Coventry City 2 Norwich City 0

By Alan Poole on Aug 9, 08 09:24 PM in Reports

leonmckenzie.jpgIF Chris Coleman feels the need to make excuses in defeat this season we can safely take his word for it - because the Sky Blues boss proved on Saturday that he is brutally honest in victory.

Far from waiting to be quizzed on the quality of his side's performance, he instantly announced: "You have to say that we were lucky because Norwich were better than us.

"They played good football, passed it very well, while at times we were standing around waiting for somebody else to do something - there was a bit of desperation about our play."

Coleman even anticipated Glenn Roeder's post-match alibi when he volunteered: "I thought Norwich should have had a penalty and I'm not so sure we should have had ours."

But his candid appraisal did not extend to sympathy: "I don't feel sorry for Glenn because I've been on the end of that before, when my team performs much better than the opposition and ends up with nothing, and I will be again."

With Coleman's six summer recruits joining Ray Ranson's January signings Scott Dann and Danny Fox this was very much a new-era Coventry side but, ironically, the points were secured by two survivors from the Iain Dowie regime - Elliott Ward with a now trademark penalty and Leon McKenzie via a two-yard tap-in that logged his long-awaited 100th career goal.

The hand-picked striking partnership of Freddy Eastwood and Clinton Morrison hardly had a sniff of the ball in a frantic opening spell when the unforgiving pace was maintained by the skiddy pitch and the fact that, remarkably, it was 15 minutes before either side conceded a free-kick.

There seemed far more latent menace in Norwich combination Jamie Cureton and Arturo Lupoli (although the young Italian incensed Stephen Wright in particular with a couple of theatrical tumbles which he presumably picked up in Serie B) and Ward earned his corn when he foiled both with superb blocking tackles in the space of three minutes.

But it was the Sky Blues who were denied the best opening of the half when a misunderstanding in the Norwich defence left Jay Tabb with a free run on goal and Dejan Stefanovic chopped him down on the very edge of the area.

The foul wasn't just cynically motivated it was crudely executed - Tabb limped through the rest of the half and was replaced by Robbie Simpson at the interval - but the referee again demonstrated controversial leniency, confining his punishment to a yellow card despite the less-than-edifying advice from a couple of home players.

The consolation free-kick came to nothing, Eastwood providing an effective diversion but Fox slapping his low shot into the wall. Rough justice, however, was just over the horizon.

In contrast to the free-flowing start to the first half, the second had barely kicked off when Lupoli flattened Aron Gunnarsson in the centre-circle. Ward lofted the free-kick forward and, as Guillaume Beuzelin tried to exploit second-phase possession just inside the area, Sammy Clingan laid hands on the Frenchman who duly went to ground.

On replay, apparently, it appeared the most gentle of contacts, but Mr Webster pointed to the spot and Ward lashed home with his customary ferocity. And Norwich didn't react well to this unexpected adversity, skipper Mark Fotheringham in particular spending the next 10 minutes or so charging around like some pumped-up hybrid of a headless chicken and a psychotic Canary.

For some reason he singled out Aron Gunnarsson for special treatment, twice flattening the Icelandic teenager with ridiculous challenges.

And the red mist descended with a vengeance when Fox appeared to clip the persistently dangerous Wes Hoolahan in the area but this time the referee decided no offence had been committed and, to add to Norwich's sense of grievance, Kieren Westwood saved Lee Croft's follow-up shot.

Fotheringham's furious protest finally obtained the caution he had been pursuing so relentlessly and, no doubt drained by all that energy-sapping stress, he was sluggish to react 10 minutes later when Beuzelin picked up a loose ball 30 yards out and switched it to McKenzie.

The former Norwich favourite - who had almost snatched a first-touch goal when Robbie Simpson's cross grazed his head - pushed the ball down the inside-left channel to Morrison who nudged it past the advancing Marshall. A cross seemed the obvious option from the angle he had left himself, but he chipped for goal and that striker's instinct paid off as the ball glanced down from the bar and McKenzie gleefully side-footed home before ripping off his jersey to reveal his celebratory T-shirt and earn himself a yellow card.

Of the new men on show, Westwood distinguished himself
with a couple of excellent stops, notably the brilliant reflex parry when Ward misjudged Marshall's long punt and left Omar Koroma with all the time and space he required to pick his spot.

Wright offered the seasoned professionalism he was signed to provide and although Beuzelin wasn't able to add too much creativity to his graft he can point to assists with both goals.

It was young Gunnarsson, however, who really caught the supporters' imagination, not just for his exemplary commitment but also for the precocious self-control he demonstrated when Norwich seemed hell-bent on winding him up.

An unexpected bonus is a long throw that certainly puts him in the 'good as a free-kick' category, although the Sky Blues might need to think about redesigning the Ricoh infrastructure as he had to locate gaps in the pitchside hoardings to create the space for his full run-up.

If this game proved anything, however, it is that the Championship is so competitive that results are often decided by random factors that make a nonsense of team-building and tactics.

For instance, Saturday's match was due to be refereed by Andy D'Urso, the man whose decision to award Bristol City a decisive late free-kick last season sparked a Norwich outburst that landed Roeder and his assistant Lee Clark on the FA carpet.

Mysteriously, however, the powers-that-be had second thoughts and D'Urso was switched to Derby v Doncaster.

And although there is, of course, no evidence of any ear bending or string-pulling behind the scenes, it is surely the richest of ironies that the man who replaced him did Norwich no favours and granted Coventry the luxury of confirming that any win - however ugly, however fortunate - is infinitely preferable to the most gallant of defeats.

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