In the season when City failed to win on their travels (1999/00) it should have come as no surprise that a cup tie against lower league opposition would follow suit. Tranmere Rovers, then in the second tier, welcomed Gordon Strachan’s men to Prenton Park for the Worthington Cup second round, first leg tie in September 1999. A weakened City side lined up with Gary Breen at right-back, Gavin Strachan and Marc Edworthy in midfield with Gary McSheffrey, then just 17 years of age, leading the line. Messrs Hadji, Whelan, Keane and Aloisi were absent yet perhaps the biggest surprise for the travelling sky blue army saw on-loan Inter Milan ‘keeper Raffaele Nuzzo line up between the posts for his sole City outing. Between 1991 and 2000 Nuzzo was loaned out by Inter on many occasions to third tier Italian clubs and his spell at Highfield Road lasted from June to November 1999. By the time the final whistle blew at Tranmere his bags were packed and bound for Heathrow.
City led through Gary McAllister’s strike and there was no sign of the calamity the second-half would bring. Five goals - 50, 58, 63, 80 and 90 minutes - from Scott Taylor and a treble from David Kelly along with a red card for David Burrows ensured the tie was over before it reached Highfield Road. Nuzzo transferred from Inter to Reggiana in 2000, took in a loan spell at Wigan in 2001, before finally becoming Reggiana first-choice in 2005. His retirement came in 2007 at the age of 34 after just over 120 first team appearances in 16 seasons.
Five league games in and we’ve been outwitted by each side we’ve pitted our wares against. I can’t connect with this division, in the Premier League and Championship you knew all the players in every team. In League One I haven’t a clue who half the opposition players are yet they are tactically superior, sharper and hungrier for the ball. I’m not being disrespectful, just honest. Gary Johnson, Danny Wilson, Peter Shirtliff, Steve Davis and Gary Smith have set up their teams with a plan of action to not just counter our efforts but to take the three points. The Ricoh will be the best stadium fellow teams visit this season, as a result they’ll raise their performance level and see us as a major scalp. I’ve had 22 top flight seasons and 11 desperate second tier campaigns, my main ask is to be entertained by my club. If I’m driving 200 miles round trip I want wingers, ball to feet, skilful forwards and defenders bringing the ball out of defence to begin attacks. What I’m getting is long balls up to small strikers, a midfield so narrow they all fit in the centre circle and a defence unable to concentrate for 90 minutes. As I write Dennis Wise has still not been appointed manager, I’m assuming he’s amongst the shortlist of nine. His appointment will get the fans onside, two or three wins in succession and they’ll be flooding back in their droves. A bit of success is all we crave, heaven forbid if we got a bit of glory, we wouldn’t know how to cope it’s been so long. Eventually, we’d savour the moment and to quote Martin Tyler, as Sergio Aguero netted to clinch the title, “drink it in, savour it” – I think we’d drink Coventry dry.