In snooker they call it the shot to nothing, a risk-free pot from which no damage accrues. Thus does the third round of the FA Cup present Mark Robins and his Coventry team with a giant shot to nothing at White Hart Lane on Saturday.
Few gave Coventry a hope when the teams last met in the competition 26 years ago at Wembley. On that sky blue day, when Coventry won 3-2 after extra-time, at least they walked beneath the Twin Towers shoulder to shoulder with Spurs in the top tier of the English game. Tomorrow they travel with the threat of a winding-up order hanging over their heads, the result of the calamitous circumstances surrounding their tenancy at the Ricoh Arena.
With more than £1 million owing in rent, and the 2 January date passed by which time an agreement with the stadium owners, ACL, had to be reached, uncertainty nibbles at the future of the club. Delivering in the face of adversity through the agency of the FA Cup is where it all began for Robins. He has already worked a miracle at Coventry, propelling them from the foot of League One on his appointment as manager in September to the cusp of the play-off places.
Every day is a negotiation with one loan player or another about lengthening his stay or persuading him to give the club a go. His marksmanship at this very stage 23 years ago to give Manchester United a 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest is said to have kept Sir Alex Ferguson in work at Old Trafford. Were he to fashion from the dugout a Coventry victory tomorrow, the consequences for the club might be considered equally auspicious, not that global domination is likely to follow.
"I was 20 years of age. I had just broken through and the Cup gave me a foothold in and around the squad. I remember it being a Sunday, being busy, the cameras were there. It was on TV. I remember there being a lot of media attention, which is usual for the United games against Forest. They were flying.
"Big things were being made of Brian Clough not winning the FA Cup, this could be the year. We were having a bit of a wobble in the league and it was seen as the only chance of silverware that season. There was certainly pressure. We had a lot of injuries and the manager did not have many options.
"We ended up going through 1-0. I remember the ball in the box and the goal, and all the comments since. For me it was big time. I was young, my first taste of first-team football. It was brilliant, but the enormity of it only sinks in years later because as a player you are just doing your job."
Robins also scored in the semi-final replay victory over Oldham, his home town club, and was on the bench for the final against Crystal Palace, which United also won after a replay. "We managed to grind out a 1-0 win. That was Sir Alex's first trophy and set him up for his dynasty."
There was no special thank you from Ferguson to Robins after his pivotal intervention at the City Ground. He was not expecting any. And there is no great relationship today, though Robins knows any call made would be taken. "He is always there at the end of the phone and goes to great lengths to help people. I haven't generally taken him up on that, though I have spoken to him on a few occasions. He is always supportive of people in management because he knows how difficult it is, though he makes it look easy and the rest of us amateurish."
Such modesty. Any kind of result at Spurs would elevate Robins to messiah status in Coventry, if he is not there already after six away wins on the spin. "It is a great occasion for the players and supporters and we are relishing it. No-one gives us a chance of coming through this tie. We have to go there to a big stadium and enjoy it. If we can give our best that is all we can ask."
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