And Trevor Francis...
By Matt Rowson
You know how when you've had a really bad day and you get into this stew where the slightest thing sets your blood boiling ? Or maybe it's just that in that sort of mood, all the things that really hack you off rise to the surface for attention ? Well, guess what...
Days like Sunday for starters. Days when the weather is so oppressive that you feel as if you've spent the whole day in a tight collar with your head in an oven. When you can't cool down, there's no breeze, no air. You have no energy to do anything, and if you do manage to drag yourself down to the gym and its welcome air conditioning, the hot, sweaty, dustiness slaps you in the face as soon as you step back outside and has you gasping before you reach the car.
And bloody traffic jams. I swear, you never really appreciate how many truly moronic people there are in the world until you learn to drive. An hour a day on the M1 is currently serving to reinforce this knowledge. Stupid bastards.
Working for a huge company. Oh my word. On the same day that however many redundancies are confirmed at our place, every manager on site gets a motivational laminated-cardboard-paged wired-ringed booklet as thick as a bloody doorstop (and about as useful) delivered personally to their desks. In common, presumably, with every other manager across the world. Just how many sodding salaries did that cost? You couldn't make it up. Wankers.
And when you're at the football and some arrogant muppet is bawling at whichever player because he "hasn't got it", "is a waste of space", "doesn't deserve to wear the shirt". Ahhh, the enlightened master of psychology. Not. Try bawling at yourself in the mirror, dopey, and do us all a favour.
And fat Tottenham-supporting DJs who arrange radio interviews and then DON'T SODDING CALL. And the vacuous Victoria Darbyshire on Radio 5. And Charles Koppel. And Trevor Francis (okay, he's quite funny). And the perished double-glazing that's accumulating moisture in our spare room. And moths. And not being able to find my gym card. And aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!
Not, however, Coventry. Ever. I'm sure, in fact, that it's quite difficult to find anyone who's ever been truly annoyed by Coventry. Even when losing 4-0 at Highfield Road in the Premiership, I was numb as far as our opponents were concerned, I just had my head in my hands lamenting the paucity of what was left of our squad. Then after the last game of the season, as City fans smirked at us outside the Estcourt as we sang "We're going to Stockport, we're going to Stockport...", it didn't seem to matter. And lo. You even forgive that brown away kit now as a quaint mistake buried in the pages of history.
It's fair to say that Coventry haven't ever filled me with a burning warmth either. Not even after the hugely enjoyable 1987 Cup Final... on reflection, the fact that Pleat's Spurs were beaten probably had a lot to do with the level of fulfillment.
Cov are just there. Which is fine. And seeing as we've won our last three ties against them without conceding a goal, they're more than welcome to continue just being there.
City are, in Gary McAllister, on their third boss in under twelve months after the departure of Gordon Strachan and Roland Nilsson's brief tenure as they disappointed last season. Their first team looks reasonably strong, the rest of the squad less so... and even at this early stage of the season injuries are beginning to cause problems.
In goal will be the Dane Morten Hyldgaard, promoted to first choice following Magnus Hedman's protracted and vote-losing transfer to Celtic. It does not appear that Hyldgaard's tenure is entirely secure, however, with both Bulgarian Zdravko Zdravkov and Bolton keeper Steve Banks, whose career hasn't lived up to his form in games against us over the years, linked in recent weeks. Youngster Gary Montgomery is first choice deputy in the meantime.
At the back, the Bosman signing of Dean Gordon from Middlesbrough was a decent bit of business, but right-back is probably still City's achilles heel. With Marc Edworthy released in the summer, rumoured for a while to be coming to Vicarage Road, City have limited choices. Natural centreback Richard Shaw is still untying his legs after Anthony McNamee's debut last season, whilst midfielder Barry Quinn was voted City's worst ever right-back in our pre-season survey poll. No.2 shirt in the squad has gone to youngster Craig Pead, indicating either the respect in which he is held or the shallowness of City's squad.
In the centre, the solid Bosnian stopper Mo Konjic is likely to partner Callum Davenport. Extremely highly rated, Davenport was sent off in City's second game of the season; his suspension begins the day after our encounter. Gary Caldwell, on a year's loan from Newcastle, is currently out injured. As a result, an injury to either Konjic or Davenport will either result in Shaw moving inside, another youngster Brian Ford getting a run-out... or a return to league football for veteran Steve Walsh, on trial at City at thirty-seven and the latest in a new fashion for salvaging aging warhorses from the depths of non-league.
In midfield, however, City look particularly strong. Moroccan Youssef Safri is extremely effective in the holding role, both disrupting the opposition and setting off City attacks. The three in front of him should comprise McAllister, David Thompson and John Eustace. Eustace, the City Captain, missed most of last season with a knee injury. The prolific Thompson, who broke into the Liverpool team with Steven Gerrard, has been the subject of overtures from Blackburn all summer, a hunt recently abandoned by a disgruntled Graeme Souness. McAllister may struggle to last ninety minutes in Division One, particularly if Monday's as hot as recent weekends have been, but is still a class act.
First choice replacement in midfield is likely to be Youssef Chippo, with Welshman Lee Fowler and Scot Gavin Strachan further options. Both Belgian winger Laurent Delorge and bulky Irishman Keith O'Neill are out injured.
Up front, City have five strikers vying for a place. Lee Hughes has perhaps the highest profile; after a disappointing first season at Highfield Road he looks more interested this time around, despite or because of reported interest from City's Premiership neighbours Birmingham and West Brom. Hughes will probably either partner Julian Joachim, still utterly failing to convince despite a new Afro, and Jay Bothroyd, an awkward but occasionally lazy recruit from Arsenal.
Popular vote would probably be for local lad Gary McSheffrey, prolific in the reserves and having opened his first-team account against Sheffield United on the opening day. Less popular is Lee Mills, who at thirty-two needs to give some serious thought to what he's going to do when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Coventry may prove a steelier opposition than they did last year, having already come from behind to win twice this season under McAllister, a previously unheard-of phenomenon. Watford have a little more backbone about themselves too, of course, so expect a competitive game. Just don't expect to be too wound up about it...