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Shafted by Cupid's arrow; Valentine's Day stunt costs Sky Blues chance of Cup glory +++ BIGMATCH ANALYSIS +++.

Byline: By Andy Turner

Blackburn 2

Coventry City 2

THE SIGNIFICANCE of a Valentine's Day streaker, complete with red roses and a Cupid's bow and arrow, didn't sink in at the time, midway through the second half.

But when the fourth official indicated five long minutes of stoppage time just as the Coventry seemed within a whisker of reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup, the Blackburn fan's antics suddenly hit home, offering his side a replay lifeline from the jaws of a hummiliating repeat of last year's Ewood Park exit.

The magnificent travelling support that made a sea of sky blue behind one goal groaned and booed at the news, while manager Chris Coleman threw up his arms in disbelief.

But Rovers rounded on their Championship opponents, throwing everyone and everything at them in a sustained assault that finally produced the equalising goal tand earned them a second chance at the Ricoh Arena next week.

It was difficult to take given just how close City had come to taking another Premier League scalp and almost felt like a defeat in an incredible game that saw the visitors a goal down within 85 seconds of the kick-off.

It seemed like a huge blow at the time as poor defending allowed striker Roque Santa Cruz what felt like an age to control the ball to the left of goal and pick his spot across Andy Marshall who had been drafted into the starting eleven just 10 minutes earlier when Keiren Westwood went down sick in the warm-up.

The first-choice keeper was one of five players who complained of feeling unwell, - centre-back Ben Turner ruled out after throwing up at the team hotel on Friday night while Freddy Eastwood, Elliott Ward and Leon Best soldiered on.

Coleman's men enjoyed a brief spell immediately after the goal, backed by almost 5,000 supporters singing "We're going to win 4-1" but, by and large, played a game of containment with five strung across the midfield and Clinton Morrison cutting a lone and often isolated figure up front.

It gave the impression of Rovers' superiority as the home side knocked the ball about well and used their wide men, David Dunn and Carlos Villanueva to good effect.

But it was, in fact, a cunning plan by the manager to keep the opposition within reach with a view to getting at them after the break - a ploy that worked a treat despite that early setback.

"We kept them at bay for 43 minutes and knew that we could go on from that if we were a little bit more adventurous," explained Coleman.

"I told them at half time that I was going to change the shape, and I said just don't concede in the first 10 minutes because all the time it is 1-0 we have got a chance.

"And it worked because I knew that if we managed to nick a goal the Ewood Park crowd would get nervous, and then the Blackburn players would get nervous after being dominant in the first half. So we then put them on the back foot and we were the only team in it."

Coleman was forced to take James McPake off at the break with a groin injury, replacing him with Scott Dann who made his first appearance after two and a half months out with a dislocated shoulder and looked composed alongside the re-focused Ward who made some outstanding blocks in the first half. But it was the introduction of Best in the 52nd minute that signalled a dramatic shift in the balance of play.

Linking up with Morrison, the masked striker put himself about well and City were back in the game eight minutes later when Aron Gunnarsson pulled his side level with a stunning strike from just outside the box.

The midfielder looked fresh on his return from a two-match suspension and was, along with the equally impressive Michael Doyle, a driving force in the midfield, the 19-year-old looking comfortable among Premiership company.

Controlling a clearance and then hitting the ball sweetly as it bounced up on the volley, Gunnarsson gave Paul Robinson no chance in the Rovers goal, sparking an eruption of noise from the fans directly behind it. It was the Iceland international's first goal for the club and made up for a great chance he missed in the first half when he made a terrific run to get on the end of a free kick, only to put a free header wide from six-yards.

Coventry kept pushing and probing forward and finally got more reward in the 76th minute when Doyle popped up with his third goal in three games, hitting an angled shot in off the boot of defender Chris Samba.

And instead is sitting back to defend their lead, they kept on top of Rovers who ended the game with near enough a full strength line-up.

The home side hardly got a look in apart from a couple of disallowed goals for a foul and off-side, while Eastwood drilled a shot across the face of goal with Morrison going agonisingly close to getting a touch to put the game beyond reach.

But as soon as the stoppage time board went up, hearts sank and Rovers suddenly got a new lease of life, peppering the box from all angles. A goalmouth scramble was followed by a tricky ball in from the left and a fumble by Marshall, allowing centre-back turned striker Samba to turn smartly and thump the ball home.

The keeper explained: "The ball took a horrible deflection off Jordan Henderson's foot and whipped up off the surface and as I was about to collect it, it ended up hitting my shoulder, unfortunately."

As disappointing as it was to go so close, it was another great occasion and performance equal to that of the 4-1 win in the third round of the competition last season, proving that there is still plenty of romance left in the Cup as City live to fight another day in the replay.

The Verdicts

Sam Allardyce

IN THE end, I've got no problems with the result, my problem is with not seeing teams off when we've got the opportunity," Allardyce told the club's official website.

Our Achilles heel at the moment is not seeing teams off. We have also started to concede too many goals at home.

Coventry scored a good goal, but we scored a perfectly good goal almost straight after and for some unknown reason it was disallowed.

"I'm absolutely certain it's not a foul by Gael Givet otherwise you would have hundreds of free-kicks awarded like that in every game."

Chris Coleman

OUR fans were absolutely brilliant. They may have been a bit disappointed with our approach in the first half but I didn't want the players to get carried away with the occasion.

I told them to stay in the game as long as they could because it is no good playing swashbuckling football or going gung-ho for 20 minutes and being 3-0 down. I felt that while there was still only a goal in it that anything could happen.

Blackburn have got more quality than us and had a couple of chances after they had scored so we had to be cagey - but we really responded in the second half and I thought we would go on to win it.

The FA CUP e-on

Blackburn Rovers 2

Coventry City 2

The Teams

BLACKBURN (4-4-2):

4-4-2): Paul Robinson; Danny Simpson, Zurab Khizanishvili, Chris Samba, Gael Givet; Carlos Villanueva, Stephen Warnock, Tugay (65 mins, Keith Andrews), David Dunn (70 mins, Keith Treacy); Jason Roberts (78 mins, Benni McCarthy), Roque Santa Cruz. Substitutes not used): Mark Bunn (goalkeeper), Ryan Nelsen, Vince Grella, Aaron Doran.

COVENTRY CITY (4-5-1):

(4-5-1): Andy Marshall; Isaac Osbourne, James McPake (46 mins, Scott Dann), Elliott Ward, Danny Fox; Jordan Henderson, Aron Gunnarsson, Guillaume Beuzelin (52 mins, Leon Best), Michael Doyle, Freddy Eastwood; Clinton Morrison.

Substitutes not used): Marcus Hall, Robbie Simpson, Kevin Thornton, Ashley Cain.

Clockwatch

1 min 25 secs: Santa Cruz is given time to pick his spot across the face of emergency keeper Marshall. 1-0 11: Gunnarsson drives into the box but shoots wide from an angle.

13: Henderson shoots across the face of goal from the right.

19: Roberts lifts the ball over Osbourne but shoots wide.

21: Villanueva fires wide from just outside the box.

27: Marshall denies Dunn.

32: Gunnarsson heads a great chance wide from six yards.

40: Santa Cruz hits the side netting.

42: Santa Cruz bends a shot just wide.

48: Marshall pushes a Santa Cruz header wide.

58: Morrison goes down in the box but it isn't a penalty.

60: The City erupt as Gunnarsson levels with a terrific volley. 1-1 64: Gunnarsson dribbles into the box but shoots high over the bar.

68: Givet has a goal disallowed for a foul in the box.

76: Michael Doyle gives City the lead with a deflected shot from the left. 1-2 80: Sub Benni McCarthy has a goal disallowed for offside.

86: Freddy Eastwood puts a great chance across the face of goal as Morrison just fails to connect.

89: Samba heads high over the bar.

90+3: Marshall spills a save and Samba follows up to slot home. 2-2

Referee

STEVE TANNER (Somerset)

BOOKINGS: Samba (44 mins, foul on Gunnarsson), Beuzelin (47 mins, foul on Villanueva), Khizanishvili (85 mins, foul on Morrison), Eastwood (90+4 mins, foul on Danny Simpson).

Match Stats

Blackburn

5 Shots on target

7 Shots off target

3 Corners

4 Offside

14 Fouls

2Yellow cards

0 Red Cards

Coventry

Shots on target 3x

Shots off target 7

Corners 9

Offside4

Fouls 10

Yellow cards 2

Red Cards 0

Star Man

ARON GUNNARSSON

A driving force in midfield and scored the goal that got City back in the game.

CAPTION(S):

THE ROMANCE OF THE CUP... But the Sky Blues were cursing the St Valentine's Day joker whose semi-streak won Blackburn a few precious minutes to push for their equaliser at Ewood Park.; TWIST OF FATE... Michael Doyle's shot skims off Chris Samba to give Sky Blues a 2-1 lead at Ewood Park - but the Blackburn defender countered his unintended contribution with an added-time equaliser Pictures: Joe Bailey
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Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 16, 2009
Words:1713
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