By Matt Rowson
Howard Reed, occasional BSaD reporter, has been a good mate of mine since we were twelve and he was explaining punk to me on the bus home from school. Over the years his most reliable characteristics have included a high-resolution photographic memory and a tendency to obsess and recall the oddest detail. We can be discussing a band, and he'll point out that I'm contradicting something that I said about the same band ten years ago. I don't doubt that his recollection is completely accurate. I made the mistake of once commenting that "Noel's House Party", standard Saturday evening fare in our student house for reasons of general laziness, was "well structured television" when Howie voiced his disdain. In the normal way I would have got away with this shameful lack of judgment and certainly not be confessing to it on a public forum like this one some fourteen years later, but Howie's regular ribbing even now has rendered me immune to embarrassment on that score.
Howie's interest in football has grown over the years, influenced in part by the high levels of enthusiasm demonstrated by some of his close friends, I suspect, but he still displays the same curiosity about the game as he did when he came to his first Watford encounter, a 1-1 draw with Manchester United in 1986. Mention Coventry City to him and you'll get a quick-draw response, a detail gleaned from the opening line of John King's "The Football Factory" which he picked up in an idle moment in my flat some six or seven years ago.
"Coventry are f*** all".
A quite damning verdict, largely backed up by the Sky Blues' low profile in whichever division they've been in throughout their history (a thrilling blip a year after Howie's Watford "debut" aside). Despite their victory at a Ricoh Arena suffering serious teething problems earlier in the season, Cov put up one of the weaker, less convincing showings we've faced. Actually our performance that night was even worse - one does have to wonder whether Trevor Benjamin was a Betty ruse to put the division briefly off its guard - but both sides have improved since.
Much as we've been picking up speed in our recent games, culminating in Monday's night's drama that I've still not come down from, Cov themselves are on a fair old run and were unbeaten in seven before Wednesday evening's narrow defeat in the Cup at Middlesbrough. Many of these wins have seen impressive second half performances from the Sky Blues, suggesting that we won't necessarily have the edge in terms of stamina that has often been evident in recent fixtures.
In goal for Cov will be 6'6" Hungarian Marton Fulop, on loan from Spurs and keeping Clayton Ince on the bench.
At the back the on-loan Richard Duffy's knee injury has seen Andrew Whing regain his place at right back; with Stuart Giddings also out with a knee injury Marcus Hall is unchallenged on the left. Watford legend Robert Page and Aidy Williams form an experienced centre to a fairly solid back four that's shipped a total of six goals in eight games this year. One of several of Mickey Adams' old Leicester charges, Matt Heath, was on the bench at Middlesbrough but 37 year-old Richard Shaw, in his testimonial season, has also featured during league games.
In midfield Dennis Wise, a kind of footballing Begbie, has been the centre of attention netting four goals in three energetic performances that have belied his 39 years. He was left out of the trip to Boro however, possibly as a consequence of a chest injury that he had supposedly overcome although ongoing managerial vacancies at Derby and, presumably, QPR may also have explained his disappearance. A return to Leicester City does seem less of a possibility.
Mickey Doyle is certain to feature, and Wise has praised his dependable anchor work as permitting him to get forward; Don Hutchison, yet another veteran at going on 35, took Wise's place at the Riverside. Claus Jørgensen is also a midfield option and young Irish midfielder Kevin - brother of Sean - Thornton has also been in recent squads, but both Isaac Osbourne (knee) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Stephen Hughes (achilles) have been out injured.
On the flanks James Scowcroft has been getting decent write-ups and must presumably have shed a few pounds since his comical run out against us at Portman Road in Ray Lewington's last hurrah last season. Gary McSheffrey remains a threat and occasional transfer target down the left, but with one time GT target Stern John suspended having picked up his fifth booking of the season against Brighton at the weekend McSheffrey is likely to be moved up front. Consensus seems to be that Scowcroft will move to the left with either Andrew Impey, also 34 and with no neck, or, perhaps more likely, relative youngster and natural striker 31 year old Andrew Morrell will fill in on the right.
Up front Dele Adebola seems to have convinced as a target man and has chipped in with eight goals this season; McSheffrey seems certain to partner him with Morrell providing attacking backup.
It's tempting, given our recent form, to regard Cov at home as a done deal; however I can't help thinking back to last season when they visited at the start of March. Much as perspective of that campaign is dominated by how it ended we went into that fixture as close to the play-offs as we were to the drop zone, three points closer indeed than seventh place Cardiff are to us now, and with four home games and a trip to QPR that month were eyeing a late charge. We lost to a Cov side who were just outside the relegation zone themselves, and our season fell apart.
In performing the diligent checking of detail that these match previews demand (no mention of Phil Ifill if you don't mind, Mike Smart), I rang Howie to mention that we were playing Cov at the weekend. I got the required response. Plus an assertion that the house price crash of the early nineties was down to Jimmy Hill tying house prices to Coventry's fortunes. Here's hoping for a more dependable extension of our fine, fine form at a sold out Vicarage Road on Saturday.