Times are hard for Sky Blues

MONEY is so tight in the Nationwide League these days that Coventry City have left Danish goalkeeper Morten Hyldegaard out of their team to stave off having to pay £100,000 to his former club Ikast, writes Tony Garnett.

MONEY is so tight in the Nationwide League these days that Coventry City have left Danish goalkeeper Morten Hyldegaard out of their team to stave off having to pay £100,000 to his former club Ikast, writes Tony Garnett. This money would become due when Hyldegaard played his 35th first-team game. He has four more to go.

The Dane lost his place to 20-year-old Gary Montgomery for last Saturday's 2-2 draw against Preston at Deepdale. Montgomery, out of contract at the end of the season, will have the chance to earn himself a new deal.

He is playing under the pressure of knowing that player-manager Gary McAllister is watching a couple of goalkeepers in Scotland.

Last season Montgomery made his debut for the Sky Blues in a Worthington Cup tie at Chelsea. He had a loan spell at Crewe but did not play. Then he had a spell at Kidderminster, keeping a clean sheet against Southend but being sent off against Bristol Rovers.

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Montgomery will have Bosnian international Mo Konjic in front of him. Konjic cost £2 million from AC Monaco and was runner-up in the Coventry player of the year award. He has just received an extension to his work permit after a panel decided that he was an asset to British football. He has signed a new two-year deal at Highfield Road.

Richard Shaw, who cost £1 million from Crystal Palace in 1995, could be Konjic's partner with another experienced ex-Palace man, Dean Gordon, at left-back.

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The new boy in the Coventry defence is 18-year-old Andrew Whing, who has been a terrific success since he emerged from the youth squad in February. He was voted player of the month for March by fans with 42% of the vote. He has made the right-back spot his own and was delighted to sign a two-year contract.

Coventry are offering deals to the best of their young players that have incentives for those who play more first-team games. McAllister has said that he will be giving other players a taste of League football as he forms his plans for the 2003-04 campaign. Sixteen-year-old midfielder Tom Bates may come off the bench late on.

McAllister is the schemer Ipswich will need to watch carefully in midfield. The former Scottish international was providing effective cover for Steve Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann at Liverpool only last season before taking up the challenge at Highfield Road.

John Eustace, named as club captain by former boss Gordon Strachan before a knee injury laid him low, is fighting back to full match fitness hoping that next season will see him establish a regular place. Eustace was the fans' runner-up last month.

There is youth on the flanks. Craig Pead scored at Preston when Coventry ended a run of three defeats. He is now 21 and was in England's squad in Toulon for the annual Under-20 international tournament. Striker Gary McSheffrey, a 20-year-old with great pace, was also in Toulon. He had a loan spell at Stockport last season.

David Pipe is a 19-year-old from Caerphilly who is making quite an impact. He has been on the treatment table most of this week.

Front-runners who could cause trouble are Jay Bothroyd, Matt Jansen and perhaps Vicente Engonga.

In November 2000 Coventry were still in the Premiership. They came to Portman Road for a Worthington Cup fourth-round tie. They had 38 professionals listed in the programme which suggests that the wage bill was excessive by present-day needs.

Life in the Nationwide League is so different. Gone from the Sky Blues' camp are David Thompson (now Blackburn), Moustapha Hadji (Aston Villa), Chris Kirkland (Liverpool), Magnus Hedman (Celtic), Carlton Palmer (Stockport County), Gary Breen (West Ham), Craig Bellamy (Newcastle United) and John Aloisi to Spain.

There are more departures to come with Youssef Chippo, the Moroccan international, on his way to Qatar to play for Al-Sadd, who are trying to win the Crown-Prince Cup.

With all these departures it is hardly surprising that player-manager McAllister needs a bit of time to blend his handful of experienced players with the youngsters coming up through their Academy.

Even so he was hoping to be involved in the play-offs, but now Coventry have slipped so far behind that there is only pride left to play for this season. They have also lost Lee Hughes back to West Bromwich.

City have certainly not given up. They were within a minute of beating Preston last weekend. It took a last-gasp goal from substitute Pawel Abbott to earn a share of the points for Craig Brown's Deepdale side. Ipswich will need to be at their most competitive today.

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