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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 20/01/02, 6.15pm
Manchester City
How to...
By Matt Rowson

"How to run a Bus Company". Chapter 1, Page 1. You need buses. Big things with four wheels and seats for passengers to sit in. And you need people to drive these buses and probably a timetable which lists when and where these buses will go. -ish.

Not so in Watford, where Arriva are making about as good a job of running a bus service as I am of making the Watford first team. Absolute bloody comedy. Like the old saying wait half an hour for a bus and then two don't come along at once. How can it possibly take Tsega longer to get back from work in South London to Woodside than it did to our old flat in Bedford? Why does she have to play Russian Roulette with the morning service? Bastards.

On the same shelf as "How to run a Bus Company", you can find "How to be the team Hard Man". Foreword by movie-star Vinny Jones, natch. He used to be a footballer, you know. The thing about a good hard man is that his own fans love him in a "He may be a nutter, but he's our nutter" kinda way. Where this relationship breaks down is when said hard man limits his effectiveness by being sent off for being stupid. Being hard generally comes with its own costs in terms of a disciplinary record (unless you're hard and famous, like Alan Shearer), so you don't really need to add to the count by, say, randomly raising your fists to a nonplussed opponent and taking a stroppy kick at the nearest inanimate object - water bottles, for example - on your way off the field.

In any event, Danny Tiatto's place as City's left wingback is brought into question by the arrival from FC Copenhagen of Nicklas Jensen, a man blessed with a "wand of a left foot" according to his new manager. Danny "elephant gun of a left foot" Tiatto probably couldn't have served a suspension at a worse time.

Annoyingly, the ban doesn't kick in until next weekend, so Jermaine Pennant may need to be particularly nimble on his toes on Sunday. Tiatto, should he play, is probably the weakest link in a midfield that has been the foundation of City's rise to the top of the table. Kevin Horlock anchors in the centre, while the talented pair of Eyal Berkovic and Ali Benarbia do the clever stuff ahead of him. Ian Wright's son Shaun Wright-Phillips has been in sparkling form down the right. Cover in the middle comes in the form of Frenchman Christian Negouai and Dutchman Gerard Wiekens, but young talent Dickson Etuhu's City career seems to be over before it really began, with Keegan claiming that Etuhu has played his last game for the Sky Blues following a contract dispute. Laurent Charvet is probably the first-choice deputy in the right wing-back role.

At the back City are weakened by a foot injury to Steve Howey, picked up last weekend, which will keep him out for the rest of the season. With Alf-Inge Haaland also out for the season with a knee problem and Lucien Mettomo playing in the African Nations' Cup, options are further limited. The trio is likely to comprise Richard Dunne - in good form recently - Scotsman Paul Ritchie and Stuart Pearce, from whom Tiatto could probably learn a thing or two about being hard without being a liability. Some of the veteran's recent performances have been reportedly disappointing, but he impressed against Norwich last Saturday. Behind the defence is Carlo Nash, currently holding sway over Nicky Weaver.

Up front, the prolific Shaun Goater is partnered by the unpredictable Paulo Wanchope. Darren Huckerby's pace can be brought off the bench, and Paul Dickov, and youngsters Chris Killen and Leon Mike provide further options here.

With City beaming the game back to Maine Road, ITV Digital's coverage could set a record by being the first occasion that a home TV audience has been outnumbered by catering staff at the ground.

The lucky few are likely to be in for a decent game.