Coventry City slumped to defeat against Notts County having failed to register a single shot on target. In a week where the manager publicly criticised his players for lacking desire, it was a rather effete display. As fans come to terms with this continued sense of under-achievement, just what has caused a club that should have been energised by a grand homecoming to sit so lowly in League One has been the centre of much debate.
SISU are undoubtedly the reason that we are currently a League One club that now has little chance of ever owning a stadium within its city boundaries. Their bungling and under-investment in the Championship was of staggering proportions and they set not only the city’s council but a large section of the fan-base an a war-path against their local football team.
For SISU’s many faults though, they have provided the team with a budget that reportedly ranks well within the top 10 of the division. It may be hard to accept that Coventry City’s only has a budget for the top 10 of the third-tier but even by a measure set by SISU, the team is under-performing. That being said, the turmoil of a summer that began in the courts and a league campaign that began at Sixfields, can’t have helped Steven Pressley’s recruitment drive at a crucial stage of any club’s season.
So SISU do have to accept that they have contributed to the under-performance of the team this season, but the recent loan signings of Aaron Martin and Gary Madine show some level of willingness to rectify the problems they have caused, admittedly to a very small degree. Pressley recently questioned the desire of individual players, do they have to accept their share of the blame?
Personally, I am uneasy in questioning the attitude or even quality of footballers. It is something that is hard to judge from the stands other than through glimpses of body language or their contribution to individual games. A lot of fans of other teams saw Leon Clarke as a slow and lazy striker with a poor record in front of goal. But being played in a role that suited his individual qualities, he showed himself to be a more dynamic footballer than anyone thought him to be.
Getting players to perform is down to management, some respond differently to different styles and thus the manager has to assess whether he can get the best out of a certain player. It is about finding a role in which they can be effective and which makes sense in a wider system, but also about man management in figuring out how to get them motivated.
The example of Cyrus Christie this season at Derby County is proving damning of Pressley’s ability to man manage a player who is under-performing. Christie was a force of nature for the first 20 games of Pressley’s reign before picking up an ankle injury against Stevenage. After that he was never the same, his forward runs were increasingly indecisive and ineffectual and no-one was really sad to see him leave in the summer.
Look at him now, under Steve McClaren he is much more purposeful bursting forward and is providing assists for his team. It makes me wonder what level of feedback he gives players about their performances and it’s concerning that such an obvious flaw in Cyrus Christie’s game was so easily addressed within a month or two at arriving at a new club.
Against Notts County on Saturday, there were some quite decent individual performances but it didn’t contribute to an overall fluid system. It was disjointed and the team seemed to be unsure as to what they were trying to achieve on the pitch, hence why they failed to register a shot on target. Barton and Finch, both of whom played well, played effectively the same role in the team. There was little link-up between midfield and attack other than long-balls towards Gary Madine which Notts County’s back three were more than comfortable dealing with.
It has never felt like Steven Pressley has been able to move forward from the loss of Leon Clarke. By the time he realised that he couldn’t find a direct replacement at the start of the year, the team were fighting for results in a bid to stay alive in the division. Those final few months of last season were wasted by bringing in short-term loan signings rather than looking to find a style of play to improve the team going into next season.
This time round, he spent the summer looking to play 3-5-2 and recruited accordingly only to fail to implement the system effectively. What’s more, his actions in recent weeks are starting to look more and more desperate. Bringing back previously frozen-out players, changing the system, trying inexperienced youth-teamers, loaning in experienced players, ‘banishing’ players from the club and publicly slating the attitude and quality of players that he brought to the club.
Contrary to some wild speculation over the weekend, Steve Wagott and Tim Fisher still have faith in Pressley’s methods and will give him every chance to prove his worth. He was handed a new four-year contract just two months ago, and the board are not prepared to give up on a long-term project to address the rancid acceptance of failure at this club so soon.
With the club sitting in 20th position in the league with the season already 17/46 of the way over, things have to change soon otherwise not making the play-offs will be the least of our worries. Pressley is an uncompromising personality and it was exactly this personality attribute of his that made the team so good 12 months ago. The stark contrasts in form under Pressley strangely gives me more faith that he is capable of achieving greatness at this club than I have had in any other manager since my first Coventry City game back in 1998.
Perhaps we can read last week’s impassioned speech as an acceptance that he has gotten things wrong for quite a while now. The first step to solving a problem is identifying it but it feels that it will take until January for Pressley to implement meaningful changes. It is a case now of managing his resources, getting results and building the next great Coventry City team. The next few games provide a crucial juncture for his reign at the club, things must change and the clock is ticking ever louder.