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AGONY AND THE ECSTASY.

Byline: WORDS: Mike Malyon

IT was torture. It was agony. It was enough to make you ill.

City fans have had more than their fair share of last-day dramas over the years.

But that nerve-wracking, stomach-churning experience at the Valley yesterday was just too close for comfort.

What made it worse this time was that the Sky Blues' Great Escape was not of their own doing. It was thanks to a result from elsewhere - and at 3.57pm, the official announcement that Leicester had failed to win at Stoke was greeted by a huge sigh of relief.

Three-thousand pairs of sweaty palms were thrust sky-wards to give thanks, as the fans gleefully sang "We're staying up, City's staying up".

It was a bitter-sweet reaction. The team had not not so much risen but sank to the occasion.

They had performed badly and been well beaten. But it was all about survival and after such a traumatic season that had seen the club almost go out of business and a new manager brought in - the fans were just happy to still be in the Championship.

Before the game they were full of optimism.

The Sky Blue Army was in good voice in the Anti Gallican pub near the ground - and next to a street named Ransom Walk. Was that a lucky omen?

At kick off time, the Jimmy Seed Stand was packed to the rafters and there was a real party atmosphere, with many of the visiting fans in fancy dress. But the mood changed within four minutes, as Schmeichel boobed and Charlton took the lead. Then the tension kicked in.

After 19 minutes it was 2-0. Mifsud pulled one back and at half-time there was still hope, as results from the other decisive fixtures filtered through.

Then City went 3-1 down. Leon Best had a goal disallowed and when the score stretched to 4-1, proceedings on the pitch were forgotten and it was all about what was happening at Stoke.

A late goal for Leicester would have put City down. But suddenly a cheer swept through the Sky Blue throng - the result from the Potteries was 0-0 and City were nail-bitingly safe.

"That was the worst 90 minutes of my life," said Steve Brown, a 25-year-old season ticket holder from Cheylesmore.

There was no understanding between our defence and the keeper. We need a big clear out in the summer."

Pete Lowe, 44, from Wykin, said: "We got out of jail. Someone else did us a favour and I am just so relieved."

Yvonne Campbell, from Nuneaton, was at the game with her 20-year-old son Jonathan, who supports Charlton. "That made it a good day for our family, with the right result for both us," she said. Kevin Reaney, a 43-year-old former match day steward from Keresley was not so pleased. "The workrate from the City team was disgusting.

I've seen kids on the park play better football."

Pete Read, from Radford, who has been to all but three away fixtures this season with his wife Pam, said: "There have been some games where we have been the better side but not won.

This was not one of those but I still think it was wrong for some fans to boo our players at the end."

Bryan Walls lives at Colchester but follows the Sky Blues.

He said: "That was pathetic and a poor end to a poor season."

Mark Covill, from Nuneaton, was at the game with his two eight-year-old sons Oliver and Ben. He said: "It was terrible to watch. But every cloud has a silver lining and hopefully it will be a lot better next season."

PICTURES: Richard Nelmes

CAPTION(S):

RN040508FOOT17; RN040508FOOT22 HOPE AND PRAYER... Above, a Sky Blues fan can barely watch as the drama unfolds at The Valley, below, inset, another fan prays for divine intervention, while below, the supporters celebrate despite Sky Blues losing 4-1; RN040508FOOT15; RN040508FOOT18 WE'RE SAFE... Sky Blues fans celebrate their team's survival in a dramatic last day in the Championship; RN040508FOOT9 RELIEVED ... Jubilant fans celebrate survival, while below, defender Elliot Ward throws his shirt to the fans after the game; RN040508FOOT123
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:May 5, 2008
Words:692
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