Having beaten Walsall at Sixfields, Coventry City were edging their way towards survival in the league after a poor run in February had cast that assumption into doubt. A comfortable run of fixtures awaited the Sky Blues as they looked to gain the 3 or so wins needed to secure survival in what had been a turbulent season at the club.
First up was a trip to lowly Colchester United, a side Coventry had comfortable beaten back in September, and one that was struggling for form and confidence themselves. However a poor first 30 minutes from the team undermined what was a strong performance for the final 60 minutes with Colchester running out 2-1 victors. Never mind, the following Tuesday saw the team travel to Gillingham who were safely ensconced in mid-table and had little to play for. A tempestuous fixture ensued which featured four penalties, a sending off and a late Gillingham goal from the half-way line to send the Sky Blues away from Kent with a 4-2 defeat.
The ground that had been made up after the Shrewsbury and Walsall games was undermined by two defeats characterised by a lack of concentration and some high profile defensive errors, in particular from January signing Danny Seaborne. Whilst Callum Wilson has scored 3 in his last 3 games, his efforts were undermined by a lack of contribution from Arsenal loan signing Chuba Akpom who struggled to link up with his team-mates. Wilson aside, it seemed that were few in the squad who were stepping up to replace the void left by Leon Clarke. Additionally Steven Pressley had largely left the team shape unaltered from the early weeks of the season which meant that the defence had little protection from midfield where John Fleck and Conor Thomas were suffering an alarming dip in form.
The game against Port Vale at Sixfields though was still an opportunity to pull clear from any relegation fears. The Sky Blues were up against a side who had little to play for and had struggled to put together any kind of form over the past few months. Micky Adams’s side opened the game with a sucker punch in the opening minute of the game as the defence failed to deal with a long ball which Doug Loft eventually latched on to giving Port Vale the lead. Coventry spent the rest of the half dominating the play but failed to equalise despite numerous brilliant opportunities. When Ben Williamson doubled Port Vale’s lead in the second half it seemed like Coventry City were heading to another frustrating defeat. However goals from Jordan Clarke and a sensational late Callum Wilson goal gave Coventry a well-deserved point and had seemed to restore the early season confidence of scoring late goals.
If Steven Pressley could have chosen his next opponents though, you doubt it would have been Brentford, a side cruising towards automatic promotion. Despite taking the lead early on through Callum Wilson, another set of defensive calamities saw the Bees run out comfortable 3-1 winners. Whilst defeat could have been anticipated against such strong opponents, the manner of it and the performances of individual players like Carl Baker, Franck Moussa and Chuba Akpom lacked in conviction and self-belief. Pressley, in his post-match interview, confirmed that he was frustrated with a lack of commitment in the performances of several of the loan players and ones whose contracts were expiring. With the crunch time of the season approaching it felt as if there were a number of players in the squad who didn’t care about the outcome of the club’s fight against relegation.
Luckily the loan window was still open and so Steven Pressley was able to reshuffle his squad to secure the final few points required to keep the club in the division. Out went Chuba Akpom, Billy Daniels and Adam Barton, in came experienced midfielder David Prutton, box-to-box player Anton Robinson and the pacey Nathan Eccleston. The new set of loanees made an immediate impact, Robinson and Eccleston both played vital roles in the win at Sixfields over Stevenage where Robinson added drive to the midfield and Eccleston won a penalty which was missed by Callum Wilson. Prutton started the following game at Crewe where two goals from Callum Wilson secured back-to-back league wins for the first-time since the draw against Bradford.
With Bradford our next opponents it seemed like a great opportunity to exorcise some demons and effectively secure safety in the league with a third win in a row. The game itself was a non-event with neither side too bothered with winning the game. Bradford created the best opportunities but the Sky Blues held out for a valuable point. The next three games were much more difficult with Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Swindon all still chasing the play-offs. Despite some positive performances from the side who were perhaps unlucky in all three games not to take a point, a lack of concentration cost the team dear in three back-to-back defeats which meant the team were only 5 points clear of the bottom 4 going into the final three games of the season.
A trip to Boundary Park would either seal survival or send Coventry into the group of teams scrapping in the final two games of the season. The sense of nervousness from the fans was made all the greater by the fact that those final two games were up against league winners Wolves and FA Cup semi-finalists Sheffield United. The game against Oldham was made all the more difficult by a perplexing tactical decision by Steven Pressley to play a diamond formation which none of the team appeared comfortable playing in. Somewhat fortuitously the team managed a 0-0 draw, which after taking into account the other results made relegation incredibly unlikely.
The final ‘home’ game saw Wolves bring a strong travelling contingent to Sixfields to watch the newly crowned league champions. However the game itself was a rather low-key affair with the Sky Blues managing to match their opposition by a combination of some raised performance levels and a lack of intensity from Wolves. Despite Wolves taking the lead in the final 10 minutes, an own-goal almost immediately after secured the point which meant that Coventry City were mathematically safe. The final game of the season saw Coventry surrender an early lead at Bramall Lane to see the season off with a defeat.
The largest factor in Coventry’s poor end of season form was clearly the loss of Leon Clarke and the lack of commitment and desire from his poorly scouted replacements. Had the season began on the 1st of January, Coventry would have finished in the bottom 4 having taken less than a point per game from the final 23 league fixtures. What’s worrying for Coventry fans is that the summer seems more likely to see the club bring in players of the calibre of Nathan Eccleston or Delfouneso rather than finally identify a like-for-like Leon Clarke replacement. What you would hope is that once the new season begins, the team will play with an intensity that was often lacking in the second half of the season. The back-to-back victories over Stevenage and Crewe I think showed that Pressley will be able to coax results out of the team when it matters, the problem in the final months of last season was that there was little to play for and many in the team were happy to let games pass them by.
Overall I think it’s fair to say that survival was the target this season, this was eventually achieved after a difficult end to a season which at one point promised to be incredibly exciting. On the plus side you can say that Coventry would have finished 9th without the points deduction which is a remarkable achievement given that Pressley was working under a transfer embargo for much of the campaign. On the down side you can say that we came dangerously close to relegation when really we shouldn’t have. Going into next season it seems like the Judicial Review will determine how much we as Coventry fans can look forward to another season of League One football.