Noel Whelan missed
out on a comeback hat-trick in Coventry City Reserves and then admitted his first team
return is still some way off.
Whelan was playing his first truly competitive game since injuring his ankle ligaments
and Achilles tendon against Manchester United in mid-August.
He played in a testimonial match at St Johnstone in Scotland last Friday and manager
Gordon Strachan and his senior coaches were at the reserve game to see how he had
The player admitted after the 2-1 defeat:
"I am some way off pushing for a place in the first team. My touch was not good
and my game generally needs a lot of work, but apart from a couple of twinges my ankle
seemed to be okay."
But as for playing for the first team against local rivals Aston Villa on Monday night
"The manager might take a chance. I might go out and score a couple of goals, but
on the other hand I might have a nightmare game."
Whelan clearly lacked match fitness and was glad to take a breather at certain stages
of the reserve match, but he was still the man on the spot when the goal chances arrived.
He arrived in the goalmouth in a flurry of flying turf and dirt to knock Runar
Normanns centre against the crossbar in the early moments of the match, and minutes
later scooped another effort against the woodwork. He then stood in the net and watched
the ball sail over as Stephen McPhee headed the rebound into the stand.
Derby scored from their only first half attack to lead at the interval but when John
Eustace equalised early in the second half Coventry looked likely winners.
Whelan won a penalty when his challenge caused a defender to handle, but goalkeeper
Mart Poom saved his penalty kick.
Coventry continued to dominate the game but slid to a 2-1 defeat when Derby again
scored from a rare attack.
Victory would have taken Coventry to the top of the league table.