Coventry City 2 Blackburn Rovers 0 - Peter White's big match verdict

HIGHFIELD Road presented a serene end-of-season scene with Coventry City in unaccustomed mid-table security and just two games left.

The fans were slow to turn up in the pleasant sunshine, the pitch was hard, the ball promised to be lively in the stiff breeze while, on the concourses, the staff were already clearly winding down for summer.

No coupons at the Ladbrokes stand, no tea in the Press room, no Bovril left at the refreshment counter - even the pies were cold!

End-of-season stuff on the pitch too?

Well, maybe only in the quality of the football, for the match itself turned into a powder keg which exploded in Blackburn Rovers' faces.

Inside 20 minutes it was a madhouse as 14 minutes of mayhem saw Coventry score the two goals which gave them the points - the first from a hotly-contested penalty.

Tim Flowers was red carded without actually setting foot on the pitch, Chris Sutton's rash challenge on Noel Whelan almost sparked a brawl and a linesman must have thought he had wandered into a controversial episode of Question Time.

In fact, just about everything was heatedly debated bar the 'Euro'.

The problems began when, I must be honest, I felt Patrick Valery definitely handled the ball.

Referee Stephen Lodge, however, didn't have a clue what was going on. But his attention was drawn to his flag-waving assistant who convinced the ref to give a penalty. He had earlier confused the issue by not putting the flag across his chest in the accustomed manner, just waving it.

Rovers' players were furious at first, even more annoyed when Dion Dublin scored from the resulting penalty and left shaking their heads two minutes later when Flowers, who stood on the Highfield Road terraces as a boy, was sent off - even though he wasn't really on, if you know what I mean.

The England keeper had been warming up and was reported by the linesman for comments made in the wake of the penalty decision.

Summoned from the dugout by the referee, after another summit conference between the officials, he was on his way.

When Sutton was at the heart of a fracas minutes later, in the wake of a refereeing blunder, the game threatened to boil over completely.

And you wonder how much Rovers' attentions were distracted by the controversies. For, once the dust had settled especially in the second half, they had chances to take something from the game. They can, however, only blame themselves for that. Frustration, even anger, is understandable in an emotional game.

But professionals have to control their feelings, or pay a price for them as Rovers did at Highfield Road.

With Jeff Kenna pushed forward on the right-hand side of midfield, it was a similar line-up to that which played in the second half at Chelsea.

But with two natural wide men on the bench, it was a selection which patently did not work.

Rovers spent most of the first half on the back foot, despite having scoring opportunities, and, when their best chance of the opening 45 minutes arrived, it inevitably fell to Kenna, rather than a forward.

He had the whole goal to shoot at but fired over the top.

Sutton was always a threat and went close but Kevin Gallacher's afternoon on his old ground was summed up when the Coventry keeper made a fine save to deny him from the first of three decent opportunities which fell to the Scot during the game.

But most of the action was at the other end where Colin Hendry and Stephane Henchoz were strong and had to be as Coventry piled on the pressure, encouraged by the penalty.

Very little happened until that 19th minute when Dion Dublin's low spot kick just beat John Filan's dive.

Minutes later, players were confronting each other when Sutton should have been able to retake a quick free kick that had been blocked by an encroaching home player. But the referee inexplicably ignored the offence, Sutton lost his rag and felled Noel Whelan with a rash tackle.

There was some relief when the card was only yellow but, on the football side, things soon turned really sour with Coventry's second goal.

Billy McKinlay looked as though he was going to clear a dangerous situation on the edge of the Rovers penalty area but slipped and the ball was nudged through to George Boateng.

Rovers seemed to have a case for offside but there was no flag this time and Boateng, in the clear, finished clinically.

By half time, and after Dublin had planted a header against the crossbar, Rovers fans must have been fearing another drubbing to rank with the 5-0 of a couple of years back.

Thankfully, that did not prove to be the case but Rovers still managed to miss their way, as well as several chances that would have put pressure on the home side.

Sub Damien Duff had the first on 55 minutes when he should at least have hit the target but blazed over with his right foot, following a defensive mistake.

Then Garry Flitcroft inadvertently took the ball off the incoming Sutton's head with the finest of touches to a Duff cross. Roger Nilsson scrambled a Sutton effort off the line and Magnus Hedman made a flying save from Gallacher's snap shot as Rovers continued to dominate.

Coventry's threats came on the break, with Whelan a tricky customer and Viorel Moldovan firing over near the end with a good opening.

But all the main chances fell to Rovers and it summed up their second half when Gallacher wasted a great opening from Sutton's set-up, then Martin Dahlin was foiled by the keeper's lightning reflexes.

It was a frustrating afternoon all round and those European hopes are now back on a knife edge with victory over Newcastle looking essential.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.