Football: Coventry show the way: Premiership points are proving hard to come by for the three new sides. Phil Shaw reports

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THEIR three-man defensive formation was conceived on a Portuguese beach, as it were, and they rely on a rotund racing fanatic to score their goals. They are no more likely to win the Premiership than Screaming Lord Sutch, but by tonight all but a handful of their rivals may be wishing they were more like Coventry City.

None more so than the promoted trio. While Coventry will today be striving to build on one of only five 100 per cent starts - in their 27th consecutive season among the elite, to boot - it is highly probable that come tomorrow evening, Newcastle, West Ham and Swindon will not have a single point between them.

For this weekend, by coincidence, all three face teams with six points to their names already: Newcastle visit Manchester United, Swindon receive Liverpool in Sky's Sunday match, and Coventry entertain West Ham. Judging by the Sky Blues' victories over Arsenal and Newcastle, entertain should be the apposite word.

As befits the manager who led Wimbledon to FA Cup success, Bobby Gould enjoys confounding preconceptions. He is the only Premiership manager, for instance, who has no contract. 'I'll never sign one again,' he claimed yesterday, recalling a messy parting with West Bromwich. 'I'd rather be honourable and live on my ability. The richest managers are the ones who fail and get pay- offs.'

After being hounded out of the Hawthorns because of his alleged long-ball tactics, Gould took particular pride in the build-up to Peter Ndlovu's midweek goal. 'The video shows that we played eight first-time passes,' he said, before bursting into laughter as one scribe muttered: 'He'll soon put a stop to that.'

West Ham, one of Gould's myriad clubs, still enjoy a reputation as purists. But at Leeds in midweek, when they lost without even trying to score, it looked ill-deserved. While Billy Bonds has thousands rather than millions to spend, Gould has shown it is possible to find cut-price quality in the lower divisions.

The alarming air of resignation about West Ham and their fans finds its antithesis at Old Trafford. When one ponders the United players not yet involved - notably Eric Cantona, Brian McClair and Lee Sharpe - the champions look an awesome proposition. Newcastle's followers, though anything but defeatist, may have to wait a little longer to celebrate that elusive first point.

After his two goals against Sheffield United, Roy Keane said that the difference between United and Nottingham Forest was that Brian Clough used to allow him the odd day off.

Nigel Clough has, if anything, looked even more at home with Liverpool, but may feel a twinge of deja vu tomorrow at the sight of a side in Forest red trying to translate principles into points. Andy Mutch, Swindon's new Scouser, lies in wait.

Mutch, like Aston Villa's Shaun Teale, is a product of Southport, one of two former Fourth Division members who begin life in the GM Vauxhall Conference today. The others, newly-relegated Halifax, find themselves in the unprecedented position of being joint favourites (with Southport's hosts, Dagenham and Redbridge) for promotion.

The managers of other clubs demoted to the Conference have remarked that every match was like a cup-tie. This could be bad news for Halifax, whose wretched record of 11 post-war FA Cup defeats by non-League opposition includes one five years ago against their visitors this afternoon, Kettering.