Rookie Nicholas plays European chess

Tonight's Uefa Cup trip to Boavista will test Barry Town and their new manager
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The Independent Online

During the second half of the 1990s, Barry Town were the Manchester United of the League of Wales. The league's only full-time professional club swept nearly all before them and four successive titles booked a seemingly permanent place in Europe, where Barry produced exceptional displays againstDynamo Kiev and Aberdeen.

During the second half of the 1990s, Barry Town were the Manchester United of the League of Wales. The league's only full-time professional club swept nearly all before them and four successive titles booked a seemingly permanent place in Europe, where Barry produced exceptional displays againstDynamo Kiev and Aberdeen.

But last season the unthinkable happened: the champions lost their crown to the Mid-Wales village side Total Network Solutions. As runners-up, Barry went into the Uefa Cup preliminaries, but it was not the same after playing Champions' League qualifiers for two years. Now Barry have brought in the former Wales captain Peter Nicholas to revitalise them.

Tonight's Uefa Cup first qualifying round, first leg against Boavista in Portugal will be a difficult test, but Nicholas, after eight years as a youth coach with Crystal Palace, is relishing his first managerial challenge.

"I'm very excited - it's a great situation to be in," said the former Palace, Arsenal, Luton, Aberdeen, Chelsea and Watford midfielder. "Our preparation hasn't been ideal but it's the same for Boavista. Their season hasn't started yet either. We'd like to have had a couple of league games under our belt but we've just got to get on with it.

"The prospect of European football was a big attraction for me and although I've helped to produce players like Michael Duberry and Muzzy Izzet while coaching at Chelsea, as well as some of the present Palace first-team squad, I've been looking to become a manager for the last year or so. I thought Barry would be a good apprenticeship."

Since arriving at Jenner Park six weeks ago, the man who shares a 73-cap record for Wales outfield players with Ian Rush and Dean Saunders has wasted no time in making his mark. Training has been intensified and, using his extensive contacts, Nicholas has swapped tough tackling for smooth talking by persuading several exNationwide players to join him.

The goalkeeper Lee Kendall (ex-Crystal Palace), defenders Lee Phillips (Cardiff City) and Kenny Brown (Norwich and West Ham), midfielder Paul Holsgrove (Reading) and strikers Jamie Moralee (Brighton) and James Lambert (Reading) are all in the squad which left for Portugal on Tuesday.

"I started with eight players and I've now got 18," says Nicholas. "Those I've kept in, like Richard Jones, Andrew York and Gary Lloyd, have got good European experience so we've spent pre-season trying to blend everyone together."

Two of Barry's six friendlies were against Football League opposition. After drawing 0-0 with Queen's Park Rangers, they beat Swansea City 2-1behind closed doors as part of Nicholas's policy of secrecy.

"I think Boavista are a little bit worried because they haven't heard much about us and they haven't been able to see us play. I've kept a lot of our preparations under wraps because I don't want too much going out.

"Boavista have had people over here all week trying to follow us around and they've been ringing up and asking lots of questions. We haven't been running away from them or dodging them, but we've just plodded along in our own way. It's like playing cards. I don't want to reveal too much of my hand yet."

While the Portuguese have failed to acquire a video of their opponents, Nicholas knows all about Boavista's past and present record. They won only one Champions' League game last season, at home to Borussia Dortmund, and were knocked out at the first group stage before finishing fourth in their domestic league. Like Nicholas, their coach, Jaime Pacheco, is having to build a new team.

"I've had them watched during a tournament last weekend and I've seen half a dozen videos," said Nicholas. "They're a very good side: strong and tactically aware with some outstanding players - including a couple of Brazilians, midfielder Geraldo and striker Silva.

"I would like to score a goal so we're not going there with a negative attitude to brick up our goal. I'd be happy with a 2-1defeat right now. Obviously the game is the most important thing. But before and after it, I can get to know the players a little better." Barry will need to play well tonight if Nicholas is to start emulating the success achieved under their former player-manager, Gary Barnett, now Jan Molby's assistant at the newest Football League club, Kidderminster.

Nicholas knows that Barry's long-term financial futuredepends on qualifying for and then progressing in Europe. "Our main aim this season is to win back our League of Wales title and qualify for the Champions' League again," he said.

With his managerial career about to begin at the milestone age of 40, Nicholas will be looking for a good performance tonight - but with one eye firmly focused on a bigger prize.

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