FIRSTLY, it’s insane that this game was played 16 years ago. What the hell has happened to time? Someone/thing is taking the piss.
The context to this game is important. By April 28 the Reds were looking to snaffle third place and a Champions League place ahead of Leeds United and, just as unlikely now, Ipswich Town. Manchester United had won the league with Arsenal in the runners-up spot. To infuriate you, here are the points gained at the end of that season:
- United – 80 pts
- Arsenal – 70 pts
- Liverpool – 69 pts
- Leeds – 68 pts
81 points would have won the league. Sake.
We had just beaten Barcelona to secure a place in Dortmund to play CD Alaves, who would obviously be a walkover. Twenty days earlier we’d landed our second domestic cup final appearance of the year, beating Wycombe Wanderers at Villa Park. Twenty days. We played six games between those dates including a derby and a semi with Barca. Madness.
Six days earlier we bested Spurs at Anfield and were due to travel to Bradford on the following Tuesday. Tiredness was becoming a factor, so much so that it was a wonder our lads could make it up the tunnel at times. Squad rotation was vital. If Michael Owen and Emile Heskey played one game, one of them would be rested for Robbie Fowler or Jari Litmanen the next. This time it was Heskey and Fowler’s turn.
Highfield Road was a lovely, horrible ground. Stuck away in a rookery of streets, it was mostly corrugated iron and concrete like so many lower league grounds, though the Sky Blues hadn’t left the division in years. The day was warm with a light wind – perfect for any game.
All was not well with Coventry, though. Stuck in the relegation mire, manager Gordon Strachan talked of battling to the end, but the Highfield Road faithful knew the game was up this time. Despite being 19th in the league they had some good players. Future Reds Chris Kirkland and Craig Bellamy lined up that day and John Hartson was throwing his not inconsiderable weight around. This wouldn’t be easy, particularly if our lads were goosed, but Robbie Keane had gone to Leeds and Gary McAllister was to become Liverpool’s greatest ever Indian summer signing.
We had to wait a while for the win. Fowler went off in the 63rd minute and Owen turned the game, constantly racing behind their back line. On 83 minutes Gary Mac sent in a corner and Sami made it 1-0. City were as good as down at that point but the greatest baldie head in Liverpool made it two three minutes later from a sumptuous free-kick. It was his fourth goal in four games and, given his four years there, chose not to celebrate. His manager later said that “he was not overwhelmed with joy.” He recovered and made it five from five at Valley Parade the following Tuesday.
Coventry were eventually relegated along with Bradford and, hmm, Manchester City and we all know what happened to the Reds over the next mad month. A 36-year-old Scot got us over the line, again and again.
Oh, we loved yer Coventry goal and we loved yer Coventry goal.