Now that survival has been assured for next season, I think it’s time now to start to look back on the season that was for Coventry City. To start with I begin with the first in a series of four articles on which member of the squad should be named player of the year. To begin that I start with the club’s top scorer who was recently named in the PFA League One team of the season, Callum Wilson.
Go back 18 months and Wilson was a nobody at Coventry City, having made only two brief appearances in his previous three seasons since signing as a professional from the academy. Names such as Billy Daniels, Shaun Jeffers and Jonson Clarke-Harris were all considered to be better youth prospects at the club and had each been given a greater chance to impress than Wilson. A brief appearance against Carlisle at the beginning of 2013 started what has since been a rapid rise for Wilson from reserve player to the first name on the starting XI.
After scoring his first goal for the club against Colchester in Steven Pressley’s first home game in charge, he had cemented his place in our manager’s plans for a scaled-down first-team squad for 2013/14. However after failing to score in 10 subsequent first-team appearances until the end of campaign and beginning pre-season in poor form there was a sense that the hopes that many had for Wilson were not well-placed.
Callum managed to force his way back into the reckoning for the start of the the 2013/14 league season, impressing as the club returned to England for their final pre-season fixtures. His impact was so great that he forced Steven Pressley into altering his preferred tactic from 4-4-1-1 to a 4-4-2 and pairing Wilson with Leon Clarke in attack. From the first game of the season it was apparent that the duo were made to play with each other in attack. Clarke provided physicality, aerial presence and the ability to play with his back to goal, Wilson had the pace to exploit the spaces left by defenders concerned with Clarke.
However it became clear in the opening weeks of the season that Wilson was not just a one-dimensional pace merchant. His finishes against Colchester, Crawley and Bristol City were bursting with composure. Wilson isn’t the type of striker who aims his shots simply towards goal, he places his finishes, something which is easier said than done when burly League One defenders are closing in on you.
After resisting the temptation to join Sheffield United on August transfer deadline day, Wilson went on to prove that his early season form was not a freak occurrence. For the opening few months of the season Coventry fans could enjoy the fact that for every goal Leon Clarke scored, Wilson matched him and vice versa. This wasn’t down to rivalry between the two but simply that they both complemented each other’s games so perfectly. Teams may have been able to limit Clarke’s impact on a game but that left space for Wilson, when teams tried to target Wilson, they had to deal with Clarke.
This partnership was ultimately torn apart by interest in Clarke from Wolves in the January transfer window. For the team, the loss of Clarke couldn’t have come at a worse time with Wilson on the sidelines thank to some rough treatment at Rotherham. Wilson’s absence from the team gave time for many to question his impact on the team and how much he relied upon Clarke’s presence in the team to get his goals.
Wilson’s return to a now out-of-form Coventry side though proved that all those doubts were misplaced. From the very start on his return against Shrewsbury, where he won possession from Shrewsbury’s kick-off, Wilson showed yet another side to his game. His performances in the month of March possessed every attribute that Steven Pressley demands from his players. His self-sacrifice for the greater good of the team was the very attribute that almost every striker signed since Leon Clarke’s departure lacked. Not only that but he proved that he had the talent to merit Pressley building his tactical plans around him, wins against Stevenage and Crewe were ensured thanks to Wilson’s selfless running in attack, as well his goals.
Callum Wilson should be named player of the year not just because of his zero-to-hero story but because he has proven himself to be genuinely one of the best players at the club. He has shown the ability to win games of football on his own but more importantly he plays for the greater good of the team. Whilst the League One golden boot may have eluded him, I’m not entirely sure that individual awards are what he would regard as his main achievements this season. Coventry fans may worry about the club’s chances of retaining him for next season but if he only leaves this season for us fans to remember him then he’ll still go down as a cult hero.