The first target
By Matt Rowson
The first landmark to work towards during the summer break is the release of the fixture list. How arduous the early stages of the break are depends on your general attitude... this, as you may have read, is a subject on which BSaD's co-editors differ. In any event, there will be a period of comfort during which the absence of football is a Good Thing. No evenings sacrificed to Match Previews, the possibility of doing something else with weekends and so on.
In my case this period lasts about ten days before cold turkey sets in. The passage until the whichever Thursday of June is sometimes eased by the World Cup or European Championships, of course, but the fixtures is your first target. So since June the focus has been Coventry City on August 9th, somewhat perversely since there are a whole load of other fixtures that follow that won't receive nearly as much attention or be nearly as eagerly awaited but there you are.
A central question is whether this constitutes a decent opening game... and there are, of course, arguments each way. First off it's a home game. This is obviously a Good Thing as a win on the first day does nobody any harm at all and a win at home seems more likely. Secondly, it's Cov... the same Cov that we've beaten five times out of five, last year featuring a performance-of-the-season winning show from Danny Webber. Also the same Cov that have won only one league game since Boxing Day and not scored in their last five competitive fixtures.
Well, kind of. Because Coventry are one of several Division One sides to undergo quite a dramatic overhaul over the summer... to the extent that only three of the eleven who started against us at Highfield Road in February have any real prospect of being involved this time. Whilst we know that a revamped team takes time to "gel" (boy, do we know) we are also faced with a positive side full of new faces keen to impress... and who haven't yet been trodden down by the defeats that a thin-looking squad will surely ultimately invoke. The summer break may prove the natural interruption to an abominable run of form that the side needed.
With the excess of focus on this game has come an excess of focus upon who comes in at left-back for the suspended Robinson if Wayne Brown's match fitness is in question. This is of particular relevance given the degree to which the 4-3-3 formation which seems likely to be used exposes the full-back positions, but would actually have been of far greater concern against other opponents. The centre of Coventry's midfield is strong, but they are not blessed with natural wingers.
Scott Shearer is the new man between the sticks for City, a summer recruit from Albion Rovers following the departure of the three senior keepers on the books last year. Gavin Ward, who has warmed the bench at several midlands clubs, is his new deputy.
The back four looks quite impressive... Andrew Whing at right-back is a youngster seemingly highly thought of, and Stephen Warnock on the left has been recruited on a year's loan from McAllister's old club Liverpool in the face of no small competition. Bosnian captain Mo Konjic is a mainstay of the team in the centre and is partnered by another promising youngster Calum Davenport. Davenport scored the winner in Saturday's friendly win over Wolves, a result that would have been more impressive had Morecambe not put six past the same opponents recently.
Beyond the first-choice four, however, cover looks flimsy. Richard Shaw and Dean Gordon between them would cover most absences, but both featured heavily in nominations for City's weakest link in our Pre-Season survey. Barry Quinn is another who could fill in at full-back, but he is listed and McAllister has a policy of not fielding surplus players in his first-team.
In midfield, the return to fitness of the vital Youssef Safri is as good a reason as any for City fans to hold out hope that the new season begins more positively than the last one ended. His influence might also free McAllister to make a more telling on-pitch contribution.
City fielded trialists in wide positions at the weekend in the shape of Algerian Yazid Mansouri on the right and Claus Jørgensen, prolific for Bradford last season, on the left. The contributions of both received mixed reviews on the City messageboards. If neither is retained, the last two midfield slots should go to another new recruit, aggressive Irish U21 international Michael Doyle on the left and either Craig Pead or David Pipe on the right.
Other midfield possibilities come largely in the shape of youngsters... seventeen year-olds Isaac Osbourne and Andrew Hall have both had a taste of first team action. The notorious Keith O'Neill and Youssef Chippo, dismissed in our last meeting, are persona non grata and will not feature.
Up front, City have a new rack of options to choose from. Dele Adebola will present few mysteries, his contributions in friendlies have been spasmodic although he did score at the weekend. Patrick Suffo, at the centre of Sheffield United's fisticuffs with West Brom two seasons ago, is likely to partner him in a no-bullshit front pairing, the Cameroonian having spent a year in Spain.
Graham Barrett, signed on a free from Arsenal, is another possibility but he struggled to make an impact on loan at relegated Brighton last season. Andy Morrell, signed on the back of one highly prolific season with Wrexham, has been out injured and will presumably miss out whilst Gary McSheffrey and Julian Joachim are both listed and will thus not be expected to feature.
So is Cov on the first day a good thing or a bad thing? A good thing, obviously. Because it's football. Bring it on...