Meet the opposition: Robins’ return has put nomadic Coventry on an upward curve again
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Ipswich Town face Coventry City, at St Andrew’s, in an FA Cup second round match tomorrow (2pm ko). STUART WATSON takes a closer look at the Sky Blues.
FA CUP WINNERS
Much like Ipswich Town did when beating Arsenal in the 1978 FA Cup Final, Coventry City upset the odds to overcome Tottenham at Wembley in 1987. After Gary Mabbutt's own goal in extra-time sealed a 3-2 win for the Sky Blues, commentator John Motson called it 'the finest Cup Final I've had the pleasure of commentating on'. The East Midlands club were unable to compete in Europe the following year because of the ban imposed on English clubs following the Heysel disaster.
Coventry spent 34 consecutive seasons in the top-flight until relegation in 2001. In 2007 they narrowly avoid going into administration when London-based hedge fund SISU Capital Limited take over with 20 minutes to spare. In 2012 they dropped down into the third-tier for the fist time since 1964, subsequently going into administration.
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Protests against the SISU reached an all-time high as Coventry won the EFL Trophy at Wembley but dropped into League Two (2017). They bounced back straight away after winning the play-offs following the club's first top-six finish since 1970.
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In 2005, after more than a century of residence, Coventry played their last ever game at Highfield Road. A trilling 6-2 win against rivals Derby was a fitting way to say goodbye before the bulldozers came in to turn the land into a housing development.
The Sky Blues moved into their new 32,000 capacity Ricoh Arena home, which had suffered building delays and scale backs in design. It's located three miles north of the city centre and close to the M6 motorway.
Despite initiating the project and being the principal attraction there, the club's financial difficulties meant it no longer owned the stadium. A rent row ensued and they were forced to spent the 2013/14 season groundsharing with Northampton Town - a 70-mile round trip from Coventry.
This season, due to a breakdown in talks between SISU and Wasps Rugby Club (owners of the ground since 2014), Coventry have been forced to groundshare with Championship club Birmingham City at their St Andrew's home.
Mark Robins was a major hit among Coventry fans during his first spell in charge. Between September 2012 and February 2013 he catapulted the team up the league, took them to the Area Final of the Football League Trophy and oversaw and oversaw a couple of little runs in the League and FA Cups. Then Championship club Huddersfield came calling.
Steven Pressley, Tony Mowbray and Russell Slade came and went at Coventry. Robins, following a spell at Scunthrope, returned to the Sky Blues in March 2017. The pair seem to be the perfect fit following Coventry's promotion, last season's eighth place finish and this season's impressive start.
Star striker Jonson Clarke-Harris was sold to rivals Bristol Rovers back in January to fund other deals. Then, in the summer, further key men departed as Luke Thomas and Conor Chaplin were sold to newly-promoted Barnsley and Lee Burge and Jordan Willis joined rivals Sunderland on frees.
With his budget freed up, Robins set about making several signings. Keeper Marko Marosi (Doncaster, free), right-back Fankaty Dabo (Chelsea, free), centre-backs Michael Rose (Falkirk, free) and Kyle McFadzean (Burton, free), loan midfieders Liam Walsh (Bristol City) and Callum O'Hare (Aston Villa) and striker Matty Godden (Peterborough, £750k) have all become mainstays in a new-look side.
Coventry are currently fifth in the table, just five points behind Ipswich having played a game more.
They're enjoying life at St Andrew's. Playing in front of crowds averaging around 12,000, they've lost just once (1-0 to Tranmere) in 13 home games across all competitions (W9 D3 L1). Along the way they've recorded confidence-boosting wins against Bristol Rovers (2-0), Blackpool (3-2) and Fleetwood (3-1).
On the road it's been a different story as they remain the only club left in the division yet to win away (D7 L1). Among those seven draws are a 0-0 at crisis club Bolton early in the campaign, plus 3-3s at Portsmouth and Oxford. On Saturday, it looked like the run was over until Sunderland snatched a last-gasp leveller at the Stadium of Light (1-1).
Five of the top six have a positive goal difference in double figures. Coventry's is +3. In the league, the Sky Blues have only won by more than a goal once (2-0 v Bristol Rovers). They've only lost by more than a goal once too (4-0 at Rotherham).
OFFENSIVE OPTIONS LIMITED
Matty Godden, the man Coventry hoped would supply the goals, is out until the new year with a groin injury.
And a further trio of summer signings - Wesley Jobello, Dan Bartlett and Reise Allassani - have all been ruled out for the campaign with cruciate knee injuries.
Target man Amadou Bakayoko has toiled as the lone striker in recent weeks, but Robins' striker options have been boosted with the return to fitness of Jordy Hiwula and return from suspension of Frenchman Maxime Biamu. The latter recently scored a hat-trick in the EFL Trophy against Southampton's U21s.
The system of late has been wing-backs with a staggered midfield (3-4-2-1), but could look more like a tradition 3-5-2 this weekend.