Now that the season is over I take the time to look over Coventry City’s 2013/14, a season of joy and frustration as the club attempted to overcome various off-the-field worries and compete in League One. This review is an attempt to chart the campaign for Coventry City and pinpoint what went right and wrong over the course of the season.
Coventry City’s season began with the news that the club had been docked 10 points after a part of the club’s seemingly complex company structure was liquidated following a bitter rent dispute with the city council. The fiasco surrounding the club’s row over a rental agreement at the Ricoh Arena also meant that the team would be playing over 30 miles outside of the city at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium and was operating under a transfer embargo enforced by the Football League. Furthermore there were question marks over manager Steven Pressley’s managerial ability with the Scot having won 3 out of his 10 league games in charge and experimenting with various starting line-ups and a passing style of football.
Pressley had spent the summer trying to ignore the off-field troubles that the club had endured, attempting to build a younger, more dynamic first-team to match his footballing philosophy. The main departures over the summer were Gary McSheffrey after an underwhelming second spell at the club, Richard Wood, a sometimes commanding centre-back and Steven Jennings, a ball-winning midfielder who had endured a mixed season at the club. With no signings brought in for the opening fixture of the season with Crawley, senior players like Carl Baker, Joe Murphy and Leon Clarke were set to play a key role in leading the club through what looked set to be a difficult season.
After falling behind to two goals in the opening 20 minutes, Coventry City fans could be forgiven for having that sinking feeling that comes when you feel your team is doomed. However a second-half fight-back with goals from promising striker Callum Wilson and the inconsistent Franck Moussa levelled the game with 10 minutes to go. Yet inexperience at the back with youth-teamer Jordan Willis partnering the right-back Jordan Clarke in the centre of defence cost the Sky Blues a point with Crawley eventually finding a winner through Mike Jones.
A League Cup tie in mid-week against Leyton Orient followed a similar pattern with the Sky Blues losing 3-2 once again with the game turning around a Leon Clarke missed penalty and a reckless Carl Baker red card. Going into the dreaded occasion of the club’s first ‘home’ game outside of the city against recently relegated Bristol City, it seemed like the team were once again set to play the role of unlucky losers in a similar fashion to Andy Thorn’s side who were relegated from the Championship two seasons before. Yet something miraculous seemed to happen to counter the misery and sense of doom above many Coventry City fan’s heads. The team raced into a 3 goal lead against the Robins with Leon Clarke and then Callum Wilson and Billy Daniels scoring in what was a display of furious pressing from a young Coventry side. Bristol City managed to wipe out Coventry’s advantage with 3 goals of their own resulting from unlucky deflections and poor defending from the Sky Blues. However the team didn’t let their heads drop with Wilson scoring almost straight from the kick-off and Billy Daniels heading in the eventually winner in stoppage time to seal the team’s first win of the season.
Pressley had seemed to have delivered on his promise over the first 6 months of his reign when he talked of building a small squad that will play a hard-pressing and passing style of football. None of the players released over the summer seemed necessary in the tight unit that he had forged. His two eventual signings over the summer complemented the team and improved it, Andy Webster added experience and an aerial presence to the backline and Mathieu Manset was the perfect impact sub with his height and strength. Coventry followed up their impressive win over Bristol City with a comfortable thrashing of Carlisle at Brunton Park, the team seemed set to wipe out their points deduction in record time.
Preston were next up for the Sky Blues in the second game at Sixfields. Simon Grayson’s robust and competitive side appeared to be Coventry’s toughest opponents of the campaign thus far and took the lead in the 10th minute. Leon Clarke’s equaliser 15 minutes later saw Coventry somewhat fortunately make it to the break level. Preston regained the lead from a set-piece but Wilson levelled 6 minutes later. Wilson improved his early season goal-scoring record by giving the side a lead with 7 minutes left on the clock. However the team seemed to get a bit cocky with one too many passes as the crowd ‘oled’ at their football, Preston struck a hammer blow against the Sky Blues with 2 goals with time running out. Somehow Steven Pressley’s team found a way to snatch another late goal through Mathieu Manset to take a point in another heart-stopping game of football at Sixfields.
A trip to Shrewsbury seemed like the perfect chance for Coventry to move into positive points. However a low-key display where the team struggled to build on an early Callum Wilson goal saw the Sky Blues remain on negative points after conceding early in the second-half. Two ‘home’ games in a row against Colchester and then Gillingham saw Coventry move into positive points and then out of the bottom 4. Against a makeshift Colchester side, Coventry demonstrated poise and control to comfortably win 2-0 with Wilson scoring each of the goals. Against more dogged opposition in Gillingham the Sky Blues eventually scored a late winner after ex-striker Cody McDonald had cancelled out Leon Clarke’s early goal.
Going into a trip to Vale Park the team were brimming full of confidence and looking to surge up the table and make it a memorable season. Callum Wilson was yet again on the scoresheet as the Sky Blues were looking to give a sizeable travelling contingent something to cheer about. Port Vale, managed by former manager Micky Adams, snatched an equaliser via a hopeful punt seized upon by Tom Pope. Franck Moussa scored a sensational goal form long-range to restore Coventry’s advantage going into the break. A tactical change from the Valiants caught Coventry City cold in the second-half as Doug Loft and another former Sky Blue in Chris Birchall gave Port Vale what turned out to be a fully deserved 3 points.
Brentford were Coventry’s next opponents at Sixfields, a venue where the team were unbeaten thus far in the season. However another naive display from Coventry saw Brentford win out easily by 2 goals. Coventry City’s defensive frailties were clear to see in the early weeks of the season, the team struggled to cope with physical opposition and were regularly undone by either set-pieces or long-balls. Another cup tie against Leyton Orient saw Coventry City lose on penalties to exit the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in the first round. After 9 league games, Coventry were in the bottom 4 and had now failed to win in their past 3 games. Steven Pressley’s side needed wins to restore confidence and momentum ahead of a tough looking month of October.
City travelled to Stevenage in their following league fixture, one which was won after Leon Clarke seized on a poor back-pass to give the team all three points. The game was marred by an injury inflicted to Cyrus Christie which would rule him out of action for a month. Aside from Coventry’s front two, Christie had been one of the team’s key players, providing forward thrust with his entertaining runs from the right-back position. His two replacements were the inexperienced Jordan Willis and Aaron Phillips who had barely 10 league appearances between the two of them.
With the Sky cameras on them at Sixfields, Coventry built on their solid win over Stevenage with an enterprising performance against a managerless Sheffield United. It was an entertaining first 60 minutes for Coventry fans as Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson dovetailed brilliantly against a cumbersome Blades team featuring former striker Marlon King who put in a poor display. However the win was made more uncomfortable thanks to two goals from Lyle Taylor, a former Pressley player at Falkirk, which saw the Sky Blues nervously hold on to a 3-2 victory which should have been much more emphatic.