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Stuart Linnell[29 AUG 01] THE STUART LINNELL COLUMN
Eleven Into Nine Doesn't Go!

The long-suffering supporters of Coventry City Football Club no doubt thought they had seen it all, until the August Bank Holiday Monday home match against Nottingham Forest was reduced to a footballing farce.

Referee Mr Dowd dished out two yellow cards apiece Ė and, therefore, two red cards Ė to Forestís Matthieu Louis-Jean and Stern John and so ruined what had previously been an entertaining spectacle, with the Sky Blues getting stronger as the match developed.

After a worrying opening few minutes, City had settled into a good rhythm, playing enterprising football with young Jay Bothroyd outstanding. The old failing of being unable to finish was still there, but there was every indication that, if we maintained that performance throughout the ninety minutes, a goal would come.

Instead, Forest were reduced to nine men by harsh refereeing and we had the unedifying sight of eleven-man City trying in vain to break through the visitors packed defence while the home supporters grew, understandably, more and more frustrated.

Difficult though it was to find a way through eight men, tightly packed for the most part in and immediately around their penalty area, protecting their goalkeeper, there is no doubt that the Sky Blues made it even harder by poor quality crosses and an apparent lack of ideas from those desperately trying to pull the strings.

Carsley, Nilssson and Chippo ran in ever decreasing circles looking for a way through or around what was left of the Forest team, but no one had the key to unlock the most stubborn defensive display I have seen in a long time.

Their tactics were forced on them by the two red cards, but Forestís grit and determination to throw bodies at every ball that vaguely threatened their goal deservedly earned them the applause they received from every quarter of the ground as they left the pitch.

Whether City quite deserved the boos they got is another matter, but that reaction from the Highfield Road faithful was not just about Monday nightís performance.

It was the culmination of months and possibly years of frustration, encompassing last seasonís relegation and the sudden dampening of the newfound optimism that had followed the arrival of Lee Hughes and the opening day win at Stockport.

Writing in the match-day programme for Monday, and referring to the home defeat by Wolves, Gordon Strachan said:

ďSeveral times after defeats last season I said I didnít feel that the players had performed according to plan and it is a huge worry that after so much has happened and we have worked so hard, that in the second game of the season when everyone is rightly expectant, we canít handle it.Ē

Well, Gordon, you donít need me or anyone else to tell you that we are now four games into the season and only four points to the good.

Yes, of course it is early days and yes, in the first half against Forest, as I said earlier, we gave an encouraging display that suggests that things are getting better. Joachim, Eustace, Breen and Kirkland are among those denied to us at the moment because of injury and Youssef Safri has yet to make his debut, so there are many reasons to believe that we should be able to put this disappointing start behind us.

You also donít need me to say that it had better start happening soon, because you can quickly lose touch with the leaders unless you start to pick up points, and those jeering fans will soon turn into stay-away fans if a team that we all know should be in the Premiership canít score against inferior opponents, regardless of how many men they have on the pitch.

Those boos came, for the most part, from people who care about Coventry City Football Club. People who have had enough of disappointment and struggle. People who want a taste of what you, Gordon, were synonymous with as a player - success.

Eleven into nine didnít go on Monday night and the whole thing was so bizarre itís best forgotten. But donít forget or dismiss those boos lightly. The internationals this weekend give us all Ė coaches, players and fans alike - two weeks to regroup and clear our heads.

Then we get back to the reality of the First Division fixture list when our next opponents are Grimsby Town. No disrespect to the good people who provide me with my favourite fresh fish, but one season in the same league as Grimsby Town is one season too many.

Lets keep that as our goal, and - please - lets start scoring goals to achieve it!
  

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STUART LINNELL

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 29 Aug 01
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