So the season that was 2012/13 is over, we’ve now got a long summer ahead of us but before we look forward I think it’s only fair that we should look back. This 4 part review is an attempt to look back at the highs and the lows to try and piece things together and figure what went right as much as what went wrong. The review will include looks back at the moments both on and off the pitch that made this season what it was.
Andy Thorn’s Coventry City were looking to bounce back at the first attempt. Out were Clive Platt, James McPake, Sammy Clingan (sob, sob), Martin Cranie, Freddy Eastwood, Gael Bigirimana and Richard Keogh. In were the new signings of Stephen Elliott, Kevin Kilbane, Kevin Malaga, William Edjenguele, Callum Ball, Reece Brown and the great white hope that was John Fleck. Out of the players from last season I think many fans were looking forward to Cody McDonald filling his boots at a lower level, Richard Wood was looking like our captain in waiting and players like McSheffrey, Conor Thomas and Chris Hussey seemed like players who had the opportunity to impress.
We began August though on the back of that embarrassing defeat at Wrexham which had been preceded by an equally poor defeat at Nuneaton in pre-season friendlies. For many the hope that Thorn would be able to bring back the football of his caretaker spell was looking thin. This is where the pressure started to mount on Thorn, the thought that he would be unable to instil a winning mentality required for promotion. However the Sky Blues went on to win the next 3 friendlies at Accrington, Port Vale and Bristol Rovers to install some optimism before that League Cup match at Dagenham.
Before the cup match away to Dagenham, Adam Barton was signed from Preston and Gary Deegan had been sold to Hibs. The match itself was a turgid affair and settled a late Kevin Kilbane penalty to prevent an unwanted extra-time just before the opening league game of the season. The less said about that game the better.
The match away to Yeovil was the real starter for the season, a large travelling contingent against what looked like inferior opposition. There was genuine hope that Coventry might just win more than one away game unlike last season. The week building up also saw Steve Jennings finally sign permanently after a protracted trial spell. New captain Kilbane led out a side containing co-debutants Reece Brown, John Fleck, Adam Barton, Callum Ball and youth-team striker Billy Daniels playing in midfield. Coventry took the lead through Cody McDonald but 11 minutes later we conceded from a poorly defended corner. The match finished 1-1 with Yeovil dominating play, yet Coventry were unlucky not to have a penalty in the second half to steal an undeserved win.
After a lucky draw away to Yeovil the sentiment was that the team had to raise their performance levels if they wanted to win promotion, the responsibility for that lay with Andy Thorn. The following Tuesday saw the first home game of the season against title favourites Sheffield United. A 1-1 draw was again the result but this time we were feeling unlucky ourselves not to take all three points after Kevin Malaga had an effort that arguably crossed the line.
The Bury home game felt incredibly important in defining our season under Thorn. Win and belief would grow that we were one of the better teams in this league. Fail to win and its starting to look like the typical flatter to deceive cycle of last season under Thorn. A wonderful first half performance saw the side play some of they had played at the Ricoh. A two goal lead hardly flattered Coventry with Barton and Baker both scoring good goals. The second half though was almost the polar opposite, we simply stopped attacking, once Bury pulled one back through a David Healy’s penalty there was no doubt that Bury were getting a second. Just over 10 minutes later that happened and Coventry were lucky in the end to not lose a match they had controlled in the first-half. The feeling was one of anger for most Coventry fans, it was just like last season, incapable of holding on to leads and a simple lack of fight once things turned against us.
It was with great relief then when Thorn was sacked, he tried his hardest but he wasn’t up to the job. The problem though was that the club had no time to bring in a new manager before the closing of the transfer window, it seemed strange in a way that the board had decided to get rid of Thorn after giving him the summer to build his own team.
Never mind, Richard Shaw was given the caretaker role so that Waggott and Fisher could interview applicants. He had a league cup match to prepare for now and it was the small matter of a local derby against Birmingham City. And what a performance that was from Coventry, but in particular Carl Baker who was simply brilliant, driving the team on with both skill and willpower and scoring the winner in extra time. Wonderful, one of the highlights of the season.
One more signing was made in the transfer window, the Forest flop David McGoldrick.
September began with the first defeat of the season, away to Crewe (we’ll hear more about them later) after the high of the Birmingham game this was an awfully flat performance. The frustration was summed up when Kevin Kilbane was involved with an ‘altercation’ with a Coventry fan.
Three days later we had our first Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match, at home to Burton. Another dreadful performance against lower league opposition, this time it went to extra-time and then penalties. Enter Joe Murphy who much to his own embarrassment had to step up for the 11th penalty and put Coventry through to the next round of this irrelevant cup competition.
Back in the league it was another defeat, at home to Stevenage despite McGoldrick’s first goal for the club. This was followed up by yet another defeat to Tranmere and the pressure was mounting for the first win of the season. More importantly though there was pressure for the club to finally make an appointment, even such footballing luminaries as Kevin Blackwell, Paul Ince and Phil Brown were looming around, we just wanted something sorted.
Without a manager though the team was limping around from one game to the next, I doubt the players even felt they could win, the confidence had clearly gone. So next up was an away trip to Shrewsbury, surely we could beat Shrewsbury this had to be it. But no it wasn’t, was it? It was the poorest performance of the season, no desire, no skill, no quality absolutely nothing was on display there from Coventry. Getting 1 in a 4-1 defeat felt like it flattered the team quite frankly. However hope was abound that we were finally to get our new manager, the first ‘proper’ one of the season.
And then he came, Mr Mark Robins, we furiously researched his history, achievements, win ratio. It seemed okay, slightly underwhelming but he said the right things and more importantly he wasn’t Phil Brown or any of the other losers who’d filled the manager’s seat this season.
Also were 3 new signings, the 2 loanees of Conor Henderson and Jamie Reckord and the permanent signing of Franck Moussa. Excitement was there for Robins’s first game in charge and it was at home to Carlisle. And the we lost it, the season was getting away from us, it was no longer a bad start but it was turning into a bad season entirely. After being relegated we were looking forward to winning some matches but that was clearly not happening yet.
Worse was that our next match was in the League Cup away to Arsenal. At least we could console ourselves another loan player, James Bailey from Derby. Nonetheless we weren’t ready for this game and it showed in a 6-1 defeat despite only being 1 down by half-time. If we needed a reminder of how far we’d sunk this was it. We had more important matters to tend to though, it was September’s final match and we were still looking for our first league win.
So we travelled to Oldham hoping that the worm would finally turn, Robins had his feet under the table, had got a few players in and now he had to deliver or we would be in serious trouble.
And we got that win. In what was one of the worst goals I have ever witnessed, somehow claimed by Cody McDonald, we had found our first 3-point haul. To put that in further perspective it was our first win in the league since Hull away in March that year. However that win only moved us into 22nd, the real work would be to get us out of this mess entirely.
On that note then is where we leave part one, to be picked up in part two where Robins begins to really turn things round.