Final whistle on Sunday marked another milestone passed by this Coventry side. It’s official that despite starting on -10 points we have started better than we did last season. To put it in even sharper contrast, at game 7 last season Coventry were thrashed by Shrewsbury Town 4-1 in what became the final game of Richard Shaw’s caretaker reign at the club.
Of the XI who started against Shrewsbury, 3 (Joe Murphy, Jordan Clarke and Carl Baker) started in the win over Gillingham Sunday. A further 3 (Barton, Fleck and Daniels) were included in the match squad in the Shrewsbury match and who remain at the club. So despite playing in the same kit and for the same club, this is now a very different Coventry side, also being managed by a different manager.
The transformation on the pitch though is put into perspective by the off-field transformation at the club. We went from a position of potentially owning 50% of own 30,000 seater stadium to now renting an 8,000 seater stadium some 30 miles away from our home city. Yet for all the turmoil at the club, the team have responded in an unexpected and emphatic manner. It has even lead to many Coventry fans wondering whether the move to Sixfields has had a direct impact on improving the team.
The argument is that the soul-less atmosphere at the Ricoh Arena coupled with a largely negative attitude many regulars had resulted in poor performances lacking character and purpose. At Sixfields, the argument is, the players and fans are better connected and those fans who do turn up are there to encourage rather than criticise their team. Perhaps this is evident in the number of fans who have stayed away from Sixfields and gloat at how low the attendance figures, people who prefer to be right rather than having a successful team. Additionally the early calls for Steven Pressley’s dismissal from a vocal minority of fans last season further highlighted the lack of patience and positivity that Coventry are capable of possessing.
Yet I cannot buy into the thinking that this whole kerfuffle which has resulted in the move to Northampton has been the direct cause of our strong start to the season. A man looks at a tree, it falls over, yes the two events happened in the same vicinity of each other but the man hasn’t caused the tree to fall over. This is how I feel about the team’s performances this season. To me the cause has been Pressley’s management, from placing faith in young players, getting rid of who he didn’t want and implementing a positive style of football.
Although the example of the Shrewsbury match was made to highlight the transformation of the team over a 12 month period, look more carefully at the team who played against Gillingham on Sunday. Only 1 player in the starting line-up, Andy Webster, wasn’t part of the squad last season. The rest of that team all played at the Ricoh Arena, they’ve almost all had great performances at the Ricoh Arena. If you take away the 10 point deduction from last season, as well as factor in the way the team played after losing the 10 points, that side wouldn’t have been far off the play-offs anyway.
What Steven Pressley has done is taken the best players from last season, distilled them by getting rid of those who under-performed and built his team around that success. That they’re playing at Sixfields is irrelevant to me. This team has improved and learned some lessons from last season and we’re now reaping the rewards, despite the setback of the points deduction.
Additionally I would be disappointed if it did turn out that this team has only improved by playing in front of a smaller, but more positive crowd. Being a professional footballer is all about trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport. If you’re not trying to improve and reach the top then you shouldn’t deserve to be paid to play the game. One of the impacts of playing football professionally and attempting to reach the top is playing in front of bigger crowds and under greater scrutiny. Whose not to say that this team would have played even better with a more visible and audible backing from fans flocking to see a successful side.
As someone who has attended games at Sixfields so far, I take no joy from watching my team play in front of crowds regularly under 2,000. I take no joy from being able to hear what the manager is saying to the players for the entire match. It’s embarassing. I go to Northampton only to watch the team I’ve been supporting for most of my life.
I wonder all the time how long this club can survive in the situation it’s currently in. Being successful in Northampton exposes the club to covetous eyes from other clubs. If any player is sold, perhaps we could replace them and still be able to continue our momentum. What happens though when someone spots the real reason behind our success this season, Steven Pressley. If he goes then I really worry, because he has every reason to leave, you can’t build success with this club right now as it feels at anytime the rug will be pulled from under your feet.
Right now its vital that anyone connected with ACL and SISU gets over their own egos and finally makes a deal for the club to return. Whether that be a new rental or selling a stake to the club, I don’t care. I don’t care who wins the PR war, I don’t care who (aside from the club) gets the best deal, I don’t care who the ‘real fans’ are. What all of us as Coventry City fans should want is for the club to return to its home right now.
So in answer to the question posed in this piece ‘Has Sixfields Improved This Coventry Team?’ the answer, in my opinion, is no. Even if it has it isn’t the preferable state of affairs. For as good as we can be for a season or two at Sixfields, how many more in the future, if any, can it sustain? For Coventry Ciy football club to be playing at Sixfields is the pathway for the death of the football club and that cannot be what any fan wants for their football team.