After failing to hold onto a half-time lead at Bramall Lane to secure the club’s lowest league finish since Billy Frith’s side secured promotion from Division 4 in the club’s only season in the fourth tier of English Football in 1959. For a season that had at times promised to break the club’s almost uninterrupted record of decline and underachievement since winning the FA Cup in 1987, it was yet another low-key end to the campaign. The failure for the team to capitalise on a promising first half of the season was largely down to the departure of Leon Clarke and the inadequacy of his replacements, Coventry took less than a point per game in the final 23 league fixtures.
Yet any hopes that Steven Pressley will have a summer to focus on rebuilding a side set to lose at least another two key players in Franck Moussa and Cyrus Christie with Joe Murphy and Callum Wilson likely to follow, have been undermined by the upcoming judicial review into a council loan to ACL. It would seem ridiculous of the club to plot for the forthcoming league season with so much to gain or lose at the impending court hearing. Optimistically the ruling could find in favour of SISU and precipitate a return to the Ricoh Arena with the council’s tails firmly between their legs. Pessimistically the failure for SISU to have the court find in their favour could result in the winding up of Coventry City Football Club due to the sheer amount of money the hedge fund has lost in this financial black hole of a football club.
Realistically either scenario seems ludicrously drastic with the appeals process allowing the saga to drag on until either sides finally tires of the war of attrition. So this raises the prospect that Coventry will continue to play next season at Sixfields with a return to their home city further away than it ever has been. So what can Coventry City fans actually look forward to next season and further ahead?
The main thing I have clung to over the past season is the fact that Coventry exists in a large urban area and can also draw its support from much of the county of Warwickshire, around 900,000 people in total. Whilst you have to factor in people who have moved into the area, support other local clubs, support big clubs, support other sports teams or simply are not interested in sport in the slightest, the law of averages would dictate that enough people are in Coventry and the surrounding areas to support a football club sustainably at least at Championship level. My line of thinking is that eventually someone at some time will be able to restore Coventry City to the level they should be at in the fashion that Jimmy Hill so memorably did.
There is of course a reason why Coventry are in the mire that they are currently in, saddled with debt dating back to Brian Richardson’s extravagant spending in the mid-90s and without ownership of their own stadium, other clubs from arguably smaller bases of support are more attractive to investors. You also have to factor in that Coventry City have underachieved over the past two decades in almost every imaginable way, leaving a small group of loyal but cynical supporters with many other casual fans not willing to trust the club to succeed after seeing them fail on so many occasions. For me, this is the reason that SISU rather than say Leicester’s Thai owners are in charge of our club, we’re a massive risk for any potential owner to take on.
Back to the here and now, what signs are there that we’ll be able to match or even improve upon this most recent campaign? The most obvious ray of light is that we should start next season on 0 points, 10 more than in August last year. This gives Steven Pressley lee-way to bed in new players or to play a more open style of football than at the end of last season when we were desperate for points. Despite an attrocious second half of the season we still would have finished 9th in the league. Looking at the League One table you have sides like Sheffield United and Port Vale who were dire for long spells in the campaign and ended up in the top half. In a weaker League One next season it wouldn’t take much, say one or two really good runs, to see the team comfortably in the top-half of the table, regardless of our home stadium.
One of Steven Pressley’s major failings at Coventry City thus far has been his inability to recruit the right players either due to their lack of quality or having the right attitude. Only Andy Webster of the 18 permanent and loan signings that he made actually improved the team for the better. However his time at Falkirk has showed that he bring in and replace players over a period of a few seasons, for example he brought in Farid El Alagui from amateur French football before losing him to Brentford and replacing him with Lyle Taylor from Bournemouth’s reserve team who scored 29 goals in his single season at Falkirk. It’s clear to me that he has lacked support from other areas of the club and has had to operate in the transfer market as a lone figure, hopefully with the modernisation of the club’s scouting department and having the grace period of a full summer will allow him to correct the errors he’s made.
The main cause for optimism for next season is that Steven Pressley remains manager of the football club. Given the restrictions he had to operate under the previous summer, he proved all his doubters wrong in forming a sensational team for the opening months of the season. Very few Coventry City managers have attempted to win games with pro-active tactics based around dominating possession, largely we’ve had to make do with pragmatists who relied on the quality of individual players to see them through. Whilst that final argument can be thrown back at Pressley and the team’s reliance on Leon Clarke, his style has improved players like Jordan Clarke, John Fleck and Callum Wilson turning them from back-up players into some of the best players in the division.
The point of this article was an attempt to preview what is in store for Coventry City over the coming summer. The over-riding feeling is that this will be another summer of pain with the club’s star players leaving for a fraction of their true value and the future of the club being decided in court rather than on the pitch. There is though the nucleus of what could be a memorable Sky Blues team is there at the club, it just needs the infrastructure, support and investment to make it a success. My hope is that this will be the final summer of turmoil at the club for a while.
In my first game as a Coventry City supporter I saw players such as Robbie Keane, Magnus Hedman and Gary McAllister tear Watford to shreds in the Premier League. Ever since I have watched the club being torn apart in ways that no supporter could possibly imagine. My opinion is that the club should either realise that lower mid-table in League One is unacceptable for Coventry City or it should find the bottoming out point as soon as possible. Various regimes at the club have been desperate to either prolong the date of the true surgery required to get the club back on its feet or have been surviving just for the sake of surviving. We are getting to the point now where things staying the same at the club will finally be the death of it.