Football: Sky Blues in stout mood: Phil Shaw on today's Premier League programme

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The Independent Online
A SUMMIT meeting between second-placed Coventry and leaders Norwich is hardly what the forces behind the formation of the Premier League had in mind. It has also caught Coventry on the hop.

Admission prices at Highfield Road are graded depending on crowd-pulling potential. There are 'gold' games, featuring all the glamorous visitors, and middling, 'silver' ones. But the match of the day, and probably Match of the Day too, was designated only a 'bronze' fixture.

As part of his own colour-coded preparations, the Sky Blues' manager, Bobby Gould, marched his squad from their training centre round to the village pub for a drop of the black stuff on Thursday. 'They'd had two hard matches in 48 hours,' he explained. 'So they all had two pints of Guinness, for medicinal purposes, followed by a bath, a massage and a good kip.'

Such off-the-wall methods are not unusual for Gould, who took Albion's players on an Army assault course last winter. Among other secrets he revealed yesterday was that his wife had suggested he appoint Phil Neal as his deputy, while his mother influenced the team's new positivism by telling him Coventry people needed 'something to make them smile'.

There is more to Coventry than spirit and stout, however, not least the drastic improvement the management have brought about in young players such as Lee Hurst and Peter Ndlovu, as well as in Robert Rosario's form.

In Gould's first stint in charge of his home-town team, Rosario played against them for Norwich in the last match of the 1983-84 season. 'Robert thundered a header against our crossbar in the final seconds of the last game,' he recalled. 'Had it gone in, we were down.'

A Terry Butcher signing, the 6ft 4in striker has finally begun to justify his pounds 600,000 transfer fee. Gould said he and Neal had 'cuddled' Rosario back to form. 'He'd lost confidence,' he elaborated, 'and was mentally unsure what was required of him.'

The Norwich player who has particularly impressed Gould in what he describes as 'a quality team' is David Phillips, one of Coventry's FA Cup winners of 1987. 'When I was in Minorca in June I was out for a run when I passed Phillips, doing the same. I thought, 'He means business'. The goals he has scored from midfield show that he did.'

It scarcely seems credible that Brian Clough and Graeme Souness should be struggling at the other end of table. If anything, Souness will be under greater pressure as Liverpool face Wimbledon. The

4-4 draw with Chesterfield, following which Souness has recalled Bruce Grobbelaar in goal, was not the kind of eight-goal thriller to which Anfield is accustomed.

The attendance today may prove a pointer to Souness's survival prospects. Only 12,500 watched the midweek debacle, more than a third of whom came from Chesterfield, and Wimbledon's away support is negligible.

Nottingham Forest, meanwhile, go to Chelsea with Clough's dismissal of 'ridiculous' speculation about his job and two unbeaten matches to encourage them. 'Resignations,' the Forest manager once memorably decreed, 'are for cabinet ministers, and those caught with their trousers down, not for me.' Food for David Mellor's thoughts, perhaps, as the ex-Minister for Fun watches the match.

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