APR 01] THE STUART LINNELL
What A Difference A Day Makes
For 44 minutes we sat and shook
It's Saturday 31 March, and a
microcosm of a season of struggle and frustration was unfolding
before us. We saw a team unable to string more than two passes
together, a poor service to the front men with key individuals
woefully out of form.
worst of these was, without question, the captain. Whatever
Moustapha Hadji did it seemed destined to embarrass the Moroccan
star and cast even further gloom over a struggling team.
To make matters worse, it seemed
we had to endure an eternity of a first-half because of a long
stoppage for treatment to the Derby County goalkeeper Andy
Oakes, injured in a fifty-fifty clash with Hadji. That was to
provide more than a touch of irony as referee David Elleray
quite properly added four minutes at the end of the first half
to compensate for the delay. It was in that extra time that a
John Eustace shot was punched into the air by substitute
goalkeeper Mark Poom only to be followed goalwards by a charging
body in Sky Blue.
The man in question, who put his
head to the ball to steer it home, was none other than Moustapha
To say that the goal transformed
Hadji is an understatement. Suddenly the tricks returned, his
passes found their man and the strong, skilful player, who
quickly found favour with City fans when he first arrived, was
We were already enjoying fine
performances by teenage goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, Irish
international defender Gary Breen, whose consistency must surely
put him high in the reckoning as the City's 'Player of the
Season', and Welsh star John Hartson. The striker had obviously
benefited from his ten days with Wales and he posed a constant
threat to the Derby defence.
In the second-half, buoyed by
their one-goal lead and by advice from their manager and his
coaching staff, the rest of the City team joined in. We were
treated to some of the best football they have played all season
and it was no more than they deserved when John Hartson headed
Paul Telfer's fine corner past Poom to make it 2-0.
Hadji's now infamous and out of
character spitting incident earned him a red card and a
three-match suspension, but with our relegation rivals,
Middlesbrough and Manchester City, both losing, it was a day for
after-match smiles albeit wisely tempered by those who pointed
out that we still have a lot to do.
So was this the day Coventry
City's season turned?
When I interviewed Gordon
Strachan afterwards for ntl's 'Sky Blue Diary' programme, he
said he didn't know but pointed out that his players had given
themselves a platform from which to save their season and
preserve their Premiership status.
Whether or not it proves to be
the day we all look back on as the turning point, it will
certainly be remembered as the day that John Hartson became a
Sky Blue hero, capping a superb personal performance with a goal
and the 'Man of the Match' awards from the match sponsors and
the Vice-President's club.
It will also surely have been one
of the most remarkable in the career of Moustapha Hadji.
Dreadful for most of the first-half, involved in the incident
that saw the visitors' goalkeeper stretchered off, scorer of the
vital first goal just before half-time, purveyor of great skill
and tremendous endeavour thereafter and sent off for spitting at
an opponent in the heat of battle.
Some day. Some result. Some hope?
The story continues on Saturday
at Filbert Street, Leicester…