Whelan makes a point at Coventry

 

NOEL WHELAN is wasting no time establishing himself at Highfield Road.

The former Leeds forward signed for a club-record £2 million last month, left the pitch a hero yesterday after earning a point for his perilously placed team seven minutes from time.

Whelan's third goal in successive games produced a roar which mingled joy with disbelief after he had run from the halfway line and half dribbled, half staggered past six defenders before rolling the ball inside Dave Beasant's left-hand post.

Coventry's subsequent surge for a winner was abruptly checked when the referee, Keith, Cooper of Pontypridd - to general consternation - blew for time with only 88 minutes showing on the electric display. After a consultation with his linesmen witnessed by a crowd of players, from both sides, he sheepishly accepted his error and restarted the game for a further one minute and 35 seconds.

It had not been time, but last orders. And as the final drops of the afternoon drained away Whelan was almost in for a late double as a dubious backpass, from Richard Hall was taken off his toe by Beasant.

Until Whelan's moment of startling enterprise, Southampton - despite lacking Matthew Le Tissier with a calf injury - appeared in control of a largely dire game thanks to their five-man midfield.

Apart from a 35th-minute header from Whelan which hit the post, the visitors restricted" Southampton to hitting and hoping, and three points seemed to be heading their way after Neil Heaney had given them the lead after 67 minutes, side-footing home unmarked at the near post after Alan Neil son had knocked on Jim Magilton's short corner.

Merrington was dismayed at the way his team had failed to defend adequately against Whelan's run. Ron Atkinson, the Coventry manager, was understandably thrilled by it. "I don't think you will see a better goal all season," he said. "It looked like he went past 12 players."

Mr Cooper will indeed be seeking a new watch, if not two. "I had a new one for Christmas and the stop watch on it didn't work," he admitted. "I always carry two watches and so I double-checked the other, but that was obviously wrong as well. It's never happened to me before and I hope it never does again."