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Football: SHAW HAS LAST LAUGH! GILLINGHAM 2 COVENTRY 5 Veteran's stunner seals super show.

Byline: ADAM DENT

WHEN the fourth official held up the board indicating four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the match, Coventry's travelling army of fans thought they had seen everything.

The Sky Blues had stormed into a three-goal lead in the first-half thanks to some fluent attacking play and goals from Michael Doyle, Andy Morrell and Gary McSheffrey.

But Gillingham, who go into the final game of the season along with Walsall unsure of their First Division status, staged a secondhalf fightback which saw City hanging on for a result.

Their player boss Andy Hessenthaler was sent off midway through the second period for a second bookable offence and McSheffrey put the game beyond doubt five minutes from time when he coolly slotted home his second goal to make it 4-2.

But still, Coventry's loyal follow-ers had seen nothing yet. Defender Richard Shaw had been introduced as a substitute with 10 minutes to go to shore up the Sky Blues back-line in the face of a Gillingham onslaught - but he produced something quite unexpected.

The 35-year-old has chalked up 298 appearances in his nine years with City but until yesterday he had never managed a goal.

Thatwas until the third minute of injury time when he changed that in emphatic style as he latched on to a pass from Yousef Safri and unleashed an unstoppable shot which flew past Steve Banks and stunned everyone in the ground. It meant so much to the City veteran and to his team-mates who surrounded him to celebrate the strike in the corner of the ground where the Sky Blues supporters were congregated.

'The result is fantastic,' said a beaming Eric Black.

'But for Richard Shaw to cap it off with a goal like that near the end of the season was magnificent.

'It wasn't just a goal it was an exceptional strike. He came from right-back, broke forward and hit the ball as cleanly as I have ever seen him hit it.

'So me and all the players are delighted for him because he is a top professional and is a great guy to have about the club.

'He has been a great servant for Coventry and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.'

Black was pleased with his side's overall display but admitted that his nerves were jangling when Gillingham staged their second half comeback.

He said: 'Our finishing was excellent and there was some very goodperformances all overthe field from Calum Davenport, Eric Deloumeaux, Michael Doyle and the two guys up front.

'But at one stage it looked like they were going to get back in it. We knew they would be fighting for their lives but I don't think that had any bearing on our performance.

'We have shown that we can play like that several time this season but if we want to kick on next year we have to take more of the chances we create - just like we did today.'

The Sky Blues made a dream start when Doyle curled in a free-kick from the edge of the area after only eight minutes. The young Irishman was only in the side because of an injury to Steve Staunton but he took his opportunity in style with a sweetly struck shot that left the Gillingham keeper standing.

The home side were enjoying lots of possession and territorial advantage but Davenport and Mo Konjic were rock solid at the back. City doubled their lead on 23 minutes when Bjarni Gudjonsson and McSheffrey combined to set up Morrell, who fired home from 12 yards. McSheffrey made it three just after the half-hour when he took a pass from Morrell in his stride. He ran, cut inside Nicky Southall and then curled a sweet shot up and over Banks and into the top corner of the net.

Gillingham were stunned and Hessenthaler got himself booked for protesting to an official. That would prove costly for the Gillingham player-boss later on.

His side came out for the secondhalf desperate to claw their way back into the game and substitute Gary Wales gave them a lifeline with 25 minutes to go when he cracked a low shot from the corner of the area which beat Scott Shearer at his near post.

Gillingham thought their comeback was over before it had really begun when Hessenthaler received his marching orders for a second yellow card after a tame challenge on Doyle in midfield.

Several minutes of protesting did not change the referee's mind, but it did spur on the home side to grab another goal.

Mamady Sidibe latched on to a loose ball in the City area and turned well before firing under Shearer's body to send the Gillingham fans into raptures.

The home side pinned the Sky Blues back and it looked only a matter of time before they would equalise but City managed to repel every attack with some desperate defending.

Victory was sealed for Blacks men with five minutes to go when McSheffrey took Stephen Warnock's pass in his stride before slotting home. And then came the moment of magic from Shaw.

STAR MAN: Calum Davenport

GILLINGHAM 2 COVENTRY 5

17 Goal Attempts 16

8 On Target 8

9 Off Target 8

0 Hit Woodwork 0

9 Corners 3

15 Fouls 10

3 Offsides 2

5 Booking 1

1 Sending Offs 0

CAPTION(S):

SKIP TO IT: Eric Deloumeaux leaps over the tackle of Gillingham's Leon Johnson Pictures: JANE JORDAN; MAC-NIFICENT: Gary McSheffrey is congratulated on his goal by delighted Coventry City team-mates
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 2, 2004
Words:925
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