Coventry City - hard work but little progress
Coventry City supporters have had to watch on this season as what seems like the whole of the West Midlands does battle in the Premier League. The Sky Blues used to be a mainstay in the top flight but this is a long time ago now. On Saturday, they travelled down the motorway to Leicester…
Ahead of the 80th league meeting between Leicester City and Coventry City, Sven-Goran Eriksson trotted out a well-worn cliche. This was not just another M69 derby. This was one of 13 cup finals that Leicester will play until the end of the season. Not FA Cup Finals, thankfully – Leicester haven’t won one of those in four attempts, unlike their rivals at the other end of the M69 who triumphed at Wembley in 1987. No, these cup finals take place in the league and the aim is promotion.
Halfway through the last decade, both of these teams set up camp in the lower reaches of the second tier. It can be a demoralising position. The cream of the division arrive to swat you aside. You sink without trace on the road at the home of a succession of mediocre teams. Sometimes, you end up wanting out by whatever means necessary just to remember what it’s like to travel in a positive frame of mind every other Saturday.
Leicester got out in Staffordshire in 2008. Dark clouds filled the sky and the end was nigh. For the first time in their history, the club was relegated to the third level of English football. A winning goal at the Britannia Stadium against Stoke that afternoon would have sent Coventry down instead. When it didn’t come, Leicester regrouped and came back to the Championship the following season, clearly re-invigorated by their exile.
In contrast, Coventry remain in suspended animation in the bottom half of the same division. Indeed, they haven’t finished in the top six of any division for over 40 years. To put that into perspective, Leicester remain hopeful of their third successive top six finish. No matter the division, winning always creates a feelgood factor at any club.
In the summer, Coventry appointed the former Watford and Colchester United manager Aidy Boothroyd in an attempt to halt their malaise. The hope was that Boothroyd’s track record of fostering a winning mentality would rub off on his new side. The danger was that the Championship has moved on since Boothroyd’s success at Vicarage Road. There is no Stoke in this division. No Wimbledon. No promotion candidates that could be described as muscular long-ball merchants. To succeed in the Championship this season, evidence suggests that you need to be able to play good football.
The lunchtime kick-off between Swansea City and Leeds United, two clubs that have been elevated from League One in recent seasons, that both currently occupy top six positions and that have both managed to retain that winning mentality, spoke volumes. Swansea’s style is well-documented and the Swans were the deserving victors on the day, but Leeds are still clinging onto a top six place at present and they are doing so through attractive football.
Boothroyd, however, is not in the business of entertaining neutrals or proving wrong anyone who criticises the aesthetic of his side. And there have been plenty. Opposition fans are not envious of Coventry’s approach. When Swansea went to the Ricoh Arena last week and won with a late Stephen Dobbie goal, there will have been some who viewed the result as a vindication of the Welsh team’s tactics. In return, Boothroyd offers nothing so much as a shrug of indifference. The kind of whole-hearted, battling display that Coventry produced at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday is what keeps him in a job.
Coventry’s goal was scored, inevitably, by Marlon King. Having previously played under Boothroyd at Vicarage Road, it made some sort of sense that King’s destination upon leaving prison was the Ricoh Arena. Whatever your opinion of him, and there are those of us who wish that football never felt the need to call upon these characters, King is clearly the best player Coventry have by quite some distance.
He missed a glorious second opportunity after capitalising on uncertainty in the Leicester defence, after which he was relatively well-marshalled by home debutant Jeffrey Bruma and the new Leicester hero Sol Bamba. Kyle Naughton’s tremendous equaliser just before the interval levelled the scores and there were no further goals in an increasingly frenetic second half, despite Coventry being reduced to ten men when Martin Cranie was sent off for two bookings.
In the long-term, Coventry may face something of an identity crisis. Without possession of players physically imposing enough to emulate Stoke’s method of promotion, Boothroyd will have to decide on the best way forward – youth, experience, short-term loans or a combination of the three.
For a team of spoilers, though, spoiling a rival side’s progress towards the play-offs will do for now. Neither up nor down at the end of the season for Coventry. A familiar story.