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BBC Sport's Pat Murphy
"The manner of this defeat will cut Coventry deep"
 real 14k

Saturday, 5 May, 2001, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Coventry relegated at Villa
Coventry's shellshocked players ponder life in Div One
Coventry's shellshocked players ponder life in Div One
Aston Villa 3-2 Coventry

Coventry City's 34-year stay in football's top flight was brought to a cruel end at the hands of Midlands rivals Aston Villa.

It was a rollercoaster 90-minute ride during which Sky Blue fans watched their Premiership status come and finally go.

Teetering on the brink for the 10th time in four decades, Gordon Strachan's side gave themselves hope by storming into a two-goal lead at Villa Park.

I feel very, very sorry for Gordon Strachan - he is a man's man, a proper manager and I just hope he is given the chance to get them back up
  Villa boss John Gregory
But a remarkable Villa comeback, which included a first goal for record signing Juan Pablo Angel, and unfavourable results for basement rivals Middlesbrough and Derby, sealed their fate.

In 1997 it was Spurs who rolled over in the last game of the season allowing Coventry to live to fight another day in the Premiership.

Villa looked to be surrendering in similar fashion until a David Ginola-inspired revival saw them hit three second-half goals.

City fans arrived in Birmingham expecting their much-bitten nails to be in for another mauling.

And that's what they got.

Time has run out for Gordon Strachan
Time ran out for Gordon Strachan
Within 25 minutes Coventry were two up, Moroccan international Mustapha Hadji netting a precious pair.

His first was a peach of a header from Paul Telfer's cross on the right flank.

But his second was even better; Hadji firing home Paul Williams' high ball over the top with a beautiful looping left-foot drive.

Though Strachan could hardly have dreamed of a better start, the precariousness of Coventry's position meant all ears were also glued to the familiar transistor radio set.

Within 10 minutes, any flickering thoughts of survival were once again snuffed out as news filtered through that Derby had taken a shock lead at Old Trafford.

Mustapha Hadji's 17th minute header gave Coventry a dream start
How joy ....
But seconds later Bradford's Wayne Jacobs ensured another temporary adrenalin rush for Coventry fans - putting the doomed side a goal up against Middlesbrough.

Strachan had struck a hole-in-one on the golf course in midweek and he must have begun to think his luck was going to hold out.

Instead a slip by Coventry keeper Chris Kirkland pressed their backs to the wall once more.

Villa had barely mustered anything worthy of the term attack, yet on the hour mark they were back in the game due to Kirkland's error.

To be two nothing up in any game and to have as many chances as we did and then to lose the game is hugely disappointing, and I'm dealing with the game rather than anything else
  Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan
The 20-year-old keeper palmed a tame bouncing cross straight to the feet of Darius Vassell.

The striker had just the simplest of tap-ins to make it 2-1.

Coventry pressed the panic button as Ginola roamed seemingly at will, finally sparking some much needed life into the claret and blue shirts.

Coventry needed Paul Williams' desperate sliding challenge to block a close-range Paul Merson effort as the jangling of nerves around the ground became almost audible.

Mustapha Hadji's walks over after Paul Merson's winner seals relegation at the hands of Aston Villa
...turned to despair.
Strachan could contain himself no more, and it needed the fourth official to escort the apopleptic Scot back into his designated area.

His worst fears were soon confirmed as Angel scored his first goal for Villa, lashing home a Gareth Southgate cross at the far post.

With an almost inevitable twist of the knife, Christian Karembeu's equaliser for Boro at Valley Parade ensured there was no way back.

And Paul Merson gave the blade another tweak when he capped a remarkable Villa comeback with a stunning right-foot strike to make it 3-2 and bring Coventry's charmed life to an end.

Aston Villa: James, Delaney, Wright, Southgate, Barry, Boateng, Taylor, Merson, Staunton, Dublin, Vassell. Subs: Angel, Ginola, Hendrie, Stone, Enckelman.

Coventry: Kirkland, Williams, Breen, Quinn, Telfer, Eustace, Carsley, Hadji, Hall, Bellamy, Hartson. Subs: Hedman, Edworthy, Zuniga, Strachan, Bothroyd.

Referee: M Riley (Leeds)

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30 Apr 01 |  Coventry City
Ailing Coventry prepare for worst
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