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Stuart Linnell[02 MAY 01] THE STUART LINNELL COLUMN
It's Tough At The Bottom

"It must be tough being a Coventry City supporter," said the businessman I was visiting in London the other day.

"I'm a Liverpool fan," he added, almost apologetically, "and I have to say you were very unlucky on Saturday".

Such comments are fine, but little consolation when we know that we have had too many unlucky Saturdays this season and too many Saturdays in the early part of the campaign when we were just not good enough, as manager Gordon Strachan has readily admitted.

Villa away and Bradford at home. That's all that's left of this Premiership season for Coventry City. All we can do is hope and pray that, for the Sky Blues, it is not all that's left of the Premiership, full stop.

Two wins for a side playing as well as we have been these last few matches, the visit to Ipswich apart, should be quite possible. And then, as on one or two famous occasions in the past, we look to others to slip up.

Derby County are apparently having trouble with a huge banana skin that they seem to have slid onto, while Middlesbrough are displaying all the inconsistencies that Terry Venables was called in to remove.

Wouldn't it be something if both Coventry City and Manchester City both survived? It could happen yet.

In both cities the hopes of thousands of fans and huge financial returns turn on the results of the local football clubs. At both clubs, the Chairman has made it clear that the present manager, whatever the outcome, will stay in post to steer the future.

And both managers are old mates. I hope that they won't take it as any sort of intrusion into their privacy if I tell you that when Joe Royle brought his team to Highfield Road on New Year's Day, they spent as much time as the day's activities allowed in each other's company.

That didn't extend to any less of a competitive encounter on the pitch, mind you, and I have no doubt that both men would have preferred to take all three points than the one apiece which resulted from the one-all draw (remember Marc Edworthy's stunning goal? Remember Marc Edworthy?).

But both Royle and Strachan are realistic, intelligent men who don't need the likes of you and me to remind them just how tough their jobs are.

They differ in one way, however. When Coventry City struggle life is tough, but it surely can't be as bad as it must be for Manchester City with not just a cross-city rival but the biggest football club in the world as your neighbour.

The taunting Sky Blues fans get from their Villa counterparts is bad enough, but just imagine if the nearest local team was not twenty-odd miles away in another city, but actually no more than four or five miles round the corner!

If Manchester City are relegated, the expectation will be that they will, like Charlton Athletic and Leicester City before them, bounce quickly back. With the United-ites to jeer every moment of failure, anything else would be unthinkable at Maine Road.

For Coventry City, life in Division One, would be a wholly new adventure. Quite apart from having to purchase a whole new set of A-Z's and find precisely where Crewe, Gillingham and Huddersfield are, the ability of our squad to live with teams hardened to life in the Nationwide League is a complete unknown.

One would like to think that, if the nucleus of the present side is kept intact and no money-raising transfers occur that are not absolutely necessary, we would have a good chance of a swift return. However, the warning signs are there.

Look how hard it was for Manchester City to recover from its plunge down the leagues in the first place. Look how hard it has proved for Birmingham City to even make the play-off's this time. Look how many times Ipswich Town tried but failed to win promotion.

The tabloid press are already warming to what it believes is the inevitable. One even went so far as to suggest that, after our demise, both Magnus Hedman and Chris Kirkland would be among the summer departures.

Both would command handsome transfer fees, and we know that Hedman has been linked to Arsenal and Barcelona, while Kirkland continues to interest Liverpool. But to sell both goalkeepers, even with a huge financial shortfall to make up? Surely not.

And what about the 'cash cushion' we hear so much about, available to clubs relegated from the Premiership for the first year after they go down. The reality is that membership of the Premiership means a guarantee of some 20million plus to Coventry City. If they were to go down, that is reduced to no more than 4million - a shortfall of approximately 16million or more!

So some players would have to go. But one presumes that common sense will ensure that we at least start the season with a squad capable of getting us back into the top flight.

But enough of plan B. Plan A has to be survival, and that means we must win at the Villa and at home against Bradford City and look to Derby or Middlesbrough to crash.

Oh - and one more thing; if things go our way at Villa Park, the agony will be prolonged. The final match of the season against Bradford at Highfield Road will not take place until a fortnight later. A little thing called the FA Cup Final occurs in Cardiff on the weekend in between.

As the man said, it's tough being a Coventry City supporter.
 

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 2 May 01
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