Sleeping it off
By Matt Rowson
There are a number of remarkable aspects to Leicester City's start to the season. First of these is that they're in the Premiership at all... the questionable practices that ultimately saw them side-step their financial commitments have been well documented and discussed elsewhere. The second is that they're somehow below Wolves, which is both a considerable achievement that no Premiership team looked likely to manage and a not inconsiderable crime against the good of football - and this despite a 4-0 home win, which not many struggling sides can boast.
The third thing is the size of the crowds. Leicester's five league gates have all been over thirty thousand. Yes, Leicester. Scrappy, ugly, and likely to have a bit of a desperate season Leicester. They also got twenty-seven thousand for a midweek Carling Cup tie with Crewe. Ridiculous.
This wouldn't have happened at Filbert Street, one suspects, and for reasons other than the restrictive capacity of the old ground. But setting aside for a minute the route that got Leicester to their current position, the Walkers Stadium was a (quite impressive) new beginning. It's somewhere where you'd want to watch a football match.
Coventry City meanwhile (and yes, this is a Coventry preview) will probably be painfully aware of the sea change twenty-odd miles up the M69. This week a proposal went to Coventry's City Council that looked likely to determine the future and perhaps the existence of the football club. With the sale of Highfield Road long since confirmed, the long-standing but slow-moving Arena project that was supposed to yield an impressive new stadium at Foleshill for the Sky Blues has been heading for the rocks. Thursday's vote in favour of providing financial support and approval for the project (only the large minority of Tory councillors voted against) provides the club with a major shot in the arm.
That's not to suggest that new stadia are a panacea to the problems of any ailing club... or that City's results should be expected to turn around as a consequence; the feeble 3-1 home defeat to Cardiff that came two days after the announcement offered enough to convince otherwise. But a decision against the proposal would in the short term have dealt a blow to the whole club that would surely have had the place spiralling into a helpless rut to compare with their almost-fatal collapse last season, and in the medium term have resulted in receivership with the club's plans finally blown out of the water.
On the pitch, there are still plenty of problems that appear to need sorting. Coventry are reputed to play decent passing stuff but their defence is looking porous and their forward options are limited. A lack of pace throughout the side seems to be a restriction, and without a major threat from set pieces either it's not entirely surprising that City are in the wrong half of the table.
Scott Shearer has been the first choice in goal so far this season, but the twenty-two year-old summer recruit from Albion Rovers, though rated as a decent prospect, has looked increasingly nervous and his performance on Saturday was dominated by a series of bad decisions. There are calls for him to be rested and replaced with either Gavin Ward, back in City's reserves after an injury, or Pegguy Arphexad, although Gary McAllister's former Liverpool colleague is only on a short-term deal.
At the back, positions and personnel have been shuffled on an apparently game-by-game basis in an attempt to find a successful combination. Youngster Andrew Whing appears to be one fairly secure choice at right-back, but left-back appears to be more of a problem. Stephen Warnock, a loan signing from Liverpool, hasn't entirely convinced; Steve Staunton is another option... his experience is evident and valuable, but he's also been used in the middle. That his lack of pace and mobility has been highlighted would suggest that Paul Devlin might enjoy opposing him on Tuesday, particularly bearing in mind the roasting that he gave Wayne Jacobs at the weekend. There have even been calls for a recall for Dean Gordon, who got a considerable number of votes as City's weakest link in our summer census.
In the centre, the previously indomitable Mo Konjic has been dropped to the bench, and England U21 call-up Calum Davenport has also been in and out of the side. Richard Shaw, who came out top in that "weakest link" poll, partnered Staunton in the centre at the weekend, but that's not a partnership blessed with pace and might suffer against Webber and Fitzgerald.
The midfield hand has been weakened by the absence due to family reasons of manager Gary McAllister. Youssef Safri, his regular partner, is the lynchpin of the side but reputedly failed to impress on Saturday. In McAllister's absence Patrick Suffo was brought back from the forward line to play an attacking role, although he looked "insipid, lazy and unfit" according to the LAST! report on the game. Former Arsenal reserve Graham Barrett would be another option here.
In the wide positions, Michael Doyle seems to be impressing on the left after arriving in the summer. Claus Jørgensen, who scored eleven goals for Bradford last season, also prefers the left and has looked uncomfortable playing on his weaker side. Moroccan Yazid Mansouri, on loan from Le Havre, can also play here although he missed Saturday's game with a virus and has yet to impress. Home-grown Craig Pead and David Pipe are further midfield options.
Up front, Dele Adebola is a man of no great mystery and seems to be trotting out his usual gameplan of just being big to general frustration - "Dele the Elephant" is a popular monicker. Andy Morrell along side him is proving to be much more successful, the hardworking twenty-nine year-old scored thirty-five to help Wrexham to promotion last season and has had a multi-million pound tag put on him to scare off potential Premiership interest. As well as Suffo, youngster Avun Jephcott is an option having scored regularly for the reserve side, but Julian Joachim is out with a hamstring injury having recently revoked appearance-based payments to facilitate a place back in the side.
Keith O'Neill is still injured, presumed sleeping it off under a bench somewhere.
We've won our last five games against City; racking up a sixth on Tuesday would send us above the Sky Blues and towards mid-table. Our performances are tentatively coming together, we may not have set the world alight but we're unbeaten in four games and gradually rebuilding our season after it was sent rolling downhill by an early body blow, a blow which caused the postponement of this fixture on the opening day.
Without wishing to be morbid or mawkish, it's worth remembering that there are others who will not recover from the events of August 9th as easily.