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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 01/02/03, 3pm
Coventry City
Definitely. Probably.
By Matt Rowson

"Definitely" is not the same as "probably". Ask Coventry. You'd expect a Division One side to more than hold their own against a Division Three side, much less a Division One side on an unbeaten run of ten against a struggling Division Three side. Even allowing for the "magic of the cup", the fact is that forty-nine of the sixty-seven FA Cup proper ties between unevenly matched opponents have been won by the senior side. You'd expect Coventry to win. Probably, not definitely.

Ask Neil Cox. You win a penalty, you hit the ball so that it stays hit, on target, you expect to score. Probably, not definitely.

Ask any of the clubs who have played the Premiership game, paid the transfer fees, paid the wages, and gone down anyway. Good players give you a better chance of staying in the Premiership. You play the game, you expect to have a chair when the music stops. Probably, not definitely.

It's a fact of life that we could all do with bearing in mind as well. Considering how many (few) points we are from the play-off zone there's been precious little excitement at prospects of promotion. This may well be healthy, it would be unrealistic to expect a promotion push on the back of the turmoil on and off the pitch of the last six months or so. Hell, the last eighteen months. Unrealistic and unfair. Probably.

But the fact is, we don't need to be brilliant to achieve promotion. We just need to be as good as or better than anyone else. A wonderful legacy of the play-offs is that seasons are rarely over in February... and even if you write off the top three our competition for play-off places includes a very ordinary looking Norwich City, a Reading side who are three-down at home to Leicester at half-time as I write, and a Coventry City in several inches deeper of financial brown stuff than ourselves with a depressing injury list and patchwork squad. Add to this the fact that we've already played Pompey, Leicester, Ipswich and Norwich twice, and have home ties against Sheffield United, Forest and Reading to come. That makes Saturday one of our toughest games left this season on paper. Probably.

City's capitulation on Saturday was all the more remarkable for the unbeaten run that preceded it - ten games, albeit the Sky Blues have drawn their last five League games.

Dane Morten Hyldegaard will be in goal having been first choice since the departure of Magnus Hedman. 6'6" Frenchman Fabien Debec looks to have reclaimed the place on the bench from Gary Montgomery.

At the back, Bosnian stopper Muhamed Konjic has formed a solid looking partnership from Richard Shaw, whose move back to the centre was precipitated by his incidental role at right-back during Anthony McNamee's debut last March. Probably. Callum Davenport is the deputy on the bench.

Gary Caldwell, on a season's loan from Newcastle, has been playing at right-back but will serve a suspension at the weekend following dismissal against Nottingham Forest. This will see either Robert Betts reintroduced or Craig Pead pulled back from central midfield to what had previously been his nominal first-choice position. Left-back will be Dean Gordon who, reports suggest, has been flayed on a number of occasions recently, Marlon Harewood of Forest being one recent tormentor. Jermaine Pennant take note. Barry Quinn, the most obvious alternative, is out with a toe injury.

Central midfield is where City have been hardest hit with Youssef Safri out following a hernia op, John Eustace on loan at Middlesbrough, Craig Hignett back at Blackburn having picked up a knock and Youssef Chippo sulking in the reserves. As a result, Gary McAllister at 38 has started every match this season and struggled at Spotland; if Pead drops back to right-back he will be short of a partner at the weekend. Gavin Strachan and Welshman Lee Fowler are the most likely to come in, but McAllister hasn't given up his pursuit of former Scottish International mucker John Collins. Current Scottish International Michael Stewart, a Manchester United reserve, is also targeted for a loan move according to reports. Sixteen year-old Isaac Osbourne made his first appearance on the bench at Spotland.

Richie Partridge, on loan from Liverpool, has been a success and scored a couple of spectacular goals... he'll play down the right. The occasionally brilliant Jay Bothroyd has been playing down the left with Keith O'Neill getting the rounds in down the pub.

Up front, the experienced if immobile Dean Holdsworth has apparently been getting into gear in recent games alongside crowd favourite, youngster Gary McSheffrey. The famously devout Juan Sara, a big Argentinian striker, is another option on loan from Dundee for the season whilst another big striker, Lee Mills, has headed out the other door, on loan at Stoke with his mate Tony Pulis. Julian Joachim disappeared on a scampering run a while back and hasn't been seen for a while.

The enduring memory of Highfield Road is the agonising 4-0 defeat in the Premiership. This came directly after our run of consecutive games against the top clubs and was the first game that we Weren't Supposed To Lose. At 10 a shot, here's a chance to exorcise a few ghosts. We've won our last four games against City, eleven goals scored and only two conceded as an afterthought in August's thrashing. City will be keen to rid themselves of the memory of their Cup embarrassment, but as we saw in similar circumstances post-Millwall, you only overcome your nervousness in such situations if your opponents offer you the opportunity.

We're in with a good shout.