may be taken down and used in evidence against me,' the Everton manager said.

In that case, and considering the stick he has been taking, it is better to draw a veil over this awful match. Suffice to say that the school of science is no more. The headmaster is about to be carted off to hospital with a persecution complex and the classrooms have been given over to the Bash Street Kids.

Royle has been upset by reports of a rift with his long-serving goalkeeper Neville Southall, whom he dropped, and the manager had previously suffered a hostile press as Everton endured a five-match losing streak in the league and were knocked out of the FA Cup by 1st Division Bradford City.

It was said that only the 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest three weeks ago had saved his bacon, and so this draw was embraced as another small mercy. 'We've come out of a difficult run, we've kept two clean sheets and we've got to be proud of that,' Royle insisted.

Everton were fortunate to escape unscathed against a Coventry side whose fragile confidence grew once they realised how limited the opposition's threat was. With Huckerby tirelessly linking up his colleagues in attack, Covenry just needed a decent final pass to achieve the victory they deserved.

All the Merseysiders could offer in response was to bash the ball monotonously up towards the head of their lanky centre-forward Ferguson, although Short did muddle the ball against the post in the 20th minute. As Gerrard seemed to possess the most powerful kick in the team, the outfield players spent the game making back-passes to their goalkeeper.

Kevin Richardson, the tough-tackling Coventry mid-fielder who won a championship medal with a markedly more fluent Everton side in 1985, took a charitable view. 'They made it difficult for us but it was a tight and cautious game,' he said. 'Maybe they were more direct than they would have liked to have been because we close them down and forced them into it. They certainly have the players to knock it about.'

Royle was on his way to the press room when he passed Gordon Strachan. 'I told him we were brilliant and you were crap,' Coventry's manager said. He was at least half right.

Coventry told to trust Strachan

Simon Mullock, The Independent: Having made himself unavailable to Coventry for seven games following two sendings off in the space of 10 days last month, Dion Dublin is anxious to atone and is ready to play wherever his club needs him.

Playing only his third game of the year on Saturday, the leading goalscorer was given an attacking brief. With the new signing Gary Breen cutting an impressive home debut as he shackled Everton's dangerman, Duncan Ferguson, it is unlikely Dublin will be asked to perform as an emergency centre-back again in the near future.

His manager, Gordon Strachan, felt that his side had done enough to have taken all three points, but is worried that his men simply lack the confidence to put together the kind of run that will preserve their 30- year top flight status without the annual desperation stakes.

With a delayed FA Cup fifth-round tie with Derby coming up this week, at least Coventry have the dream of Wembley to help ease the pressure of another relegation dog-fight.

Everton looked nothing like a team that had once threatened to join the title race, even though they had halted a losing streak of six games by beating Nottingham Forest last time out. Craig Short hit a post in the first half and Ferguson struck a good chance into the side-netting soon after the break, but that was about it from the Toffees.

'The game reflected the positions of the two teams, with Coventry struggling at the bottom of the table and us coming out of a nightmare run,' Everton manager, Joe Royle said.

Royle suffers in Southall's shadow

Oliver Holt, The Times:FIRST there were missed chances and then, as the game descended towards the depths, there were wilder shots at redemption that ballooned over the bar or veered off towards the corner flags. It was a day for goalkeepers, not strikers, at Highfield Road on Saturday, but such was the quality of the game that the man who attracted most post-match comment was not even playing.

Neville Southall, the goalkeeper who has been at the top of his trade for so long, was dropped by Joe Royle, the Everton manager, during the team's record-equalling run of six consecutive league defeats that ended earlier this month. Paul Gerrard, his replacement, has kept two consecutive clean sheets, but Royle has been branded an apostate on Merseyside.

Even though the bad run has come to an end, and Everton have sneaked back into the top half of the table, the criticism of the manager has continued, and, even after this drab draw, a game in which the two best chances were squandered for Everton by Short and Ferguson, Royle felt compelled to defend himself against the latest attacks.

"Our goalkeeper looked very assured today," he said, "but I have got to be careful because what I have just said might be used against me in the local newspaper. If I say something, it will be taken down in evidence and used against me.

"The fact is that a situation has arisen where an international class goalkeeper cannot get in the side. He is not happy about it and I would not expect him to be, but, if he is making noises about applying for manager's jobs, then it is common sense that I have got to get someone else in and that is misconstrued in local papers as me treating a legend with disrespect."

Unfortunately for Royle, Gerrard had little opportunity to prove his mettle on Saturday, so stout was the defending of Short, so profligate the finishing of Huckerby, Hall and Whelan.

At times it resembled a nonsense match, a game drifting away on flights of fancy but brought thudding back to earth by the limited skill and confidence of the players. Free kicks invariably hit defensive walls and miscued shots cannoned around both areas like demented pinballs.

Huckerby never stopped running at the Everton defence and twice exposed Watson before Short came to the rescue, but, when he had his best chance, midway through the second half, he shot straight at Gerrard instead of squaring the ball to Ndlovu, who was better placed. For Everton, Short sidefooted Ferguson's nod-down against the post after 20 minutes and Ferguson himself lashed Dublin's underhit back-pass into the side-netting four minutes after half-time.

Afterwards, Royle and Gordon Strachan, his Coventry counterpart, were honest enough to admit that it had not been a classic. "It was not one to put in the tape collection," Strachan said.

Report Copyright The Times

Results and League Table

Monday, 24 February 1997

WEST HAM UNITED         4-3    TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR         23,998
Dicks(21,pen:72) Kitson(22)    Sheringham(8) Anderton (29)
Hartson(38)                    Howells(53)

Sunday, 23 February 1997

ARSENAL                 0-1    WIMBLEDON                 37,854  

Saturday, 22 February 1997

CHELSEA                 1-1    MANCHESTER UNITED         28,336  
Zola(2)                        Beckham(68)
COVENTRY CITY           0-0    EVERTON                   19,497  

LEICESTER CITY          4-2    DERBY COUNTY              20,323  
Marshall(7,24,27) Claridge(59) Sturridge(2,47)
LIVERPOOL               0-0    BLACKBURN ROVERS          40,747  

MIDDLESBROUGH           0-1    NEWCASTLE UNITED          30,063  

NOTTINGHAM FOREST       0-0    ASTON VILLA               25,239  

SOUTHAMPTON             2-3    SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY       15,062  
Ostenstad(28) Le Tissier(p:33) Hirst(49,55) Booth(78)
SUNDERLAND              0-1    LEEDS UNITED              21,890  
                               Bowyer (49)             

Wednesday, 19 February 1997

ARSENAL                 1-2    MANCHESTER UNITED         38,172
Bergkamp(69)                   Cole(18) Solskjaer(32)
ASTON VILLA             2-1    COVENTRY CITY             30,409
Yorke(43,75)                   Staunton(og:78)
DERBY COUNTY            2-2    SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY       18,060
Sturridge(34) Stimac(71)       Collins(9) Hirst(76)                   
LIVERPOOL               4-0    LEEDS UNITED              38,957
Fowler(21) Collymore(35,37) Redknapp(87)

Saturday, 15 February 1997

DERBY COUNTY            1-0    WEST HAM UNITED           18,057
Asanovic (pen 53)
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR       0-0    ARSENAL                   33,039

Table after 24 February 1997

Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD  Pts
Manchester United            27   15    9    3   53   30   23   54
Liverpool                    27   15    8    4   46   20   26   53
Newcastle United             26   14    6    6   51   30   21   48
Arsenal                      28   13    9    6   45   26   19   48
Aston Villa                  27   12    7    8   34   26    8   43
Wimbledon                    24   12    6    6   37   28    9   42
Chelsea                      25   11    9    5   39   34    5   42
Sheffield Wednesday          26    9   12    5   31   31    0   39
Leeds United                 27    9    6   12   22   31   -9   33
Everton                      26    8    8   10   34   38   -4   32
Tottenham Hotspur            26    9    5   12   30   37   -7   32
Leicester City               25    8    6   11   29   37   -8   30
Derby County                 27    6   11   10   27   36   -9   29
Sunderland                   26    7    8   11   23   33  -10   29
Blackburn Rovers             25    6   10    9   26   25    1   28
Coventry City                27    6   10   11   24   35  -11   28
West Ham United              26    6    7   13   24   36  -12   25
Nottingham Forest            26    5    9   12   23   40  -17   24
Southampton                  24    5    5   14   34   44  -10   20
Middlesbrough                25    5    7   13   30   45  -15   19*

* Includes 3 pts deducted from Middlesbrough for illegal match postponement  

This League Table Update not provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match ReportCompilation was prepared by Kermit the Blue Frog for Marko Poutiainen. 24 Feb 1997.