The Season In Review: Part 4 – February-April

Where We Were

We were flying high, 7th in the league and awaiting the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Final against Crewe. McGoldrick had left but Leon Clarke was slowly proving himself to be a worthy replacement. It seemed like we might finally do something with a season for the first time in a long time.

February

The first match of the month was against Sheffield United who were slightly out-of-form but there can be few Coventry fans out there ever confident of going to Bramall Lane and winning. Coventry started well and should have scored more than just the one in the opening half hour. When Sheffield United levelled with just over 20 minutes left many were thinking that Coventry were about to spurn another opportunity to beat the league’s best. That type of thinking though was proved wrong as Leon Clarke grabbed his fourth league goal since signing and in the end Coventry were unlucky not to win by more. We were now gloriously close to the play-offs for the first time next season.

The next two games seemed to be important in determining the fate of our season. Sure the Sheffield United game was important in getting us close to the play-offs but beating an in-form Yeovil side at the Ricoh would put us on another unbeaten run akin to November-December giving us momentum in the league. Before that though was the JPT area final first leg against Crewe.

This was our biggest attendance since the Leeds game under Boothroyd just two years ago. A chance to give some of the stay-away fans a reason to believe that this side was different, this side could win when it mattered, this side had spirit and this side was one to be proud of. It’s fair to say that the majority of Coventry fans arrived in their seats that cold, wet Tuesday night expecting to beat a Crewe side who didn’t look up to much.

How wrong we were.

The first half started well enough with Coventry creating some decent opportunities. The combination between the full-backs and wingers on both sides of the pitch was as good as it ever was under Robins. Leon Clarke and Stephen Elliott also looked to have a good understanding of each other’s game. However despite dominating the first-half there was no goal.

The second half was greeted with the news that Joe Murphy had picked up an injury and Chris Dunn would have to replace him. 7 minutes later Crewe took the lead from a lightning counter-attack. Disappointing but with an impassioned home support this was salvageable  a la the Preston JPT match. So we pressed but not with a great deal of conviction in search of an equaliser. 77th minute Crewe score their second of the night. How has this happened? It felt like a nightmare, like any minute we’d wake up and then the real game would start. No? Well at least there’s two legs, if we grab a goal now we can go there and clinch another dramatic come-back, that’s alright then we’ll just wait for that to happen. 85th minute, 3-0, Crewe have scored 3 goals against us. This wasn’t supposed to happen, the Burton match, the Sheffield United match, the Preston match, it was supposed to be destiny. Disaster.

Well that’s one Wembley dream all but gone. At least we had the other, more important, one to play for. Just 4 days to dust ourselves off, work on creating better chances and not being caught on the counter. Yeovil next, they may have won 5 in a row but they hadn’t played this Coventry side yet. OK start. Yeovil score on the counter, we try and fight back but not very well and we lose another home game. A pattern had emerged, this was when we became obsessed with the counter-attack, away from home it had served us well but at home it was our nemesis.

That being said, despite losing ground to a play-off rival we were still in 8th place, all was not lost. There was an issue with the amount of games in hand everyone in the league seemed to have over us but we could regroup under Robins like we had done several times over these past few months.

One slight hitch. A couple of days after the Yeovil match murmurs begin that Robins is linked with the Huddersfield job. Never mind, he’d been linked with others. Those murmurs became rumours, then an approach, then Robins clears his desk and then he starts talking about ‘synergy’ and a ‘project’ in his Huddersfield press conference.

In just over a week our season performed an about turn in on itself. Without a manager and the Ricoh rent situation still not being sorted we had snatched disaster from the jaws of victory.

Carsley was now drafted in as caretaker, a bit too worryingly close to the Shaw debacle for comfort and talk that it was going to be another long process in the search for a permanent replacement. We’d give him a chance but it was starting to look like our season was lost.

For the Bury match we were granted with the soothing, familiar sight of a new left-back, Carl Dickinson, as Blair Adams had picked up an injury. The match itself was far from a classic and Coventry won it with ease through Leon Clarke and Carl Baker, our two top scorers still with the club.

Now for a Crewe double-header. First the JPT where we played too cautiously for 90 minutes, some fans left apparently, and then Leon and an own goal, both in injury time, put is in the curious position of ruing even more that horror-show at the Ricoh. In the league game it was back to the Ricoh, where we took the lead and then lost it and then lost after being caught on the counter, I’d almost forgot that we weren’t good at holding on to leads.

Down to 9th and up against a Bournemouth side who had been transformed under Eddie Howe since we last met them. They were like the bizarro version of us who didn’t get their dreams shattered so dramatically. In other news, Aaron Martin became our final loan player of the season after Nathan Cameron proved he wasn’t quite good enough for the first team. However we had another one of those away days where everything went right and we played perfectly on the counter to a dominant home side. We won 2-0 and even David Bell came back and proved is existence to the fans who’d forgotten all about him.

March

We began March with our annual transfer embargo for failing to file our accounts, they should really try harder. Before the embargo we managed to bring in our 6th left-back of the season in Jordan Stewart, another tradition honoured. Next up were Swindon at home, it was apparent that this time we were going to be smart and play on the counter at home. When Moussa opened the scoring after 2 minutes all had gone to plan and now we had the right to catch Swindon on the counter. Only problem was that Swindon were good enough not to rely on the counter-attack, they took a while but 2 goals in the final 3 minutes was hardly flattering for their dominant display. The play-offs were looking ever more distant.

The final card that we had to play this season was a new manager. This came in the shape of our former centre-back Steven Pressley who had done OK with Falkirk. He talked a good game and seemed intent on instilling a possession based style of game. His Scottishness also meant that he would probably be looking to get the best out of Fleck who had had a mixed spell but was now largely out of the side by now.

So to Scunthorpe we went. They took an early lead and should have added to that but the deadly duo of Leon Clarke and Carl Baker turned the result on its head. Well done Mr Pressley. Now he had two home games which could put us right in the play-off mix. The first game against Colchester looked lost after they scored 2 and with less than 20 minutes left but Callum Wilson scored a beautiful first goal for the club and Baker scored yet another goal and we’d salvaged yet more points from a losing position. We then beat a bottom of the table Hartlepool side fairly comfortably 1-0 with Cody McDonald coming back into the side and scoring.

We were now in the final push territory. We could get ourselves right in the mix for the play-offs should we continue this early-reign form under Pressley. The one problem was that ACL had issued an appeal to put the club into administration and SISU accepted the invitation to put a ‘non-subsidiary holding company’ into administration. Heading into the Portsmouth away match we didn’t know what any of that meant. Were we in administration? Would did that company own? Are we going to play at the Ricoh again? Are we going to be deducted 10 points? This appeared to have killed the recovering sense of confidence and momentum in the team and they limped to a meek 2-0 defeat to a Portsmouth side in the relegation zone.

We were then deducted 10 points properly and our season was over. We didn’t get the chance to prove whether we were good enough to make the play-offs. Yes we had surrendered success on the pitch in the JPT but to give up the play-off challenge and the remaining chance of success for a club starved of it and due to off-field business/political disputes it felt rotten.

March ended with the visit of table-toppers Doncaster who we beat at their place when we were playing for something. Despite the sense of loss and resignation that surrounded the club on the pitch something miraculous happened. Perhaps freed from the pressure of having something to play for we played some of the best football aesthetically we’d played all season. Barton and Fleck in midfield looked confident and comfortable in possession. Perhaps the best performance though came from Christie, who scored the only goal in the game, was charging forward with ability and application.

Maybe we could just end the season after all with some verve and style, sort out everything off the pitch and begin next season with a concerted push towards promotion.

April

So we entered the Walsall match, which could have had something massive riding on it, with cautious optimism that we could beat our local ‘rivals’ in a similar vein to the Donny match. Yet for all of the ease and enjoyment with which we approached the first half at home to Doncaster the performance at Walsall was almost the opposite. A decent enough start but once Walsall took the lead there was only won winner. Mistake after mistake in defence, Jordan Stewart sent off, it was no surprise that Walsall ended up with a 4-0 win.

The penultimate home game saw our 7th left-back of the season in the shape of academy graduate Ryan Haynes. Against genuine promotion challengers I’d say we looked just about equal and Haynes was just about pulling his weight as a senior player. We took the lead from the spot but Brentford deservedly equalised and we took a creditable point. That being said in the grander scheme of the season it all meant nothing didn’t it.

Next away to Crawley in wet conditions where we duly failed to put up any fight and lost 2-0. The final home game was another won where we played decently but got caught on the counter, 1-0 to Leyton Orient. The season ended away to Notts County which ended 2-2 with the players putting in a remarkable amount of commitment and effort compared to how the previous few had gone.

So it was a frustrating end to the season and a poor start which was boosted by a glorious middle. We’ve had more than our fair share of managers. We’ve had two brilliant strikers. But we end it mired in uncertainty over the state of the club’s future, which could be messy.

Despite this I think looking at Pressley’s early results, before the administration, it looked like he can do something with this team. We’ve got to prepare for some probably nasty surprises in the shape of player departures. If he’s able to add to the team though and not too many of the better players go then there’s no reason why next season can’t go better than this last one, we can’t start or end it so poorly this time. There is the caveat though that the financial situation could become very dire and put paid to any on-field optimism.

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