Following back-to-back wins over Sheffield United and Stevenage, Steven Pressley’s Coventry City team were brimming full of confidence ahead of a trip to the pre-season title favourites Wolves. Coventry matched their much vaunted opposition on the day but fell behind to another sloppy piece of defending which allowed Leigh Griffiths to give Wolves the lead early in the second half. Manager Steven Pressley took the gamble of bringing on attacking full-back Aaron Phillips in place of the more defensively solid Jordan Willis, with Mathieu Manset also brought on to make it 3 in attack for the closing minutes. Phillips got on the end of a Callum Wilson cross with a well-executed half volley to earn Coventry a well deserved point a Molineux.
Coventry were in the midst of their best run of form of the season, every player in the squad knew their role and the team were playing an energetic pressing and passing style of football. The axis of the team was the link between Jordan Clarke and John Fleck from defence to midfield and then Fleck to Leon Clarke between midfield and attack. The style of play meant that teams couldn’t concentrate on negating the threat of just one single player in the team, mark Leon Clarke then you had to deal with Callum Wilson’s pace, target John Fleck then Conor Thomas would be allowed time and space on the ball. The team looked like they genuinely enjoyed playing football with each other, the small squad size became a benefit more than a hindrance for Pressley as there were few players on the fringes of the team who could disrupt the balance of the unit.
A Tuesday night victory over the previously unbeaten Leyton Orient emphasised the confidence and skill of this team. Carl Baker opened the scoring on 10 minutes, Joe Murphy saved a penalty, a wonder goal from Franck Moussa doubled the lead with Leon Clarke eventually sealing all three points. Coventry then successfully negotiated a tough Walsall side at the Bescot Stadium thanks to another Franck Moussa goal. The 3-0 win over Notts County to secure the club’s longest winning streak for 3 years was so comfortable as to be not even worth commenting on.
Coventry City began their FA Cup run with a trip to AFC Wimbledon in what seemed like a straightforward contest. The Sky Blues, dealing with the absence of John Fleck, struggled to get in to the game and fell behind to a Michael Smith header. Coventry were fortunate to eventually win the tie thanks to some questionable goal-keeping from Wimbledon’s Seb Brown who was only playing as the Dons’s regular had been caught in traffic prior to kick-off. It was just one of those runs of form where everything seems to fall in the teams favour.
Heading into a trip to Valley Parade, once again in front of the Sky cameras, Coventry fans were quietly confident that the team would grab the win which would take the team to just 2 points behind the play-offs. Everything was going perfectly for the Sky Blues who raced into an early lead thanks Andy Webster and Leon Clarke scoring in the opening 10 minutes. However Bradford found their feet in the game thanks to a Jordan Clarke air-kick from a long-ball into the box which was seized upon by Nahki Wells. The Bermudan levelled the game before Callum Wilson emphatically fired home to edge Coventry in front at half-time. The second-half was an attritional affair which saw the Sky Blues miss some great chances to kill the game off, eventually Bradford’s aerial threat told with Jordan Clarke handling whilst competing with James Hanson. Wells scored a final minute penalty which set off fireworks on the touchline as Steven Pressley and Phil Parkinson clashed.
Coventry failed to recover from this hammer blow as they were surprisingly thrashed 5-1 at Sixfields by Tranmere Rovers with Ryan Lowe scoring his customary hat-trick against the Sky Blues. An injury to Leon Clarke came at the worst time possible as a makeshift Coventry side faced Rotherham the following Tuesday night. A poor performance lacking in the energy and desire that had characterised Coventry’s displays early in the season saw the Millers secure a straightforward 3-0 victory.
Heading into a trip to Milton Keynes, Coventry were on their knees and in need of reinforcements as injuries, suspensions and fatigue were adversely affecting the squad. Pressley finally made a move in the loan market, bringing centre-back Danny Seaborne from Yeovil, striker Chris Dagnall from Barnsley and attacking midfielder Chris Maguire from Sheffield Wednesday. The loanees made an immediate impact on the first-team with Chris Dagnall and then two Chris Maguire free-kicks gave Coventry fans another memorable in Milton Keynes.
The second round of the FA Cup came at a bad time for the first-team, with players missing through suspensions, injuries or stipulations in loan contracts. An experimental Coventry City side failed to hold onto a lead in Hartlepool to give the club an unwanted replay to add to a congested December calendar. The momentum from the fantastic win in Milton Keynes seemed to fade away as defensive errors from Danny Seaborne and Jordan Clarke saw the team drop two points against Crewe at Sixfields as the play-offs seemed to slip ever more out of reach.
In the second round replay against Hartlepool Coventry welcomed back Leon Clarke into the starting line-up. The striker didn’t disappoint as he gave Coventry the lead in the 36th minute and eventually won the tie with a goal in the third minute of stoppage time to prevent an unwanted period of extra-time after Hartlepool had scored in the 88th minute. Clarke emphasised his importance to the side with the opening goal when the club travelled to face his old side in Swindon Town. However the goal seemed to spark a fight-back from Swindon who scored twice in the final twenty minutes as the Sky Blues continued to drop crucial points in their chase for the play-offs.
The season seemed to be slipping away ahead of the Christmas period of fixtures. Coventry needed a good run to re-assert their claim for the play-off positions or fall back into mid-table mediocrity for another season. The Boxing Day game against Peterborough was seemingly going to test with Steven Pressley’s side would sink or swim for the rest of the season. After a one-sided first-half from Peterborough, Coventry somehow made it into the break only 2-1 down, largely down to a Peterborough’s keeper passing Leon Clarke the ball for Coventry’s goal. The Sky Blues emerged in the second-half with fire in their belly, Clarke capitalised on hesitant Posh defending from a corner to level matters and he nearly completed his hat-trick only to have a goal disallowed for offside. Leon Clarke was in inspirational form though as he then played a delicately weighted through ball for Franck Moussa to give Coventry the lead. The game ended in drama as Peterborough felt they had forced the ball over the line only for Callum Wilson to race through a distracted Posh back-line to seal a remarkable and entertaining win for Coventry.
A win that had seemed to reignite the club’s charge for the League One play-offs. The visit of lowly Oldham to Sixfields had surely came at the perfect time for Coventry to start racking up back-to-back wins. However a surprisingly low tempo display ensued with former academy player Jonson Clarke-Harris giving Oldham the lead with Carl Baker’s strike only enough for a point for Coventry. Once again it seemed like the team had been unable to build momentum following an impressive and morale boosting victory. The fans though were still looking ahead into the new year with optimism that the team could recapture some of that early season mojo and make it a memorable season for the right reasons.