Liverpool, fresh from their 4-3 triumph over Newcastle, had their championship hopes badly mauled when they were beaten by a determined Coventry at Highfield Road today. Noel Whelan scored the all-important goal after 18 minutes for Coventry, who began the match second from bottom of the table but will have their hopes of staying in the Premiership considerably revived by this victory.
Liverpool had far more of the game and were virtually camped in the Coventry half in the closing stages but had only one real chance in the entire match. Then 36-goal Robbie Fowler burst clear in the second minute of injury time but Steve Ogrizovic came racing out of goal to block his bullet-like shot and save several Coventry supporters from heart failure.
Coventry began well enough and their goal came when Peter Ndlovu centred from the left. David James failed to cut it out and Whelan, steaming in, stretched out his right foot more than waist high to turn the ball into the net.
Seven minutes later, Coventry should have increased their lead for, after Ndlovu had sent in a low cross, the ball was only partially cleared and Dion Dublin was left with time and space to have a clear shot from three yards inside the box. But he failed to get enough power into his shot and James was able to thankfully fall onto the ball.
Paul Telfer and Brian Borrows were booked on either side of the interval as the pace increased but as the second half began, it was Liverpool who began to dominate the proceedings.
Coventry's tigerish tackling, however, kept them at bay and reduced the Liverpool forwards to shoot from long range. None of them could worry Ogrizovic. Ndlovu had to go off after a tackle on Jamie Redknapp in the 53rd minute and the game went into a bad-tempered spell in the next few minutes after John Salako and Eoin Jess had come on as substitutes for Coventry for Ndlovu and Borrows.
Salako was only on the field for two minutes before being booked for a tackle on Steve Harkness, who had to be stretchered off, and then Jason McAteer had his name in the book for a needless foul on Paul Williams. Michael Thomas came on for Harkness and Liverpool went into all-out attack when they took off defender Robbie Jones and brought on Ian Rush but the old maestro could not turn the tide.
Liverpool pressed repeatedly in the last 15 minutes with the Coventry fans clamouring for referee Peter Jones to blow the whistle for time and at last relief came for the home fans.
Championship-chasing Liverpool's agony at losing 1-0 to Coventry was heightened tonight when Steve Harkness was ruled out for the rest of the season with a suspected broken leg. Liverpool manager Roy Evans felt that John Salako, who caused Harkness' injury with a scything tackle, should have been sent off rather than booked. Evans stormed: "You get a yellow card for kicking the ball way and you also get a yellow card for breaking a player's leg. It does not make sense."
But Evans made no excuses for his team's defeat, which he feels might have ended their title hopes. "We might not have scored if we had played until midnight," he said. "But I did not think we had enough injury time. I thought we should have had seven minutes' injury time and the referee told me he blew up after three.It's probably put us out of it, but you never know what might happen. We shall keep on battling away."
Coventry manager Ron Atkinson refused to blame Salako for the Harkness injury.
"It was a high tempo game and players were flying at each other," he said. "I'm sorry to hear that the boy might have broken his leg, but in all fairness to John, no-one has suffered more through injury than him." Atkinson was delighted with the result and his team's commitment, which boosted Coventry's hopes of avoiding the drop. "The boys stood firm despite taking a right battering in the second half from one of the best sides in Europe," he said.
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