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FOOTBALL: SKY BLUES: Stern looks to the front; SKY BLUES BIG MATCH PREVIEW: SKY BLUES v GILLINGHAM HIGHFIELD ROAD TONIGHT 7.45pm.

The INTERVIEW

ALTHOUGH disappointed to drop out of the Premiership, Stern John is hoping history will repeat itself at his new club where he hopes to score the goals to help the Sky Blues gain promotion.

That is exactly what he did three seasons ago when he joined Birmingham City at the tail-end of the campaign and notched eight in 18 appearances, starting with a debut strike at home to Barnsley.

As well as his outstanding quality in holding up the ball and linking play, he also has a knack of scoring late goals in crucial games as he did against Millwall in the play-off semi-final that took Blues to Cardiff where they secured their move to the top flight.

And after gaining a firm foothold in the Premier League, Birmingham now offer the blueprint for success to which every Championship side aspires.

"I think Birmingham are growing every year and they are a good bench mark for Coventry," said the striker who signed a three-year deal for an 'undisclosed' fee yesterday.

"They got promotion from the First Division and stayed up and hopefully Coventry can do the same.

"I have seen Coventry play in match highlights and stuff and from what I have seen there is a good squad here who have got off to a good start, so hopefully we can continue that.

"I hope I can bring something a little bit different to the team. My hold up play is pretty good and I think I can score a lot of goals in this league."

The Sky Blues had to fight hard to get their man with Nottingham Forest also keen on the Trinidad and Tobago international, but John revealed that after speaking to Peter Reid he decided there was no going back.

"Just because I played for Forest before didn't put me off them because they are a good club and that's where I made my debut in England," said the striker who is set to make his Highfield Road debut against Gillingham tonight.

"No disrespect to them but I didn't want to go back there. As soon as I spoke to the manager here I knew I wanted to come to Coventry. I just want to play regular first-team football and enjoy it and that's what the manager wants.

"He also wants to get promotion, which is the main thing, and hopefully I can score the goals to help the club achieve that.

"I have played against Gillingham but I am not sure I have scored against them yet. But I am looking forward to the game."

He added: "It is disappointing to leave Birmingham because I thought I did well in the pre-season and I thought I would at least get a start, but that is the way football is.

"But I leave with a lot of good memories and I will not forget Birmingham and what Steve Bruce did for me because he took me to the club at a time when Forest were having financial problems and it looked like I wouldn't play again."

Reid couldn't hide his relief at finally getting his target, saying: "He provides a massive boost to the club and is a massive boost to me personally as a manager.

"When a player has got other clubs interested in him it tells you that he is a quality player and you have to work hard to get them.

"But we have got our man and that is the most important thing. It has taken a bit of time but to be fair to Stern, he was away on international duty and we didn't want to get him involved at that time. Then we had a chance to speak to him when he arrived back in the country last Friday."

The manager was quick to urge his existing strikers to rise to the challenge of new competition and insists there is still room for everyone at the club.

"Stern gives us added competition for places up front which is what every club wants," he said.

"We are trying to improve the squad all over and sometimes I play different systems and if a striker is playing well and scoring goals they will get in the side.

"There is a great saying in football that the players pick the team and the manager is there to ensure you get in if you do well.

"If we have got four or five lads who can get us goals it is pressure on them all to come up with the goods."

The VISITORS

ANDY HESSENTHALER made no excuses after Gillingham were beaten 4-0 by Sunderland on Saturday.

The Gills player-boss said his team simply weren't good enough on the day but has urged them to bounce back at Coventry tonight.

"We were poor," said the player boss. "We just didn't do our jobs - it's as simple as that. We were schoolboy. The harder we tried the worse it got. We normally get one spanking a season and hopefully that was it."

Last season's spanking, of course, was dished out by Sky Blues who demolished the then relegation threatened Kent club 5-2.

But Hessenthaller claimed: "The players need to get it out of their systems and be ready to put it right at Coventry. In a way, it's good to have a game so soon because it doesn't give them time to dwell on the defeat."

Hessenthaler admitted his men had failed to defend properly against a Sunderland team that had could have scored six or seven at Priestfield.

"We could go down the training ground and play all day and our defence wouldn't concede goals like that," he said.

The Gillingham team were booed off by the home crowd at half-time and full-time on Saturday, and Hessenthaler's own substitution was cheered by certain sections.

"The fans pay their money and can say what they want," he said. "But some of them have got short memories. We've had some good times here and people seem to forget we've spent just pounds 50,000 in four years."

To be fair to tonight's visitors, they do have major defensive problems with first choice right-back Nyron Nosworthy out with a long-term groin injury picked up in the second game of the season against Leeds.

His replacement Mark Saunders, who is a midfielder, then broke his leg the following game and is sidelined for the season while Barry Ashby has a knee injury and right midfielder Nicky Southall a groin strain. That leaves 23-year-old Leon Johnson to partner Chris Hope in the centre of defence.

Danny Spiller was last season's treble winning player-of-the-season but has been off-colour in the new campaign and although summer signings Iwan Roberts and Darren Byfield battle hard up front, the team still lacks any real creativity.

Expected line-up (4-4-2): Steve Banks, John Hills, Chris Hope, Leon Johnson, Ian Cox; Danny Spiller, Paul Smith, Andy Hessenthaler, Matty Jarvis; Iwan Roberts, Darren Byfield. Subs: Jason Brown, Richard Rose, Andrew Crofts, Patrick Agyemang, Mamady Sidibe.

THE GILLINGHAM FACTFILE

THE THREAT

IWAN ROBERTS Age: 36 Appearances: 7 Goals: 3

OUR VIEW: A folk hero at his five previous clubs, the big Welshman is already a firm favourite with Gills fans

CAN CITY WIN?

Both sides were well beaten on Saturday and they are only separated by one point - but home advantage should tip the scales in City's favour.

OUR FORECAST

Sky Blues 2 Gillingham 0

CAPTION(S):

BOOST: City chairman Mike McGinnity gave Peter Reid the cash to bring in Stern John; IN THE FRAME: Darren Moore
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Sep 15, 2004
Words:1261
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