Super Kirk Rescues Point  (Sky Sports)

Chris Kirkland



FA Premiership  

Dan Reynolds reports

Coventry keeper Chris Kirkland ensured Chelsea's miserable away-day Premiership hoodoo continued with a string of breathtaking saves at Highfield Road.

The giant Sky Blues stopper single-handedly earned Gordon Strachan's relegation-haunted side a vital point in their battle against the drop with stunning saves to deny Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Danish winger Jesper Gronkjaer in particular.

Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri must have been wondering how his side failed to claim their first Premiership victory of the season as they laid siege to the Coventry goal and could have won comfortably but for a combination of excellent goalkeeping, stout defending and poor finishing.

But the home side amazingly could have clinched an unlikely triumph at the death when Blues defender John Terry almost headed into his own net, but keeper Carlo Cudicini pulled off a magnificent save.

Coventry actually started the better of the two sides in what must go down as one of the most entertaining goalless draws this season, and came within a whisker of taking the lead within two minutes.

Wales international Craig Bellamy broke down the right and whipped in a fierce low drive that Mustapha Hadji met sweetly on the half-volley, but Cuddicini justified his manager's continued faith in him with a breathtaking block.

But that was as close as the Sky Blues came to piercing Chelsea's expensively assembled defence, and 19-year-old Kirkland, who was sent off earlier in the season at Stamford Bridge, soon took centre stage with a superb block from former Bolton ace Eidur Gudjohnsen.

The Coventry keeper, who was linked with a move to Liverpool earlier this season, was at it again minutes later when he turned a 20-yard shot from ex-Leeds star Hasselbaink around the post then
tipped over Gus Poyet's header after Dennis Wise had delivered the resulting corner.

But Coventry, looking to maintain their 34-year stay in the top flight, hit back on the stroke of half-time when midfield dynamo David Thompson somehow volleyed wide from six yards following good work by Bellamy.

Seconds later Gudjohnsen put in his contender for miss of the season when he blazed over the bar from three yards out after a dreadful clearance from Gary Breen.

The second half continued in the same fashion with both sides going all out for the points, but Kirkland again had to be at his best by reacting instinctively to push away a shot from Gronkjaer, who was a constant menace throughout the match.

Former Liverpool star Thompson did his best to inspire the Sky Blues and his curled his effort was superbly tipped around the post by Cudicini before another Hadji free-kick from edge of the area went just wide.

The game continued at a feverish pace and Chelsea sub Gianfranco Zola almost made a dramatic impact when his 25 yard free-kick rattled the bar, before fellow sub Mario Stanic should have sewn it up in the last minute but his shot just missed the far post.

The point leaves Coventry, who are now without a win in nine Premiership matches, deep in the relegation mire, while Chelsea are still some way off a Champions League spot.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Chris Kirkland (Coventry)
The Sky Blues stopper made a string of outstanding saves to keep Chelsea at bay and secure a vital point.

Coventry: Kirkland, Quinn, Shaw, Breen, Hall, Thompson, Carsley (Chippo 60), Eustace, Hadji (Aloisi 76), Hartson, Bellamy.
Subs Not Used: Hedman, Williams, Telfer.
Booked: Eustace, Breen.

Chelsea: Cudicini, Ferrer, Leboeuf, Desailly (Terry 45), Le Saux, Jokanovic, Poyet (Stanic 81), Wise, Gronkjaer, Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen (Zola 81).
Subs Not Used: de Goey, Dalla Bona.
Booked: Jokanovic.

Att: 21,609
Ref: S Bennett (Orpington).

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