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FA Carling Premiership, 31/10/99
Coventry City
By Matt Rowson

They're not fooling anyone.

They can sign as many African stars with unusual hair arrangements as they want. And it doesn't matter how excitable or affectedly random Gordon Strachan is in post-match interviews, it won't change anything. Coventry are just...dull.

Even the bright points of their recent history have only been bright in relative terms. The Cup win in 1987 was great, sure - particularly given the obnoxious Spurs fans we sat next to at Villa Park for the semi - other teams have won the thing since then. So what? And, like, what else is there to justify thirty-plus years of top-flight existence? A brown change kit, Mark bloody Hateley and defeat against Sutton United in the 1989 F.A.Cup. Big deal.

Some things are just meant to be... unshakeably part of the world order. Like the bloke who works in an obscure corner of your building - nobody knows where he came from, what he does or who he is, he's just there. He always will be. That's Coventry City. Dull dull dull dull dull.

With respect to Sunday... for all the silver linings floating around our recent performances, it's beginning to require a conscious effort not to slip into the slightly pitiful trap of straw-grasping, conspiracy-sniffing desperation that characterised Charlton and Barnsley's fall from the top flight.

There's no glossing over six defeats on the hop. Yeah, so three of these defeats were against top sides. Well, wake up and smell the coffee, we're in the Premiership, there are good teams here. And Coventry. Who may not be a top side, who may be dull, but they're still a far better team than most of those that we were sparring with last season. That's not to say we can't beat them of course... just that we should bear in mind that it was never supposed to be easy.

Particularly not easy with a decimated defence, and with at least two and probably three of the first choice back four suspended on Sunday, this is precisely what will be facing the Sky Blues. Thankfully, City have their own availability problems, and it will be a far from full-strength attack that our makeshift defence will have to face.

In the absence of both Portsmouth old-boy John Aloisi and the pretentious Noel Whelan, both injured, Moustapha Hadji is likely to move up from midfield to partner Robbie Keane who seems to be enjoying playing in something resembling a football team following his move from Molineux. Another option will be Cedric Roussel, a powerful Belgian striker currently impressing on loan from Ghent. Gary McSheffrey, who made fleeting appearances at the start of the season, has been deemed "not ready" by Strachan.

Youssef Chippo, meanwhile, who has made a good start to his English career in the goalscoring charts, is also a bit tasty in the tackle, and doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut. These two features contribute to the Premiership's worst individual disciplinary record of the season to date. Like Mark Williams (maybe), he serves a second suspension of the season on Sunday.

Elsewhere in midfield, GT's mate Carlton Palmer is also impressing on loan from Nottingham Forest, a deal that City would like to make permanent. However, financial restrictions look like weighing heavily on this and other transfer activity, with rumours that another big-money departure will soon be necessary.

Gary McAllister is in fine form, leading to calls for him to return to the Scotland side for some forthcoming matches or other, whilst the world's only footballing gibbon Steve Froggatt is taking advantage of the injury crisis to stake a claim for a regular start.

In the absence of Norwegian winger Runar Normann and Belgian Laurent Delorge, midfield cover is restricted to youngsters John Eustace and manager's son Gavin Strachan. However, if ex-Palace full-back Marc Edworthy makes a return from injury to right back, Paul Telfer may be pushed forward. Telfer, as none will need reminding, always scores against the Hornets and is a git.

At the back, in the absence of the suspended David Burrows, youngster Marcus Hall will continue at left-back. In the centre, Paul Williams is partnered with Richard Shaw. Shaw was City's Player-of-the-Year last season, and has now been at Highfield Road for five years since signing from Palace. Williams is a brutal defender, and will be remembered by Watford fans for some epic confrontations with Paul Furlong whilst he was at Derby.

Cover is provided by Bosnian Mo Konjic, and supposed one-time Watford target Gary Breen. Konjic, Breen and Williams have all reputedly been unsettled at the midlands club.

In goal, Swede Magnus Hedman, in heroic form last weekend and rumoured to be attracting interest from the likes of Newcastle. His cover is Italian loanee Raffaele Nuzzo, whose one outing to date was in the inglorious cup whipping at Tranmere.

We know that Watford have quality in the side, whatever certain astonishingly lazy insects in the media would have you believe. With continued support such as we've given the team recently, we will show it at some point soon.

But even if we get beat on Sunday, look around you and take solace in the knowledge that we'll always be more interesting than Coventry City....