Where We Were
We began October 22nd in the league just after Mark Robins had guided the club to it’s first league win of the season. Robins had also made 4 new signings since arrival with the merry-go-round in the left-back position in full swing. In the cups we had just been eliminated by Arsenal in the League Cup, had beaten Burton to advance to the next round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and were yet to be entered into the FA Cup.
A Tuesday night home game was the first match of the month, this was against one of the promotion favourites in MK Dons who were looking to cement their play-off position and push towards the automatic spots. They were also one of the best away teams to play at the Ricoh all season and Coventry were lucky to escape with a point despite taking the lead through Richard Wood.
Next up was another home match, this time it was against a relegation threatened Bournemouth team who had just sacked their manager. Coventry duly beat the Cherries to move out of the relegation zone for the first time since losing to Stevenage under Shaw. McGoldrick got the goal and seemed to be developing a good partnership with a fellow loanee from the East Midlands in Callum Ball. Coventry were slowly striding into a good run of form and had a JPT match away to York to look forward to now. This was won 4-0, McGoldrick with a brace, Callum Ball (who only scored in cup competitions this season) and Chris Hussey doing his best Gareth Bale impression on the left wing.
Finally it looked like we were heading away from a relegation battle and maybe there was something to play for this season after all. Up next though was a tough away match to Paolo di Canio’s Swindon team who were looking like promotion contenders. Another brilliant first-half performance with 2 goals scored, both McGoldrick, and those dark days after the Shrewsbury defeat looked distant. However the circumstances of the Bury game meant that most fans were uncomfortable with just a 2 goal lead so early in a match. The second-half was reminiscent of so many Coventry performances in the past after taking the lead. As soon as Swindon pulled one back there was no doubting that a second was moments away. In the end it was probably fair to remark that Swindon were unlucky to win.
Never mind though as we had taken a point against one of the best in the league whilst our form and confidence was still recovering. Notts County were next up and it was a certain Lee Hughes’s first return to the club since leaving and his spell at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Although Notts County were also a promotion contender, Robins had only been beaten once at home, which was his first game with a side without any confidence. However Coventry were unable to assert themselves and Notts County took a two goal lead, both with side-footed efforts from the edge of the area. Wood’s goal, headed in from a corner, with 3 minutes plus injury time left never resulted in a constant spell of pressure. This result was followed up by another defeat, this time after taking the lead, against Brentford.
We had played 5 games against sides who ended in the top half in a row and picked up only 4 points. All of the talk right now has been on how the points deduction/Robins’s departure robbed us of a season but these results, under Robins, are 11 points gone. I’m not saying that he should have won every game but you’ve got to take into account that we lost the season as much on the field as we did off it. Points deduction aside the performances in the games that really mattered were quite often sub-standard and showed us the difference between City and the very top of the league.
The final game in October became important in salvaging the season. We had slipped back into the relegation zone and were up against another relegation battler in Leyton Orient. In a game low on quality we took the lead in the seventh minute through McGoldrick and held on for the rest of the match. McGoldrick was by this point the main man and was often the difference between us and many other teams in this league. Whether we could have improved to the same extent without him is debatable but I feel that his goals and performances were vital in lifting the confidence, even though there was some talent elsewhere in the team.
The first game of November was a break from the frustrating league campaign and another step into unfamiliar cup territory with the first round of the FA Cup. The draw was at home to Arlesey who played 4 division below Coventry. Despite the potential for banana skin which wouldn’t be out of character for City, the result was an underwhelming 3-0 victory with Callum Ball keeping up his record of scoring in every cup competition. Back to the league.
After the mixed set of results in October I don’t think many were expecting too much when a decent looking Crawley side visited the Ricoh. Coventry shook off both the demon of under-performing against the better teams and of the 2 goal half-time lead. Also this game featured one of a bit of a spat between Robins and the Crawley manager Richie Barker, who were at Rotherham together, through the post-match interviews. This was the one of the many managerial histrionics that seemed to feature heavily in this league and in the season, we’ll get to the others in due course.
Suddenly Coventry were right back in form though, we were out of the relegation zone after the Crawley victory and some fans were starting to believe that the season overall wouldn’t develop into a relegation scrap. Scunthorpe were the next visitors, they had just re-appointed Brian Laws and picked up a win, but their league position suggested they might be ideal opposition in helping to re-establish confidence. However big Leon Clarke came along and put paid to that sort of over-confidence that Coventry fans can be wary of. Once again it was also a case of losing points from a winning position, Carl Baker gave us the lead but the battering ram which was Leon Clarke first levelled and then gave Scunny the lead. We were also back to a position where we were right in the relegation battle, thanks Scunthorpe.
It was starting to feel like this season could turn into a nasty relegation battle. It was time for a change, and that change was yet another left-back. Blair Adams arrived on loan from Sunderland, handy for the upcoming Hartlepool fixture, and was set to become the fourth different player to have taken up the fateful left-back post. In that Hartlepool game, an indifferent first-half performance led to some thinking that we were just about in the relegation mix, and probably deserved to be. Robins’s team-talk though must have have been effective as we arrived for the second half with some desire and forward drive. Coventry scored 5 goals in that second half, which was one of the more vital performances in turning the season around. Baker grabbed two, McGoldrick grabbed one, Barton scored his regulation goal in a high-scoring win and Moussa scored his first since signing for the club. Things were just about clicking into place and that Scunthorpe loss looked more like a blip than an omen.
The next game against Colchester though looked tough, they weren’t in great form but appeared to be one of the better teams in the league and were just coming down from a honeymoon period after appointing a new manager. Coventry took another two goal half-time lead and this time were able to ride out the pressure that Colchester put on our goal. The win took us to 15th, our highest league position since the draw to Bury which saw Thorn sacked.
With two wins on the bounce in the league for the second time in four weeks the confidence was well and truly there. A home game against a Portsmouth side who were both out-of-form and without a manager looked straightforward, especially as we knew exactly what out-of-form and manager-less teams look like. McSheffrey’s only league goal of the season looked like it was enough but then a late, late Izale McLeod goal grabbed Portsmouth a point. Yet again it was points dropped from a winning position and yet again we’d lost the opportunity to win 3 games in a row after a home game. Perhaps a pattern was emerging?
On that note we ended November and this is where I end part 2. Things at this stage were looking tentatively upward but it felt like were two steps forward one step back rather than leading a dramatic charge back up the league. A lot of people right now look back on Robins’s spell as if he immediately lead the club into a play-off push. Looking back on it this wasn’t entirely the case, the side was shot of confidence and even when it started to come back they weren’t able to put together a concerted winning streak. For everything good that Robins did it still felt that were we lacking the competitive edge to push ourselves into promotion contention despite vast improvements in performance and commitment.
Good news though, the next part takes in the best part of the season. Look forward to that in the next few days.