Ok, there’s not much ‘getting to know’ to do here – we’ve taken the same flight up the leagues – but for the fourth season in succession, we have to face the ultimate bogey team. Here’s your guide to the Sky Blues as they, sadly, prepare for another campaign in exile.
Founded: 1883 (as Singers F.C.)
Ground: St Andrew’s (groundshare with Birmingham City since 2019, capacity 29,409)
Second tier seasons: 30 (+34 top flight)
Major honours: FA Cup (1986/87)
Last season: 1st in League One
We may have both ended up in the same place, but Coventry’s 2019/20 finished four months before ours. Top of the pile when lockdown hit, they were ultimately crowned champions under Barry Fry’s preferred method – having lost just three of their 34 games (although only Gillingham drew more than their 13). After seven years in League One – either side of a one-season sortie into the fourth tier – the Sky Blues back where they feel they belong.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. For the second time in only six years, they found themselves forced out of their Ricoh Arena home by pests. Birmingham’s St Andrew’s became their base – as it will continue to be in 2020/21 – and they made it a fortress. Coventry may be on another level to Wycombe in terms of stature and size of supporter base, but we did have one thing in common last season: we defied the odds.
The gaffer: Mark Robins
Appointed: March 2017
Previously managed: Scunthorpe, Huddersfield, Coventry, Barnsley, Rotherham
Played for: Burton, Sheff Wed, Bristol City, Rotherham, Walsall, Man City, Panionios (Greece), Ourense (Spain), Reading, Copenhagen, Leicester, Norwich, Man United
Coventry league record: P140, W62, D39, L39
Given the cirucmstances in which Coventry won the title, it was no surprise to see Robins awarded the LMA League One Manager of the Year prize. Four years after being poached by Championship Huddersfield, he returned with the club about to drop into the fourth tier for the first time since the 60s. He’s overseen their whole rise back to the upper reaches of the pyramid and got his side playing the most free-flowing football in League One last season. A striker as a player, he’s probably best known for scoring the goal that, legend has it, kept Sir Alex Ferguson in the job at Old Trafford.
Dominic Jerams – the brains behind the go-to Sideways Sammy blog – share his thoughts as Cov look to make the big step up.
You were promoted as champions last season, returning to the second tier after eight years away. Did the title come as a surprise given pre-season hopes and expectations? Was there a point during the season – pre-COVID – when you thought, ‘This is going to happen’? With the situation of having to play in Birmingham and having lost a few key players from the year before, I thought mid-table would have been about par for last season.
Despite a pretty good start, it took until that win at Adams Park just after Christmas to foster the belief that we were genuinely in the promotion conversation. It wasn’t just that it was our first away win of the season at that point, but the style and swagger with which we played engendered that feeling that we deserved to be among the best teams in the division.
The moment that I thought we could genuinely attain promotion was when Matt Godden scored a late winner against a bang in-form Portsmouth side. All of a sudden, we became this winning machine, sweeping teams aside with the minimum of fuss. By the time the season stopped, it was getting harder and harder to see what could stop us.
Some might say we’ll never know who were the best side in League One last season because of the way things panned out, but I think it’s fair to say you were a cut above – even if it didn’t show in the standings until the New Year. It’s still a huge leap to the Championship, but how well equipped do you think you are? That lack of a crowning moment will always mean there will be a modicum of doubt as to whether we truly were the best team in the division. Regardless, the track record of recent promoted sides into the Championship demonstrates how hard it is for even the better teams from this level to make that step up.
This Coventry City side is one primarily founded on a stern defensive record, which was aided and abetted by an ability to keep the ball. At a higher level, the quality of our defence to dig in and resist pressure is going to be tested in a way that it wasn’t last year. However, the bigger concern is at the other end of the pitch, where there’s a lot of pressure on Godden – who blows hot and cold – to consistently get goals for us and relieve some of the pressure on the defence.
Talk us through your transfer business so far. It’s been a fairly busy window and you broke the £1 million barrier to bring in Gustavo Hamer from Eredivisie outfit PEC Zwolle – not the kind of fee we’d be able to pay! What do you still need to add? The club have continued to recruit young and improving players from both this country and overseas, with the focus thus far being on replacing loan players who’ve left.
Hamer and Callum O’Hare are the most notable pieces of business – with Hamer the replacement for last year’s star player, Liam Walsh, as the creative deep-lying midfielder and O’Hare signing permanently after a decent loan spell [from Aston Villa]. Elsewhere, [Wolves loanee] Ryan Giles is effectively the replacement for Sam McCallum at left wing-back, while Marcel Hilssner takes the spot of Zain Westbrooke, who was sold to Bristol Rovers.
The missing piece of the jigsaw is finding that extra cutting edge in the final third to help lessen the burden on Godden.
It’s sad that we’re still having to talk about it, but for the second season running, you’ll be playing outside Coventry and ground-sharing at Birmingham (although you could argue there will be less impact this time given how limited crowds will be). The dispute over the Ricoh rumbles on, but with plans afoot for a new ground at the University of Warwick, is there finally light at the end of the tunnel? Does it feel like the club lacks a bit of its identity in the meantime? Due to the success of last season, it feels as if the club has yet to really feel what ill effects could be caused by this latest spell in exile. While the recent news of the new stadium offers not just a prospect of a return but of a future where the club owns its home, the concern is in what shape we might be in by the time we get to play there.
With little prospect of an interim return to Coventry, five years is a long time to sustain some semblance of success in order to maintain interest in the club. At the very least, the club is going to have to demonstrate tangible progress towards building this new stadium or it will become increasingly hard to convince fans to travel to a different city every other week to watch their team.
Last of all, what will constitute a successful 2020/21 for Coventry. Will fans expect more than ‘just’ staying up? While I have seen a few within our fanbase talk about the prospect of finishing around mid-table or higher, the fact that it’s couched within the prospect of being a ‘surprise package’ demonstrates that the majority opinion is that anything above 21st will be deemed a successful season.
When we last met
Yeeeaaah… Let’s not.
Did you know…?
It’s an alien concept to those under a certain age, but Wycombe have actually beaten Coventry. Unfortunately for us, it happened in a two-legged League Cup tie which we lost 5-4 on aggregate to the then-Premier League Sky Blues. Keiths Ryan and Scott, Terry Evans and Jason Cousins were the Wanderers scorers that night in 1993.