Sideways Sammy 2016/17 Season Review

It’s that time of the year again! Strap yourselves in, have someone close with a pipette to moisten your eyeballs, as it’s time for a bit of the old ultra-analysis – the Sideways Sammy Season Review.

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Featuring 74 Pages of:

Club-By-Club Reviews, Squad Reviews, Jack McBean Memories, Manager Reviews, The Player of the Year, The Young Player of the Year, What and an Exhaustive Account Of The Coventry City Season.

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Sideways Sammy Season Review 2014/15

At long last this wretched season is over. But before you cast your minds away from the omnishambles that this campaign has been, I have taken the opportunity to review the season in agonising, painstaking detail.

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Featuring 85 Pages of:

  • Club-by-Club League One season reviews
  • A report on every first-team player at the club this season
  • A seven-part retelling of the story of the season
  • A look at who I think we should keep or let go
  • Articles on Steven Pressley and Tony Mowbray
  • More stats and crudely done ‘artful’ photoshops than anyone wanted to see.

Season In Review: Part 4

Having beaten Walsall at Sixfields, Coventry City were edging their way towards survival in the league after a poor run in February had cast that assumption into doubt. A comfortable run of fixtures awaited the Sky Blues as they looked to gain the 3 or so wins needed to secure survival in what had been a turbulent season at the club.

Danny Seaborne was sent off during a remarkable 4-2 defeat at Gillingham

Danny Seaborne was sent off during a remarkable 4-2 defeat at Gillingham

First up was a trip to lowly Colchester United, a side Coventry had comfortable beaten back in September, and one that was struggling for form and confidence themselves. However a poor first 30 minutes from the team undermined what was a strong performance for the final 60 minutes with Colchester running out 2-1 victors. Never mind, the following Tuesday saw the team travel to Gillingham who were safely ensconced in mid-table and had little to play for. A tempestuous fixture ensued which featured four penalties, a sending off and a late Gillingham goal from the half-way line to send the Sky Blues away from Kent with a 4-2 defeat.

The ground that had been made up after the Shrewsbury and Walsall games was undermined by two defeats characterised by a lack of concentration and some high profile defensive errors, in particular from January signing Danny Seaborne. Whilst Callum Wilson has scored 3 in his last 3 games, his efforts were undermined by a lack of contribution from Arsenal loan signing Chuba Akpom who struggled to link up with his team-mates. Wilson aside, it seemed that were few in the squad who were stepping up to replace the void left by Leon Clarke. Additionally Steven Pressley had largely left the team shape unaltered from the early weeks of the season which meant that the defence had little protection from midfield where John Fleck and Conor Thomas were suffering an alarming dip in form.

The game against Port Vale at Sixfields though was still an opportunity to pull clear from any relegation fears. The Sky Blues were up against a side who had little to play for and had struggled to put together any kind of form over the past few months. Micky Adams’s side opened the game with a sucker punch in the opening minute of the game as the defence failed to deal with a long ball which Doug Loft eventually latched on to giving Port Vale the lead. Coventry spent the rest of the half dominating the play but failed to equalise despite numerous brilliant opportunities. When Ben Williamson doubled Port Vale’s lead in the second half it seemed like Coventry City were heading to another frustrating defeat. However goals from Jordan Clarke and a sensational late Callum Wilson goal gave Coventry a well-deserved point and had seemed to restore the early season confidence of scoring late goals.

Tempers flared from Steven Pressley as the team failed to hold onto a lead at Brentford

Tempers flared from Steven Pressley as the team failed to hold onto a lead at Brentford

If Steven Pressley could have chosen his next opponents though, you doubt it would have been Brentford, a side cruising towards automatic promotion. Despite taking the lead early on through Callum Wilson, another set of defensive calamities saw the Bees run out comfortable 3-1 winners. Whilst defeat could have been anticipated against such strong opponents, the manner of it and the performances of individual players like Carl Baker, Franck Moussa and Chuba Akpom lacked in conviction and self-belief. Pressley, in his post-match interview, confirmed that he was frustrated with a lack of commitment in the performances of several of the loan players and ones whose contracts were expiring. With the crunch time of the season approaching it felt as if there were a number of players in the squad who didn’t care about the outcome of the club’s fight against relegation.

Luckily the loan window was still open and so Steven Pressley was able to reshuffle his squad to secure the final few points required to keep the club in the division. Out went Chuba Akpom, Billy Daniels and Adam Barton, in came experienced midfielder David Prutton, box-to-box player Anton Robinson and the pacey Nathan Eccleston. The new set of loanees made an immediate impact, Robinson and Eccleston both played vital roles in the win at Sixfields over Stevenage where Robinson added drive to the midfield and Eccleston won a penalty which was missed by Callum Wilson. Prutton started the following game at Crewe where two goals from Callum Wilson secured back-to-back league wins for the first-time since the draw against Bradford.

With Bradford our next opponents it seemed like a great opportunity to exorcise some demons and effectively secure safety in the league with a third win in a row. The game itself was a non-event with neither side too bothered with winning the game. Bradford created the best opportunities but the Sky Blues held out for a valuable point. The next three games were much more difficult with Milton Keynes, Peterborough and Swindon all still chasing the play-offs. Despite some positive performances from the side who were perhaps unlucky in all three games not to take a point, a lack of concentration cost the team dear in three back-to-back defeats which meant the team were only 5 points clear of the bottom 4 going into the final three games of the season.

A trip to Boundary Park would either seal survival or send Coventry into the group of teams scrapping in the final two games of the season. The sense of nervousness from the fans was made all the greater by the fact that those final two games were up against league winners Wolves and FA Cup semi-finalists Sheffield United. The game against Oldham was made all the more difficult by a perplexing tactical decision by Steven Pressley to play a diamond formation which none of the team appeared comfortable playing in. Somewhat fortuitously the team managed a 0-0 draw, which after taking into account the other results made relegation incredibly unlikely.

Nathan Delfouneso claimed a vital equaliser against Wolves to secure Coventry's League One status for another season.

Nathan Delfouneso claimed a vital equaliser against Wolves to secure Coventry’s League One status for another season.

The final ‘home’ game saw Wolves bring a strong travelling contingent to Sixfields to watch the newly crowned league champions. However the game itself was a rather low-key affair with the Sky Blues managing to match their opposition by a combination of some raised performance levels and a lack of intensity from Wolves. Despite Wolves taking the lead in the final 10 minutes, an own-goal almost immediately after secured the point which meant that Coventry City were mathematically safe. The final game of the season saw Coventry surrender an early lead at Bramall Lane to see the season off with a defeat.

The largest factor in Coventry’s poor end of season form was clearly the loss of Leon Clarke and the lack of commitment and desire from his poorly scouted replacements. Had the season began on the 1st of January, Coventry would have finished in the bottom 4 having taken less than a point per game from the final 23 league fixtures. What’s worrying for Coventry fans is that the summer seems more likely to see the club bring in players of the calibre of Nathan Eccleston or Delfouneso rather than finally identify a like-for-like Leon Clarke replacement. What you would hope is that once the new season begins, the team will play with an intensity that was often lacking in the second half of the season. The back-to-back victories over Stevenage and Crewe I think showed that Pressley will be able to coax results out of the team when it matters, the problem in the final months of last season was that there was little to play for and many in the team were happy to let games pass them by.

Overall I think it’s fair to say that survival was the target this season, this was eventually achieved after a difficult end to a season which at one point promised to be incredibly exciting. On the plus side you can say that Coventry would have finished 9th without the points deduction which is a remarkable achievement given that Pressley was working under a transfer embargo for much of the campaign. On the down side you can say that we came dangerously close to relegation when really we shouldn’t have. Going into next season it seems like the Judicial Review will determine how much we as Coventry fans can look forward to another season of League One football.

Season In Review: Part 3

Coventry City headed into the New Year comfortably in mid-table with hopes of going on a 2 or 3 game winning streak to reignite the club’s play-off hopes after a difficult 6 weeks. The New Year also meant the opening of the January Transfer Window, it seemed likely that right-back Cyrus Christie would be sold to a Championship rather than be let go on a free in the summer. There were rumours linking Callum Wilson and Leon Clarke with moves elsewhere but there were many that were confident that the feel-good mood around the club would be enough for the duo to continue their partnership until at least the end of the season. Mainly, Coventry City fans were hoping to see additions to the squad rather than departures with Celtic youngster Dylan McGeouch the most heavily rumoured player on the club’s radar.

Carl Baker's trickling effort from the half-way line sealed victory at Rotherham

Carl Baker’s trickling effort from the half-way line sealed victory at Rotherham

A trip to Rotherham’s New York Stadium seemed like a steep ask for the side’s rebuilding confidence on New Year’s Day. After being thoroughly outplayed yet again by the Millers, the Sky Blues somehow made it into the break just one goal down. The second half saw the team play closer to the level expected of them, however it wasn’t until Craig Morgan was sent off for Rotherham and Carl Baker scored the resulting penalty did Coventry ever look like taking something from the fixture. A goal that was later credited to Cyrus Christie from a corner gave Coventry the lead and the win was sealed by Carl Baker’s trickling effort which eventually rolled over the goal-line with the Rotherham keeper going forward for a last-minute corner. The win proved to be a costly one for the team with Callum Wilson suffering a shoulder injury that was set to keep him out for two months.

Coventry City continued their run of playing poorly in the first-half and improving in the second with a win in the FA Cup third round over Barnsley. Goals from Franck Moussa and Leon Clarke sealed a victory that eventually earned the club a glamour tie away at Arsenal in the fourth round.

January was marred for Sky Blues fans with star striker Leon Clarke handing in a transfer request.

January was marred for Sky Blues fans with star striker Leon Clarke handing in a transfer request.

As the club entered what seemed to be a straightforward fixture at ‘home’ to Crawley Town there was a sense that the club was rebuilding the form that it had lost since drawing against Bradford. Steven Pressley made an intriguing team selection with Jordan Clarke called in to play as a striker alongside Franck Moussa with Leon Clarke apparently missing through injury. Throughout the game, which saw Coventry drop two points by conceding two goals in the final 7 minutes of the game, there were rumours that Leon Clarke had handed in a transfer request to force through a move to his former club Wolves. These fears were confirmed by an official club statement confirming the rumours of Clarke’s desire to leave.

The inevitable had finally seemed to have happened, Coventry City were now unable to keep their star players as a result of the move to Northampton. Pressley seemed determined to keep Leon Clarke involved with the first-team until he actually did leave and the club were making noises about wanting to make sure that they got the best possible price. In Clarke’s next appearance for the Sky Blues he didn’t seem to be playing any better or worse as a result of his transfer request as Franck Moussa’s late goal won a point against a tough Preston side.

A fan protest against the club's move to Northampton was the highlight of the cup tie against Arsenal

A fan protest against the club’s move to Northampton was the highlight of the cup tie against Arsenal

Ahead of the club’s big fixture against Arsenal the following Friday Leon Clarke remained available for selection. Coventry fans travelling to the game saw the fixture as an opportunity to raise awareness of the club’s plight in front of the global media. The game itself saw the team struggle to adjust to the quality of their opponents with Arsenal running out 4-0 victors without really breaking into a sweat. The protest, which involved raising banners which said ‘Why?’ and ‘When?’, was much more of a success and did raise attention of the club’s situation in a memorable manner.

The cup tie proved to be Leon Clarke’s final game in a Coventry shirt as he refused to play as the club faced a difficult away trip at Leyton Orient. Teenage striker George Thomas was called up to first-team duty and put in as good a performance as you could expect from a 16-year-old playing as a lone striker. The team lost 2-0 in a fairly abject performance overall.

As transfer deadline day approached the team was in desperate need of reinforcements as Leon Clarke eventually got his move to Wolves. However the club seemed reluctant to invest in permanent signings, instead going for a multitude of loan players with midfielder Dylan McGeouch, strikers Nathan Delfouneso and Rory Donnelly were all brought in as the transfer window closed. Mark Marshall, back in professional football after a drugs-related ban, was also signed just a day after the closing of the transfer window.

Still fans were optimistic that the reinforcements signed would help boost morale in a side that had been ailing with a number of injuries and losses of form over the past month. The Tuesday night win over Bristol City seemed to augur well for the final months of the season with Franck Moussa and Andy Webster on the scoresheet in a fairly comfortable 2-1 victory at Ashton Gate.

Defeat at Tranmere saw the team slip to their third defeat in a row.

Defeat at Tranmere saw the team slip to their third defeat in a row.

However the noise from the training ground didn’t seem to be entirely optimistic, loanee Rory Donnelly had terminated his loan spell with the club after a single training session. With Callum Wilson injured and Nathan Delfouneso seemingly struggling for fitness it left the club without any match-fit strikers for the next few games. A shocking performance against Notts County ensued with the Magpies running out comfortable 3-0 victors. A mid-week loss against Carlisle was only notable for the loan additions of Chuba Akpom and Michael Petrasso making their debuts in attack. The club continued this poor run of form with another loss at lowly Tranmere which saw the club suffer the ignominy of having loanee Chuba Akpom choosing to play youth-team football rather than with Coventry City.

Having seemed like being able to challenge for the play-offs at the beginning of the month, the team was now just a couple of defeats away from slipping into the bottom 4. The club had failed to adequately replace Leon Clarke in the side, seemingly unprepared and having no immediate replacements for the striker lined up prior to January. It seemed like we panicked in the transfer market and signed anyone available rather than properly scouting players to see how they would fit into the first-team. Steven Pressley had tried to play the same system as when he had Clarke in the team, one which left the team exposed at the back. The fixture against Shrewsbury seemed vital in stopping the rot that had set in over the past few months at the club.

Nathan Delfouneso's winner saw Coventry win a vital mid-week fixture against Walsall.

Nathan Delfouneso’s winner saw Coventry win a vital mid-week fixture against Walsall.

The team was boosted for that game with the return of Callum Wilson to the side but Pressley selected a defensive line-up with Jordan Willis and Jordan Clarke playing the full-back positions ahead of the more attacking Cyrus Christie and Blair Adams. The 0-0 result vindicated Pressley’s selection in that it prevented another sloppy defeat but the team left a lot to be desired in a game where Shrewsbury created the better opportunities. However the game proved to be a platform for a 2-1 victory over Walsall which saw Wilson and Delfouneso on the scoresheet with the team looking like they had turned the corner.

Season In Review: Part 2

Aaron Phillips provided one of the season's memorable moments with his late equaliser against Wolves.

Aaron Phillips provided one of the season’s memorable moments with his late equaliser against Wolves.

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.

Franck Moussa's wonderful goal sent Coventry on the way to victory over Leyton Orient.

Franck Moussa’s wonderful goal sent Coventry on the way to victory over Leyton Orient.

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.

Steven Pressley clashed with Bradford manager Phil Parkinson in a heated affair at Valley Parade.

Steven Pressley clashed with Bradford manager Phil Parkinson in a heated affair at Valley Parade.

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.

Chris Maguire's two free-kicks secured a fantastic comeback victory in Milton Keynes.

Chris Maguire’s two free-kicks secured a fantastic comeback victory in Milton Keynes.

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.

Leon Clarke Was In Inspirational Form as Coventry beat Peterborough 4-2 on Boxing Day.

Leon Clarke was in inspirational form as Coventry beat Peterborough 4-2 on Boxing Day.

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.

Season In Review: Part 1

Now that the season is over I take the time to look over Coventry City’s 2013/14, a season of joy and frustration as the club attempted to overcome various off-the-field worries and compete in League One. This review is an attempt to chart the campaign for Coventry City and pinpoint what went right and wrong over the course of the season.

Coventry began the season under a cloud and playing outside of the city at Sixfields in Northampton.

Coventry began the season under a cloud and playing outside of the city at Sixfields in Northampton.

Coventry City’s season began with the news that the club had been docked 10 points after a part of the club’s seemingly complex company structure was liquidated following a bitter rent dispute with the city council. The fiasco surrounding the club’s row over a rental agreement at the Ricoh Arena also meant that the team would be playing over 30 miles outside of the city at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium and was operating under a transfer embargo enforced by the Football League. Furthermore there were question marks over manager Steven Pressley’s managerial ability with the Scot having won 3 out of his 10 league games in charge and experimenting with various starting line-ups and a passing style of football.

Pressley had spent the summer trying to ignore the off-field troubles that the club had endured, attempting to build a younger, more dynamic first-team to match his footballing philosophy. The main departures over the summer were Gary McSheffrey after an underwhelming second spell at the club, Richard Wood, a sometimes commanding centre-back and Steven Jennings, a ball-winning midfielder who had endured a mixed season at the club. With no signings brought in for the opening fixture of the season with Crawley, senior players like Carl Baker, Joe Murphy and Leon Clarke were set to play a key role in leading the club through what looked set to be a difficult season.

After falling behind to two goals in the opening 20 minutes, Coventry City fans could be forgiven for having that sinking feeling that comes when you feel your team is doomed. However a second-half fight-back with goals from promising striker Callum Wilson and the inconsistent Franck Moussa levelled the game with 10 minutes to go. Yet inexperience at the back with youth-teamer Jordan Willis partnering the right-back Jordan Clarke in the centre of defence cost the Sky Blues a point with Crawley eventually finding a winner through Mike Jones.

Billy Daniels's late goal won Coventry their first game of the season 5-4 against Bristol City.

Billy Daniels’s late goal won Coventry their first game of the season 5-4 against Bristol City.

A League Cup tie in mid-week against Leyton Orient followed a similar pattern with the Sky Blues losing 3-2 once again with the game turning around a Leon Clarke missed penalty and a reckless Carl Baker red card. Going into the dreaded occasion of the club’s first ‘home’ game outside of the city against recently relegated Bristol City, it seemed like the team were once again set to play the role of unlucky losers in a similar fashion to Andy Thorn’s side who were relegated from the Championship two seasons before. Yet something miraculous seemed to happen to counter the misery and sense of doom above many Coventry City fan’s heads. The team raced into a 3 goal lead against the Robins with Leon Clarke and then Callum Wilson and Billy Daniels scoring in what was a display of furious pressing from a young Coventry side. Bristol City managed to wipe out Coventry’s advantage with 3 goals of their own resulting from unlucky deflections and poor defending from the Sky Blues. However the team didn’t let their heads drop with Wilson scoring almost straight from the kick-off and Billy Daniels heading in the eventually winner in stoppage time to seal the team’s first win of the season.

Pressley had seemed to have delivered on his promise over the first 6 months of his reign when he talked of building a small squad that will play a hard-pressing and passing style of football. None of the players released over the summer seemed necessary in the tight unit that he had forged. His two eventual signings over the summer complemented the team and improved it, Andy Webster added experience and an aerial presence to the backline and Mathieu Manset was the perfect impact sub with his height and strength. Coventry followed up their impressive win over Bristol City with a comfortable thrashing of Carlisle at Brunton Park, the team seemed set to wipe out their points deduction in record time.

Preston were next up for the Sky Blues in the second game at Sixfields. Simon Grayson’s robust and competitive side appeared to be Coventry’s toughest opponents of the campaign thus far and took the lead in the 10th minute. Leon Clarke’s equaliser 15 minutes later saw Coventry somewhat fortunately make it to the break level. Preston regained the lead from a set-piece but Wilson levelled 6 minutes later. Wilson improved his early season goal-scoring record by giving the side a lead with 7 minutes left on the clock. However the team seemed to get a bit cocky with one too many passes as the crowd ‘oled’ at their football, Preston struck a hammer blow against the Sky Blues with 2 goals with time running out. Somehow Steven Pressley’s team found a way to snatch another late goal through Mathieu Manset to take a point in another heart-stopping game of football at Sixfields.

Coventry moved into positive points thanks to a brace from Callum Wilson against Colchester at Sixfields.

Coventry moved into positive points thanks to a brace from Callum Wilson against Colchester at Sixfields.

A trip to Shrewsbury seemed like the perfect chance for Coventry to move into positive points. However a low-key display where the team struggled to build on an early Callum Wilson goal saw the Sky Blues remain on negative points after conceding early in the second-half. Two ‘home’ games in a row against Colchester and then Gillingham saw Coventry move into positive points and then out of the bottom 4. Against a makeshift Colchester side, Coventry demonstrated poise and control to comfortably win 2-0 with Wilson scoring each of the goals. Against more dogged opposition in Gillingham the Sky Blues eventually scored a late winner after ex-striker Cody McDonald had cancelled out Leon Clarke’s early goal.

Going into a trip to Vale Park the team were brimming full of confidence and looking to surge up the table and make it a memorable season. Callum Wilson was yet again on the scoresheet as the Sky Blues were looking to give a sizeable travelling contingent something to cheer about. Port Vale, managed by former manager Micky Adams, snatched an equaliser via a hopeful punt seized upon by Tom Pope. Franck Moussa scored a sensational goal form long-range to restore Coventry’s advantage going into the break. A tactical change from the Valiants caught Coventry City cold in the second-half as Doug Loft and another former Sky Blue in Chris Birchall gave Port Vale what turned out to be a fully deserved 3 points.

Brentford's skill and physicality were too much for Coventry to handle as they slipped to a 2nd defeat in a row.

Brentford’s skill and physicality were too much for Coventry to handle as they slipped to a 2nd defeat in a row.

Brentford were Coventry’s next opponents at Sixfields, a venue where the team were unbeaten thus far in the season. However another naive display from Coventry saw Brentford win out easily by 2 goals. Coventry City’s defensive frailties were clear to see in the early weeks of the season, the team struggled to cope with physical opposition and were regularly undone by either set-pieces or long-balls. Another cup tie against Leyton Orient saw Coventry City lose on penalties to exit the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in the first round. After 9 league games, Coventry were in the bottom 4 and had now failed to win in their past 3 games. Steven Pressley’s side needed wins to restore confidence and momentum ahead of a tough looking month of October.

City travelled to Stevenage in their following league fixture, one which was won after Leon Clarke seized on a poor back-pass to give the team all three points. The game was marred by an injury inflicted to Cyrus Christie which would rule him out of action for a month. Aside from Coventry’s front two, Christie had been one of the team’s key players, providing forward thrust with his entertaining runs from the right-back position. His two replacements were the inexperienced Jordan Willis and Aaron Phillips who had barely 10 league appearances between the two of them.

Callum Wilson and Leon Clarke combined superbly to see of Sheffield United at Sixfields.

Callum Wilson and Leon Clarke combined superbly to see off Sheffield United at Sixfields.

With the Sky cameras on them at Sixfields, Coventry built on their solid win over Stevenage with an enterprising performance against a managerless Sheffield United. It was an entertaining first 60 minutes for Coventry fans as Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson dovetailed brilliantly against a cumbersome Blades team featuring former striker Marlon King who put in a poor display. However the win was made more uncomfortable thanks to two goals from Lyle Taylor, a former Pressley player at Falkirk, which saw the Sky Blues nervously hold on to a 3-2 victory which should have been much more emphatic.

Why Jordan Clarke Should Win Player Of The Year

The final part of my assessment of the leading four contenders for the club’s player of the year award. The man under the microscope today is a player who has endured a tough career since emerging from the club’s youth ranks, from being played out of position in many of his early games, to an injury which ruled him out of much of the 2011/12 season, to being placed on the transfer list last summer. Yes it’s Jordan Clarke who has endured a long journey to find himself in the reckoning having to prove himself against naysayers for pretty much the entirety of his Coventry career.

Following a non-descript campaign last season, Jordan Clarke was somewhat harshly placed on the transfer list by Steven Pressley who was looking to assert his blue-print on the first-team. Whilst many agreed that Jordan Clarke was perhaps the least deserving of an unceremonious exit from the Sky Blues, it was also felt that Cyrus Christie was the much better choice to have in the right-back berth with Jordan Willis a promising back-up player. Not many knew what the future held for Clarke, who has shown promise at times during his Coventry career but hadn’t really seemed to kick on from the stage of being a decent youth prospect.

However the loss of Richard Wood and the failure to secure Aaron Martin on a permanent contract last summer left Steven Pressley at a loss to find two centre-halves to play in the opening months of the 2013/14 season. Adam Barton, Cyrus Christie and youth-team central midfielder Jack Finch were all tested in pre-season friendlies but it was only when Pressley gave Jordan Clarke a second chance did the club have a viable centre-back pairing for the opening game of the season against Crawley. Jordan Clarke formed an inexperienced partnership with Jordan Willis in the opening two games of the campaign which saw the team somewhat unluckily lose 3-2 against both Crawley and Leyton Orient.

It was clear that the duo lacked the authority to force brutish League One centre-forwards into submission. To solve the problem Pressley turned to his former team-mate Andy Webster, a veteran Scotland international who was called upon to act as the defensive leader the team had been lacking. As the club’s first ‘home’ game outside of the city limits approached it seemed like Clarke would be sacrificed to make way for Webster and return to the back-up right-back role he had assumed the previous season. Pressley though had seen something in Clarke which made him crucial to his system and so Clarke and Webster played their first game as a centre-back pairing.

Despite conceding 4 during a remarkable win over Bristol City, those who had made the trip to Northampton found out just why Jordan Clarke had been chosen to continue as a centre-back. His distribution of the ball from defence was elegant and allowed the team to pass their way out of pressure and build attacks. His pace and timing of the challenge allowed him to cover for Webster’s lack of agility, it was the classic ‘stopper’ and ‘coverer’ partnership that teams look for in their centre-backs. Clarke’s performance in central defence was in stark contrast to how Richard Wood and William Edjenguele struggled with the ball at their feet during Pressley’s first two months in charge.

Over the course of the first 3 months of the season Clarke went from strength to strength as a centre-back. His composure on the ball improved as his confidence improved, this formed the Jordan Clarke-John Fleck-Leon Clarke axis which was the basis of our success in the first half of the campaign. Jordan Clarke’s marking and aerial ability improved immeasurably as the season’s opening months progressed, whilst his lack of height was targeted by opposing teams, Clarke quickly rose to the challenge and caught a number of teams out who were looking to exploit this perceived weakness.

It was all going so well until Coventry City travelled to Valley Parade when looking to extend a 4 game winning streak. The team had rushed into a 2 goal lead in the opening 10 minutes of the game, however an air-kick from Jordan Clarke in what should have been a simple clearance allowed Bradford City back into the game. From then on Bradford exploiting Clarke’s nervousness from high balls and eventually secured a smash and grab point in a game which Coventry would have won easily with just a little bit more composure.

The worst thing about the game from Clarke’s point of view was that it was on TV. As many Coventry fans were deprived of watching their team, Clarke’s performance in front of the Sky cameras cost him the fans confidence. From the next month onwards, Jordan Clarke was perceived as the sole cause of the team’s defensive failings as Coventry City struggled to recapture their mojo. After two heavy beatings from Tranmere and Rotherham, Clarke was eventually dropped in favour of the loanee centre-back Danny Seaborne.

Clarke had to endure a tough following few months as the team tightened up defensively with Clarke having to play a utility man role on the wings or as an emergency centre-forward. After the departure of his namesake Leon Clarke to Wolves and the team going through a 3 game losing streak, Clarke was eventually restored to the first 11 as a left-back with the brief to ‘keep things tight’. During the months of March and April, Clarke won back his first-team place after regaining his composure on the ball. His return to form over the past month has helped keep the team in the division with the team finding a new found defensive solidity.

It’s been a long old season for Jordan Clarke but once again he’s been able to overcome his weaknesses and doubters and become a better footballer. For me it’s a two-way fight between Jordan Clarke and Callum Wilson over who has improved the most over the course of the season. It’s one of the few things that Coventry fans can look forward to next season for certain that we’ll continue to have Jordan Clarke bringing his composure to the defence.