Some still bound by chains of mediocrity


On May 1st, said the new Messiah last week - Blair not Keegan, who is now the new Allah - "fear lost, hope won". At Highfield Road on Saturday fear and hope fought a goalless draw, combining to overwhelm skill and wit. With another hiatus in this halting Premiership season, neither side would risk a fortnight festering in defeat.

The Prime Minister, heralding the giving age, encouraged British people to give to the nation their gifts of energy, ideas, hopes and talents. Coventry and Leeds ran out after energy. Coventry, stricken with injuries, barely made a chance, Dion Dublin scorning their best. Leeds, stricken with George Graham, made four, then remembered whose side they are.

"In the first half we made enough chances to win two games," said Graham. Those four goals at Blackburn have affected his judgment. Four used to be enough to win twice that. The managers, like their teams, cancelled each other out with praise for their men's commitment.

In football this is the committed age. Tony Blair's promise of "the freedom to excel" was smothered by the ability to close down. At this rate England will be a bushel to the world.

Dublin epitomised the commitment, always back in defence when the Leeds big boys threatened at set-pieces with their cluster-and-spread tactic, not always back in attack when his team-mates lofted the ball forward. His fellow striker was mostly the 5 ft 4 in Andrew Ducros.

The match was a myriad of midfield collisions and tugged shirts - part of the continental drift no doubt. Gary McAllister and David Hopkin employed it with some justification, thus showing their commitment without risking the other's fitness for Scotland's match against Latvia.

After Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's header hit the bar Hopkin's 20-yard bullet tested Steve Ogrizovic. This was the goalkeeper's 488th league appearance for Coventry, surpassing George Curtis's record. Life does not end at 40 for goalkeepers.

Having shown his agility high to his left, Ogrizovic proved his reflexes too are undimmed as he kept out David Wetherall's header from the corner. Since last month's birthday he has let in one goal in five league games, as Coventry have mustered four draws and a win with only two goals for.

Graham would purr. Having started with Leeds at Coventry 13 months ago, losing 2-1, he has come some way in imposing his men, style and scoreline. Only four of that side played on Saturday. One, Rod Wallace, was their liveliest player. He is also one of the mildest, which did not prevent a booking for delaying a free-kick.

On Tuesday Blair said to the British people: "The chains of mediocrity have broken." Not at Highfield Road. This was a tale of more haste, less control, block and shackles everywhere.