Topping a tightly-contested vote at left-back with 39% of the vote, EFL Trophy and League Two promotion-winner Chris Stokes makes up the final part of the Team of the Decade defence.
It was quite the journey for Chris Stokes at Coventry City, having fallen out of favour at non-league Forest Green Rovers and signing for the Sky Blues as an emergency loan ahead of Steven Pressley’s final game in charge of the club at Sheffield United in February 2015. Clearly short of the standard of fitness required for League One football, Stokes acquitted himself remarkably well during those first few months at the club, helping tighten up the defence enough to ensure safety under new manager Tony Mowbray.
With a full pre-season behind him, Stokes made the left-back position his own the following campaign. Although he could hardly be described as an exciting, marauding full-back, in a side packed with attacking talent ahead of him, his job was to keep things solid to provide the platform for the flair players to excel.
As his confidence grew, Stokes’ attacking contribution began to develop. In a 4-1 victory over Gillingham to send the team top of the division, it was a Chris Stokes’ run from the half-way line to the penalty area that teed up Jacob Murphy to complete his hat-trick that day. At one point, there was even speculation linking Stokes with a move to the Championship.
A serious injury towards the end of Stokes’ first full season at the club arguably robbed him of the momentum that he had built for himself in the 12 months after first joining the club. He had little role to play in our relegation from League One – missing most the first half of the campaign entirely, then finding himself behind Ryan Haynes in the left-back pecking order – although stepped up to play as a makeshift centre-back in the Checkatrade Trophy Final victory over Oxford United.
Stokes’ competition with Haynes at left-back was a tussle that endured the entirety of our promotion-winning season from League Two. While Haynes’ attacking instincts made him important as we looked to break-down defensive opposition, Stokes was the go-to man when Mark Robins wanted to go back to basics and keep things tighter at the back.
Just like in that initial loan stint when the team were fighting relegation, just like in the Checkatrade Trophy final, when things came to the crunch in that League Two season, Chris Stokes was the man entrusted to handle the pressure.
In what has been the most consistent problem position for us over the past decade, Chris Stokes offered the team the reliability and a cool head at left-back. While there are others who will have made the Team of the Decade through moments of skill, Stokes has made it by being consistently solid for us whenever called upon.