Joe Murphy Leaves…What Next?

Murphy at the Emirates Stadium for the 2nd time in his Coventry career.
Murphy at the Emirates Stadium for the 2nd time in his Coventry career.

The long-dreaded news has finally come, Joe Murphy has left Coventry City. He leaves after a tumultuous three years at the club which saw the team relegated into the third tier, enter administration, docked a sum total of 20 points and play its home fixtures in Northampton. Throughout this period Murphy has the one constant presence in the team, missing only one league game during his tenure at the club.

When he first arrived fans were still mourning the loss of Keiren Westwood, ironically on a free transfer, with Murphy seen as a downgrade on a keeper who had essentially kept the team in the Championship on his own. Over the course of Murphy’s first season at the club, the fans reaction to him was lukewarm. Whilst many were aware that he was perhaps the best keeper the club could realistically have brought in, people had become accustomed to seeing the keeper pull off numerous miraculous saves on a game-by-game basis. It wasn’t that Murphy had been especially bad, it was just that he had had a tough act to follow.

It was only when the club were eventually relegated to League One did Coventry fans feel confident in Murphy’s abilities between the sticks. He was yet again the staple of the team in 2012/13 where the team looked capable of reaching the play-offs for large portions of the season. The value of Joe Murphy was clear for all Coventry fans to see when compared to his peers at other League One clubs, as well as his competition from within the first-team squad. I can’t be the only Coventry wondering how different things could have been had Murphy not picked up an injury during the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Final.

This past season though has been where Murphy has moved from being a respected member of the first-team to something approaching a cult hero. From his pre-match psyching up ritual of smacking himself in the face to his taunting of opposing fans, Murphy’s character has really come over the past season. Despite being part of one of the leakiest defences in the Football League, Murphy was on many peoples’ player of the season list. The number of points that were won by Murphy pulling off saves that seemed impossible is innumerable. Put simply, Murphy was one of the main reasons why we were able to stay in this division.

It’s ironic almost that he leaves the club and his potential successor in almost the same situation to which he arrived. It could be for several seasons now that we are comparing future Coventry goalies to Murphy. He may have left the club to secure a bigger pay cheque at a higher level of football but he’s one of very few Coventry players who have left in this manner who can be forgiven for this. Personally I feel that he deserves what could be his final chance to both play in the Championship and also maximise the money he’ll have to live on after his retirement.

In this title of this piece I referred to a ‘Goalkeeping Dilemma’, additionally I also referenced that Murphy only missed one league game during his entire Coventry career. For me, our current dilemma stems from Pressley’s team selection in that one game. It may have been a meaningless final day of the season match against a team in Notts County who also had nothing to play for, but it now has major repercussions on how we head into the coming season.

Lee Burge, making a genuine first-team appearance with Nuneaton Town.
Lee Burge, making a genuine first-team appearance with Nuneaton Town.

Lee Burge, currently the only goalkeeper in the first-team, had just returned from a successful loan spell with Nuneaton where he and Aaron Phillips played a big role in keeping the club in the Conference. The game against Notts County gave Pressley the perfect chance to see how well this spell with our neighbours in the 5th tier translated into League One football. Instead the departing Chris Dunn was given the nod in a game which finished 2-2.

My concern heading into the coming league season is that Pressley made, in my opinion, completely the wrong decision in his team selection. There was nothing for both Coventry City and Chris Dunn to gain from him playing in that game, everyone knew he was leaving in the summer and nothing he could have done in that game would have changed that. Had Pressley played Lee Burge in that game and he played well then we could be have been talking about Burge in a similar way to how we talk about Aaron Phillips. Had he played badly then we could either have sent him out on loan last season or everyone, Pressley included, would have known that we now need to bring in a new keeper as a priority this summer.

Right now it’s tough to know the calibre of goalkeeper that is needed for the situation we are in. There are plenty available on a free transfer currently but it’s hard to judge whether we need to bring in a new first-choice keeper or an older one who can mentor Lee Burge over the coming season. Whilst I imagine that Pressley has a good idea of the level that Lee Burge is currently at, there are few indications as to how he may handle the pressures of first-team football, aside from a good loan spell in the Conference two seasons ago.

In closing, I would like to re-iterate how grateful I am that Joe Murphy has stayed with the club over a difficult past three seasons, however I am deeply worried as to how we are going to replace him. A point I’ve made in a past post is that whilst Pressley has a poor record in the transfer market with Coventry, he regularly found ‘diamonds in the rough’ at Falkirk. His managerial experience has largely been made up of replacing key first-team players on limited resources, something he now has to prove he can do with Coventry City.

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