The big talking
point in Highfield Road Stadium was why Citys manager Gordon Strachan elected not to
substitute Magnus Hedman, when the goalkeeper was clearly troubled by injury.
The Swedish No.1 was felled in the first few minutes of the game in a sickening
collision with Middlesbroughs centreback Gary Pallister, the thud from which could
be heard around the ground.
Hedman lay unmoving for long minutes while the physio Stuart Collie examined him.
Pallister was first on his feet but he limped heavily and was substituted in the 16th
Hedman finally gingerly sat up and then spent long moments on hands and knees before
struggling to his feet.
He was clearly in trouble and Coventry immediately had the substitute goalkeeper Chris
Kirkland warming up on the touchline. The 17 year old from Barwell, Leicestershire must
have thought his first team debut had arrived only seven weeks after his youth team
colleague Gary McSheffrey played his first senior game.
But Hedman carried on although he had to call on Paul Williams to take all goal kicks.
Fortunately Middlesbrough did not put him under any pressure and the scrappy first
half, like Hedman, limped to the interval whistle.
At this point it looked odds on for Kirkland taking over. The young goalkeeper stayed
on the pitch for a warming up session with goalkeeper coach Jim Blyth, but to the surprise
of most people in the stadium Hedman resumed in goal.
The real controversy arrived in the 64th minute when Middlesbrough, who up
till then had showed no signs of scoring, broke away from defending a corner-kick.
Vladimir Kinder, Pallisters replacement, found himself haring through the middle
with no Coventry player within ten yards. He shot from outside the penalty area and Hedman
stood transfixed as the ball went past him into the net.
Gary McAllister got an equaliser in the 72nd minute after a neat one-two
with John Aloisi, and then Darren Huckerby thought he had scored when he raced into the
box and picked his spot with a left foot curler, only to see Boros goalkeeper Mark
Schwarzer fingertip it away.
Coventry looked the likeliest winners, until with eight minutes left, they conceded a
corner kick. The ball was half cleared and Boros left back Dean Gordon met it first
time to rocket a low shot through the crowded goalmouth and into the corner of the net.
The inquest began as soon as the final whistle blew, but Strachan rejected suggestions
that he should have substituted Hedman.
"He took a bang on the hip and he was asked at half-time whether he wanted to
carry on. There were medical men there and he said he would carry on.
"He said the first goal had nothing to do with his injury. He said he had been
caught flat-footed by the shot. If a professional tells me he is fit to play I cannot
argue with that. We have all seen goalkeepers let outfield players take goalkicks if they
are injured, but they do play on and often end as heroes.
"It was not a question of not risking Chris Kirkland. If I did not think he could
do the job we would have bought another goalkeeper."
When he was asked about penalties Strachan responded caustically:
"We dont worry about penalties here because we never get any."
But Coventry now face an anxious week. They are still in the thick of the relegation
battle and they could be forced to play young Kirkland in the local derby at Leicester on
Saturday. In any event Hedman will be under treatment most of the week which will rule the
youngster out of the FA Youth Cup semi-final first leg at Newcaste United on Tuesday to
protect him from injury.
Hedman, Breen (Clement, 89 mins), Shaw, Williams, Burrows, Whelan, McAllister, Soltvedt,
Boateng, Huckerby, Aloisi
Subs not used: Kirkland, Konjic, P Hall, M Hall
Schwarzer, Gordon, Vickers, Pallister (Kinder, 16 mins, Mustoe, 88 mins), Deane, Maddison,
Townsend, Ricard (Armstrong, 62 mins), ONeill, Baker, Cooper
Subs not used: Beresford, Summerbell
GOALS: Kinder (62 mins), McAlliister (72 mins), Gordon (82 mins)
BOOKINGS: Breen, O'Neill, Kinder
REFEREE: Peter Jones (Loughborough)