Sunday, 23 February 2020

Jim's column 21.2.2020

I try and keep an eye on former Coventry City players and follow their careers. Last week Colin Heys came up with one I wasn't aware of, Ruben Lameiras, who is back in his home country of Portugal playing for Famalicao. Ruben left Coventry in the summer of 2017 after making 69 appearances for the club including the EFL Trophy final in 2017 and joined Plymouth Argyle. After suffering relegation from League One with the Sky Blues that season he endured another torrid season last year with Argyle which saw the Pilgrims relegated to League Two.

Despite being offered a new deal at Home Park, Ruben decided to move to the Portuguese side who were promoted to the top flight for the first time in 25 years and it seems that he is making a success of things as Colin points out that World Soccer magazine have identified him as 'one to watch'. Famalicao are doing remarkable well too, lying in sixth place in the Primeira Liga and through to the Cup semi finals for the first time in their history, not bad for a club whose stadium holds just over 5,000.

Another former City player who came across my radar recently is Phillipe Clement who is managing Belgian league leaders Club Brugge who played Manchester United in the Europa League this week. Phillipe spent one unhappy, injury-ridden season at Coventry in 1998-99 having joined from Genk and made just 16 appearances, eight of them from the bench before returning to his homeland to play for Club Brugge. His injury problems cleared up after his move and he went on to make over 300 appearances for Brugge in the next 10 years as well as winning 38 full caps for his country. He's still relatively new at the management game but led Genk to a surprise league title last season and was lured away to Brugge who currently lead the Belgian League by 11 points.
                                                                Philippe Clement                     

Nearer to home, National League side Barrow are seven points clear at the top of the table and look favourites to gain promotion to the Football League after almost 50 years in non-league. They lost their place in the league in 1972 in times when the bottom four sides in the old Division Four had to seek re-election in a vote with the best non-league sides. That year Barrow were unfortunate to face, in the vote, Hereford United, who had captured the nation's hearts with their FA Cup exploits earlier that year. Poor old Barrow lost out and have never got near returning to the league until this season. They are managed by Cov kid Ian Evatt, who played almost 600 senior games for Derby, Northampton, Chesterfield, QPR and Blackpool including a season in the Premier League with the Seasiders. Ian, in his first full-time management role, is supported by his assistant, former City defender Peter Atherton who made 120 appearances for the Sky Blues in the early 1990s. Another at barrow with a Coventry connection is striker Dior Angus, son of former Nuneaton, Northampton and Fulham defender Terry Angus.
                                                                        Peter Atherton

Colin Heys also alerted to me to the fact that former Coventry loanee Chuba Akpom is a star in Greece with PAOK Salonika. He left Arsenal in 2018 to join the Greek side and was a member of the team that won the domestic double last season with Chuba scoring the winner in the Cup final. He is a regular again this season and has appeared in the UEFA Champions League.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Jim's column 15.2.2020

Two home wins in four days have lifted the Sky Blues up to third place in League One a position they were last placed on 1st January after the 4-1 victory at Tranmere. The victories over Bolton and Portsmouth mean the team are unbeaten in nine league games (including seven wins) and thirteen games in all competitions. The latter run is the club's best since 1998 when Gordon Strachan's side combined a strong second half of the Premiership with a fabulous FA Cup run including victories at Liverpool and Aston Villa. The FA Cup run came to an unlucky end in a penalty shoot-out at Bramall Lane but the unbeaten run went on for a further two games before Villa got their revenge with a 2-1 league win at Highfield Road.

The club record for an unbeaten run in all competitions is always assumed to be the 1966-67 promotion team who, of course, went 25 games unbeaten in winning the Second Division title. However that team lost an FA Cup third round tie to Newcastle in the middle of the fantastic league run and their best unbeaten run in league and cup games was 15 from the cup defeat until the end of the season. The club record can be found in another Jimmy Hill season, 1962-63. After losing 5-1 at Portsmouth in a League Cup tie on 17th October, the Sky Blues remained unbeaten in all games until 30th March when Manchester United won the FA Cup sixth round tie at Highfield Road – a total of 22 games (14 in Division Three and eight in the FA Cup). That was the winter of the big freeze and because of postponements caused by weather or FA Cup commitments they were left having to play 16 league games in seven weeks and their promotion push fizzled out and they finished fourth in the table.

This current team's performances reminds me so much of the 1966-67 campaign, especially since Christmas. Narrow home wins and late goals were a feature of that promotion campaign after Christmas. JH's team, like the current side, had two convincing victories at Christmas, beating Rotherham 4-2 and Portsmouth 5-1, but then struggled to overcome sides at home. The next seven home league games went as follows:

14th January Norwich won 2-1 (Ernie Machin scores 89th minute winner)
11th February Preston won 2-1 (Machin and Bobby Gould score in last 10 minutes)
25th February Carlisle won 2-1 (Machin scores 88th minute winner)
18th March Bolton drew 1-1 (City concede 87th minute equaliser)
28th March Northampton won 2-0 (City only secure victory with Gould's 83rd minute goal)
1st April Derby drew 2-2 (Machin scores 80th minute equaliser)
15th April Huddersfield won 1-0 (Gould's second half goal in a scrappy win)

Ironically, in the next home game against their fiercest rivals Wolves, the Sky Blues turned on the style and won 3-1.

In between these home results the team remained unbeaten away with three wins and five draws with all three victories by the odd goal). Older fans may remember that season with fond memories but it was hard going with results, at home and away, ground out every week. Several opposition managers criticised City's physical approach to games with Bob Stokoe of Charlton describing City as the dirtiest side he had seen.

The point I am trying to make is that City's great 1967 team didn't thrash the opposition every week, they fought hard, never gave up and remained unbeaten even when they didn't play well and relied on an outstanding home record with only one defeat at Highfield Road all season. Does that remind you of Mark Robins' current team?

Monday, 10 February 2020

Jim's column 8.2.2020

Coventry City's FA Cup run came to a dramatic end on Tuesday evening with a penalty shoot-out going 4-1 in Birmingham's favour but the plaudits going to the Sky Blues for their performance. But for the late goals in the 92nd minute and 120th minutes we would be planning a trip to Leicester in round five. I suppose the positive way of looking at things is that the team can concentrate on the promotion race which couldn't be tighter. Today's home game with Bolton and Tuesday night's six-pointer with in-form Portsmouth are crucial and a bounce-back after Tuesday night is vital.

The game on Tuesday night was City's seventh in the competition and equalled the most FA Cup games in a season since 1962-63 when City reached the quarter finals as a Third Division side and played nine games. City's extra-time record in the competition isn't great – they haven't won after extra-time since the Wembley final in 1987. Since that memorable victory over Tottenham they have now lost four extra-time ties:

1994-95 v Norwich City (a) 1-3 (after 1-1 draw)
1997-98 v Sheffield United (a) 1-1 (after 1-1 draw) (City lost on penalties)
2009-10 V Portsmouth (h) 1-2 (after 1-1 draw)
2019-20 v Birmingham (a) 2-2 (after 0-0 draw) (City lost on penalties)

In total City have now gone to extra-time in 15 FA Cup ties, stretching back to 1908, and have won only three times, at Derby in 1974, the 1987 semi-final against Leeds and the final against Tottenham. In the days before penalty shoot-outs City survived extra-time and went on to play second replays on four occasions, progressing three times, the last time in 1984 v Wolves in the Third round.

The League Cup is a much younger competition and since its conception in 1960 City have played extra-time on nine occasions and have a better record. They have won after extra-time six times including once in a penalty shoot-out (at Peterborough in 2001).

I had an interesting enquiry from the Southampton historian this week concerning former City player George Lowrie. Born in Tonypandy, South Wales in 1919, George was on Second Division Swansea's books as a teenager and made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old in 1937. First Division Preston spotted his potential and just over a year later he moved to Deepdale. He played five games for Preston before Harry Storer signed him for Coventry in June 1939, two months before war broke out in Europe. His City debut took place on the day before was broke out and he netted in a 4-2 Second Division win over Barnsley before the season was aborted.

During the war he guested for Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and Northampton as well as playing in a good number of unofficial games for City and his goalscoring exploits earned him four wartime Welsh caps. When official league football restarted in 1946, having effectively lost seven years of his career, he must have been like a coiled spring. He scored freely in an average City team with five hat-tricks including three in successive home games in a total of 29 in league and FA Cup in 36 games. He carried that form into 1947-48 and by early March 1948 had netted 18 goals in 22 games. Transfer rumours abounded as the deadline approached and his final City game was in a 1-0 home defeat to Southampton. That was on the Saturday and on the Wednesday he appeared for Wales against Northern Ireland at Wrexham. On the Thursday Newcastle's manager and director were in Coventry negotiating his move to the Second Division team. Newcastle were cash-rich from average crowds of almost 50,000 and under the regulations in those days couldn't offset ground improvements against a punitive tax rate but could spend their profits on players. As a result City held out for £20,000, the second highest British transfer fee at that time.
                                                 City's 1947-48 team with Lowrie seated at front

Having played his final City game against Southampton, Lowrie made his Newcastle debut at the Dell two days later, with Saints winning 4-2 (thus the interest from the Saints' historian). He scored only one goal in his first five games before suffering a serious knee injury. Newcastle won promotion and Lowrie returned to the team the following season but made only seven more appearances over eighteen months before joining Bristol City for £10,000. He partly rediscovered his goal touch in the Third Division before making a sentimental return to Highfield Road in 1952 to try and save City from relegation from Division Two. He managed three goals in 12 games but couldn't keep City up. After less than half a season in the lower division George, now 33, moved back to South Wales to play for non-league Lovells Athletic. His incredible goalscoring ratio, 59 goals in 85 games, is bettered by only one other City player, the legendary Clarrie Bourton.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Jim's column 1.2.2020

The games are coming thick and fast for the Sky Blues and February promises to be a crucial month with seven first-team games including today's match at Bristol Rovers. Home games against fellow promotion contenders Portsmouth and Rotherham are real six-pointers and City need to keep their momentum up with hopefully less draws and more victories.

What a great atmosphere at St Andrews last week for the cup-tie and it promises to be similar on Tuesday night under the lights in the replay. The attendance at last week's game was restricted due to safety and police guidance but numbered a healthy 21,193. There were 11,728 Coventry fans, the highest number to watch the team outside Coventry other than at Wembley since the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough in 1987 when 25,000 were present. The Blues contingent was impressive too – with 9,465 'away' fans the largest away following at a City game since Highfield Road was made all-seater in 1981. Earlier that year there were an estimated 10,000 West Ham fans for the first leg of the League Cup semi-final.

Coventry City will be playing their seventh game in this season's FA Cup on Tuesday night – the most they have played in the competition in a single season since the famous 1963 run when the club played nine games in reaching the Quarter Finals as a Third Division club. That season their games were as follows:-

Round 1 Bournemouth (h) 1-0
Round 2 Millwall (a) 0-0
replay Millwall (h) 2-1
Round 3 Lincoln City (a) 5-1
Round 4 Portsmouth (a) 1-1
replay Portsmouth (h) 2-2
2nd replay Portsmouth* 2-1
Round 5 Sunderland (h) 2-1
Round 6 Manchester United (h) 1-3
*second replay at White Hart Lane

The drawn game against Birmingham meant that the club have had three successive ties with replays something that has only happened once before, in 1974. That season City beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 in round three after a 0-0 draw at Hillsborough, beat Derby 1-0 after a 0-0 draw at Highfield Road but lost in round five, 3-2 at QPR, after a 0-0 draw at Coventry.

After the Blues cup game I had the pleasure of meeting former City player Jim Hagan who was over in the UK for a rare visit from his home in Southern Spain. Jim, now aged 63, made only nineteen appearances for the Sky Blues between 1978-82 before joining Birmingham and playing over 150 games for the Bluenoses. A central defender, most of Jim's games in Sky Blue came in 1978-79 when he stood in for Gary Gillespie and partnered Jim Holton at the back. The Northern Irishman went to Torquay on loan in 1979-80 and then had spells with Seiko in Hong Kong and Jimmy Hill's US teams, Detroit Express and Washington Diplomats. He returned to Highfield Road in 1981 and was a regular in the reserves but couldn't win a regular first team place because of the form of Gillespie and Paul Dyson. His final game for the club was an FA Cup sixth round defeat at West Brom in March 1982 and he moved to St Andrews that summer. I managed to introduce him to CCFPA president Kirk Stephens and they discovered they have homes a few miles apart on the Costa Del Sol. Another reunion occurred with Harry Roberts (another who played for both the Sky Blues and the Blues) and the two reminisced about lift sharing to Birmingham in the 1980s.
                                                                 Jim Hagan receiving his CCFPA tie

Monday, 20 January 2020

Jim's column 18.1.2020

Coventry City overcame Bristol Rovers comfortably in their FA Cup Third round replay at St Andrew’s on Tuesday evening. Their 3-0 victory was the clubs biggest FA Cup replay win since 2003 when Cardiff City were despatched by the same score at Highfield Road.

The victory sets up an enthralling Fourth round tie with the club’s landlords Birmingham City with the Sky Blues the ‘home’ side at St Andrew’s. It will be the fourth FA Cup meeting between the clubs and Blues have the edge having won two to City’s one. The first meeting was in the Third round at St Andrew’s in 1935 when Blues were a First Division club and Coventry were in Division Three South. Blues’ pedigree prevailed with a 5-1 victory thanks to a Fred Harris hat-trick and City’s consolation coming via a Les Jones penalty. A crowd of over 40,000 watched the tie.

The next meeting was at Highfield Road in 1981 in front of 29,000, when both sides were in Division One. In a close game Gerry Daly and Andy Blair gave the home side a 2-0 half-time lead before Frank Worthington, with a penalty, and Alan Ainscow levelled things. Daly won the tie from the penalty spot to send the Sky Blues to a Fifth round tie at Tottenham.

The most recent meeting was in 2011 in the Fourth round at St Andrew’s. Blues were in the Premier League with City in the Championship but the game didn’t excite the fans and only 16,000 were present. The Sky Blues took a 2-0 lead through Richard Wood and Marlon King before David Bentley pulled one back with a screamer from 25 yards. After half-time the home side’s quality began to tell and they sealed the tie with goals from Stuart Parnaby and Kevin Phillips. The Blues went on to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Bolton.

Josh Pask made an impressive senior debut for the club on Tuesday night and capped it with a stunning goal. Fellow historian Paul O’Connor pointed out that Pask is the first player to score for the club on his debut in an FA Cup game since City joined the league in 1919. That’s not strictly true - Coventry-born winger Dennis Simpson scored in the home FA Cup game with Aston Villa in January 1946 which City won 2-1. Whilst it was Simpson’s first ‘official’ competitive game for the club, he had played numerous times for the club in wartime games. Dennis went to play 69 games for City before joining Reading where he played almost 200 games.

The Sky Blues’ home form continues to be good with only one defeat in 18 games in all competitions. MK Dons however did become the first side not to lose at St Andrew’s after going behind. Ironically it was Coventry’s fastest goal of the season that put the ahead with Sam McCallum’s strike timed at 50 seconds.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Jim's column 11.1.2020

The Sky Blues have their first FA Cup replay on Tuesday night when they entertain Bristol Rovers for a place in the Fourth round and a home tie with Birmingham City. The intriguing prospect of a game against our landlords makes the replay even more interesting. 

Last week's draw at Bristol stopped City winning their third successive away FA Cup tie of the season, something they have not done since 1987 when, of course, they went on to lift the trophy. In fact it would have been only the third time ever – the other occasion being in 1909-10 when City, as a non-league club, won away at Kettering, First Division Preston and Portsmouth, on their way to a quarter final tie with Everton.

I've been looking at City's record in home FA Cup replays and it is very interesting. Since World War Two City have had 14 home replays in the competition and have lost only three. Two of those defeats have been at the Ricoh (v Bristol City in 2007 and v Portsmouth in 2010), the other way back in 1955 against First Division Huddersfield and two of the three defeats came after extra time. Therefore in fourteen home replays the team has lost only once inside ninety minutes. Highfield Road was undoubtedly a fortress when it came to Cup replays but only two of the four staged at the Ricoh have been won. The full list is as follows:

1951-52 v Leicester City won 4-1
1954-55 v Huddersfield lost 2-3 (after extra time)
1962-63 v Millwall won 2-1
1962-63 v Portsmouth drew 2-2 (won 2nd replay)
1965-66 v Crewe won 4-1
1973-74 v Sheffield Wed. won 3-1
1980-81 v Leeds United won 1-0
1983-84 v Wolves won 3-0 (2nd replay)
2002-03 v Cardiff won 3-0
2006-07 v Bristol City lost 0-2
2008-09 v Blackburn won 1-0
2009-10 v Portsmouth lost 1-2 (after extra time)
2013-14 v Hartlepool won 2-1
2016-17 v Morecambe won 2-1

It's sad to report the death of former City youth player John Matthews at the age of 73. Coventry-born John was the son of ex-City player Horace Matthews and joined City after being spotted playing for GEC. John was a winger and played in the same youth team as Mick Coop and Pat Morrissey but his first team chances were non-existent due to the form of Ronnie Rees and John Mitten. In 1966 Jimmy Hill was approached by Mick Lynch, the manager of Waterford, seeking a young player on loan. JH agreed for young John, who would have probably been released that summer, to go over for six weeks to gain some experience and in his first seven games he helped them clinch their first ever League of Ireland championship. John signed permanently for the club soon afterwards and the club won five more titles over the next six seasons and played in the European Cup against such sides as Manchester United and Celtic. He also played for Cork United, Newcastlewest and Longford Town during a 22-year career. His 156 goals make him the ninth highest goal scorer in the history of the League of Ireland.

After retiring Johnny, as he became known in Ireland, managed Limerick & Waterford United as well as becoming a referee & TV pundit. Thanks to City fan Jim Douglas for the sad news. John can be found on the unique photograph taken of the whole club staff taken in 1966. He is on the far right in the group under number 11 with Dave Clements.

Another who passed away over the Christmas period was Gordon Dougall. Gordon was one of six sons of 1920’s Coventry City star Jimmy Dougall and played for several local clubs including Rugby Town and Lockheed Leamington in the fifties. One of his brothers was Tommy who played four games for City during the Second World War.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Jim's column 4.1.2020

Coventry City fans have been discussing their favourite game of the last decade on social media over the last week or so and the game most mentioned was the thrilling 4-1 win at Notts County to secure a playoff final place in 2018. Coincidentally the Sky Blues ended the decade with another 4-1 victory, at League One leaders Wycombe last Sunday. They then followed it up with another 4-1 win, at Tranmere on New Year’s Day, in the first game of the new decade. After failing to win an away league game since Sunderland in April they were two remarkable results. Several fans wanted to know when the team had last won successive away games by a three goal margin. The answer was, in 2018, the 6-1 win at Cheltenham followed by the famous victory at Meadow Lane.

The results were remarkable enough but not the most remarkable statistic from the games. That honour goes to the hat trick king Matty Godden who scored hat tricks in both games. He’s the first City player to score successive three-goal hauls since Darren Huckerby who achieved the feat in January 1999 against Nottingham Forest in the league and Macclesfield in the FA Cup. You have to go back to November 1952 to find that Don Dorman scored successive hat tricks in league games (Crystal Palace and Torquay). Dorman, a veteran of the Battle of Arnhem, was actually a midfield player only playing in attack because of injuries to other players. 

In 1963 the legendary George Hudson netted three in successive away games, at Trowbridge in the FA Cup and in a league game at QPR. Other players to score consecutive hat tricks are George Lowrie in 1948, Clarrie Bourton in 1932 and Billy Smith in 1908 but the most prolific short-term scorer was Arthur ‘Rasher’ Bacon who, at Christmas 1933, standing in for the injured Bourton, netted five in a 7-3 win at Gillingham and four in a 5-1 home victory over Crystal Palace seven days later.
I believe Godden is in exalted company with his ‘double’ hat trick, the last player to achieve that fact in English football was Tottenham’s Harry Kane in December 2017 who scored threes against Burnley & Southampton.

The Wycombe victory was notable for defeating the league leaders on their own patch and was also the eighth consecutive victory over the Chairboys in all competitions. They must be fed up with the Sky Blues! The Tranmere result was notable for breaking the hoodoo that Rovers have had over City who had only ever won once at Prenton Park, back in a Second Division game in April 1939. In seven subsequent visits City had lost six and drawn once. Two of those defeats came in Cup games when City were a top flight side. In 1968 Third Division Rovers pulled off a FA cup giant killing by drawing at Highfield Road and winning the replay 2-0, then, in 1999 City suffered an embarrassing 5-1 League Cup defeat at Prenton when Italian goalkeeper Rafaele Nuzzo made his one and only first team appearance. This time out City mastered the notorious ‘dodgy’ pitch and ran out deserved winners.
City enter the New Year with only three defeats in the league which is something they have only managed twice before on their history. In 1937-38 they were second in Division Two on New Years Day with only two defeats - they ended up finishing fourth and missing promotion by two points. Then in 1963-64 they were seven points clear at the top of Division Three on New Years Day with just three losses - they won promotion on goal average after a bad stutter in the spring when they failed to win in 11 games.