Monday, 13 August 2018

Jim’s column 11.8.2018

A major milestone is looming in Coventry City's history as the appearance of the 1000th player to
wear the club's shirt approaches. The four debutants on Saturday against Scunthorpe took the total
of City players to have appeared in first-class competitive games since the club joined the Football
League in 1919 to 998. I'm guessing that new signings Junior Brown and Amadou Bakayoko will
get a game either today at AFC Wimbledon or in midweek at Oxford and that the milestone will be
met.
The 998 include any player who appeared for the club in league, FA Cup, League Cup, Football
League Trophy, Texaco (Anglo-Scottish) Cup, Simod Cup, Zenith Data Cup, Southern Floodlit Cup,
Division Three (South) Cup, Play-offs, Charity Shield or European Fairs Cup (I may have missed a
couple there). It does not include players who played in the war years (1939-1946) when there was
no first-class football. It includes players who only made substitute appearances (there are a few of
those) but not those who sat on the bench but were never used.
It's interesting to note the progress towards the 1000 mark
100th player: Harry Deeming (1925) – 6 years '
200th player: Frank Corbett (1931) – 6 years
300th player: Tommy Briggs (1950) – 12 years (excludes 7 war years)
400th player: John Mitten (1963) – 13 years
500th player: Steve Jacobs (1980) – 17 years
600th player: Roy Wegerle (1993) – 13 years
700th player: Steve Walsh (2002) – 9 years
800th player: Robbie Simpson (2007) – 5 years
900th player: Michael Petrasso (2014) – 7 years
1000th player: ? (2018) – 4 years
The timespan between each century illustrates the turnover of players at the club. The period of
lowest turnover was between 1963 and 1980 which included the Jimmy Hill era when so many of
his team were fixtures in the team and transfers were few and far between.
The last four years has seen the heaviest turnover and reflects the changing nature of the game when
new managers want to build their 'own' team and largely discard what they inherited. In addition the
growth of the loan market has seen an acceleration in the number of players used. For example 34
of the 100 since Petrasso in 2014 and 64 of the 200 since Robbie Simpson in 2007 have been
loanees.
Fellow historian Paul O'Connor analysed the timescales of the players and points out that there is a
clear correlation between performance on the pitch and number of players used. There was a high
turnover in the 1920s as the club struggled under several managers. The 1930s were relatively
stable as Harry Storer's team brought success to the city. Jimmy Hill repeated that success in the
1960s and with only two other managers (Cantwell and Mercer/Milne), the period of 1963-1980
had the greatest stability. Things began to change in the early 80s with the team involved in more
relegation battles, a greater turnover of managers and players and this accelerated in the late 90s as
loans became very common.

Friday, 22 June 2018

My tribute to Ernie Hunt

Ernie Hunt
17.3.1943 - 20.6.2018

The death of former Coventry City player Ernie Hunt means that in the space of two years we have lost two of the most talented players of the club's early years in the First Division. First it was Ian Gibson – 'Gibbo' passed away in 2016 - now his partner in crime, Ernie. He was at the club for six years and made 173 appearances for the Sky Blues, scoring 51 goals including 'that' free-kick against Everton in 1970.

Ernie arrived a Highfield Road on the same day as Chris Cattlin on transfer deadline day in March 1968. He had excelled for Wolves the previous season as they had finished runners-up to the Sky Blues and won promotion to the top flight, but a big money (£80,000) move to Everton hadn't worked out and Noel Cantwell, viewing him as a potential saviour for a team looking certain to an immediate return to Division Two paid £65,000 for him. The two new signings made their debut against champions Manchester United the following day and helped the Sky Blues to a famous victory over the Reds. A few weeks later, on the final nail-biting day of that momentous season, it was impish, bow-legged Ernie who took the ball into the corners in the final minutes to waste time and protect a point at Southampton's Dell knowing that it would be enough to avoid relegation.

He will for ever be remembered for the donkey-kick double act with Willie Carr in October 1970 that helped City again beat the reigning champions, Everton this time, a goal that deservedly won the BBC Goal of the Season but was banned by FIFA the following summer. However my favourite memory is of his hat-trick against West Brom in September 1968. The season hadn't started well for City and Ernie's buddy 'Gibbo' had been out injured and rumours swirled that Cantwell wanted to unload the precocious Scot. On top of that Ernie had been dropped to the bench three days earlier. Gibson and Hunt were recalled and 'Gibbo' put on a master-class with three assists for Ernie's hat-trick in the 4-2 victory.


'Hunty' as he was known by his team-mates quickly settled in Coventry and was swiftly introduced to the city's drinking holes and nightspots - in those days footballers were far less disciplined than today's abstemious players. Ernie's exploits feature large in the stories of the club's summer tours of that era to the West Indies and the USA.

In the Cantwell era (1967-72), when the emphasis was very much on defence, Hunt could be relied upon to provide the attacking flair, often ploughing a lone furrow up front. His seemingly wide chest was capable of killing any pass launched at him and immediately drawing admiration for his ball-control. During that period he could always be relied upon to entertain the crowd, either with his audacious skills or a contretemps with a referee, usually with a smile. His playing colleagues will tell you that he wasn't keen on training and liked to lighten the mood at Ryton by wearing fancy dress, anything from a gorilla mask to ladies wigs. Cantwell’s team finished sixth in 1969-70 and Ernie, playing more as a creator and provider on the right, chipped in with nine goals including the winner as City won at Highbury for the first time. The team qualified for the UEFA Fairs Cup and although the Sky Blues fell at the second hurdle it was Ernie who scored City's goal in the 6-1 debacle in Munich just weeks after the famous donkey-kick goal. He finished as leading scorer that season with 13 goals and again the following season with the same number. Ernie appeared to be out of Cantwell's plans in the winter of 1971-72 but following the manager's sacking in early March he was recalled by caretaker boss Bob Dennison and scored some vital goals to ease relegation worries.

Following the arrival of Joe Mercer and Gordon Milne Ernie's days were numbered and he played a handful of games before going on loan to Doncaster and in December 1973 he left for Second Division Bristol City. Sadly his fitness and form deteriorated but not before he helped Bristol to a shock FA Cup victory at Elland Road. After less than 20 games for the Ashton Gate side he was out of league football and playing for non-league Atherstone.

Born in war-time Swindon, the son of Swindon speedway rider Ernie Hunt, he was christened Roger Patrick. However growing up he was known as 'Little Ernie' and the name stuck although some say he adopted the name Ernie to avoid confusion with the legendary Liverpool striker with the same name. A prodigious schoolboy footballer, he was Swindon Town's youngest ever player when he made his debut six months after his 16th birthday in a Third Division game at Grimsby alongside two players, David 'Bronco' Layne and Jimmy Gauld, later implicated in football betting scandals. After three goals from 16 games in his first season he was an ever-present the following campaign as Bert Head's young team which included Mike Summerbee, Don Rogers and Bobby Woodruff started to attract interest from bigger clubs. In 1962-63 the Robins won promotion to Division Two for the first time and Ernie was top scorer with 27 goals. His form was recognised by England boss Alf Ramsey who gave him three Under 23 caps but never promotion to the full squad. He topped Swindon's scoring lists the following season but the team were relegated in 1964-65 and Ernie was snapped up by Wolves for £40,000. In two seasons at Molineux he netted 35 goals in 82 games and was top scorer in the 1966-67 promotion season, although he in three games against the Sky Blues he was well shackled by Dave Clements and failed to find the net.

In 1967-68 season he achieved what must be unique – three visits to Craven Cottage with different teams. On the opening day he appeared there for Wolves then, weeks later, joined Everton and played there for the Toffees. Finally in April he turned out for the Sky Blues there after signing from Everton.

Life after football wasn't kind to Ernie. His marriage broke up and he flitted between various jobs including window cleaning (he fell off a ladder and broke eight ribs) and running a pub ('it was like giving a match to an arsonist' he told me). In the early 1980s he was hard up and sold his stories of match-fixing to a Sunday newspaper. He alleged shenanigans in vital City relegation games at Southampton and Wolves in the early seasons in Division One and involving Leicester City's games in 1969. Back then, at his pub, the Full Pitcher in Ledbury, he told me with an impish grin, in his broad West Country accent, about the Wolves game. Ernie knew most of the Wolves players from his time at the club and allegedly offered them a financial inducement to go easy in what was a vital game for the Sky Blues at Molineux. City led through a stunning Hunt (who else?) goal until twenty minutes from time when Wolves won a free-kick thirty yards out. Wolves players were taking their time deciding who was going to take the kick when from nowhere Peter Knowles raced up and hit a thunderbolt shot past Bill Glazier and into the top of the net. According to Ernie the Wolves players had not told Knowles about the 'deal'. Many of his humorous stories appear in his excellent biography, 'Joker in the Pack' by Chris Westcott, published in 2004.

Ernie was a regular at Legends Days for a number of years and famously one year was getting such a great ovation from the fans that he held up the start of the second half, resulting in a ban on future perimeter parades by the former players. It was clear however in his last few visits that his health was failing, physically and mentally and after the death of his second wife a few years ago he entered a care facility near his Gloucester home.

He is survived by two daughters, Nikki and Sallyann, and a stepdaughter Simone.

His former playing colleague Chris Cattlin, who arrived at Highfield Road on the same day, was shocked by the news of Ernie's passing.

I became very good friends with Hunty over the years,” said Cattlin, “My memories of Ernie are that he was a tremendous player and tremendous professional footballer. He played the game with a smile on his face. He was a character but through the laughter and the joking he was a proper man, and certainly a proper footballer. Whenever I think of him I get a smile on my face. He was a great footballer and a great geezer.”

RIP Ernie

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

2017-18 Stats review

Stats summary
2017-18

After the miserable 2016-17 season which saw the club relegated to the fourth tier for the first time since 1958, four managers and some of the worst stats imaginable, albeit enlivened by a winning trip to Wembley in the Checkatrade (Football League Trophy), it is a pleasure to report an upturn in the club's fortunes. Promotion from League Two, despite finishing sixth, the best FA Cup run for nine years, with a Premiership scalp in round three, not to mention a new goalscoring hero in the shape of 28-goal Marc McNulty who outscored many of the striker heroes of the past fifty years.

It was City’s first promotion for 51 years and there is a direct correlation between McNulty’s scoring records and those of Bobby Gould, George Hudson and Ray Straw in City’s other post-War promotion seasons.

It took the Sky Blues some time to adapt to League Two football but with a subtle mixture of experience (Doyle, Kelly, McDonald, Stokes), some promising young signings (McNulty, Biamou,Hyam, Davies, Grimmer) and of course the home-grown products (Willis, Burge, Bayliss, Shipley) the team finished the season in good form and carried it on in a stunning fashion in the play-offs. The Sky Blue conveyor belt continued to throw up outstanding talent and Bayliss and Shipley would have barely featured on the average fan's radar this time last year. The two local boys took to first team football remarkably and barely missed a game between them after coming in to the side in the late autumn. Mark Robins deserves all the accolades for taking the side straight back up but one cannot overlook the contribution that Academy Director Richard Stevens has made to the club's success this campaign.


Games: Coventry City played 58 competitive games, 46 league, 5 FA Cup, 1 League Cup, 3 Football League Trophy (Checkatrade Trophy) and 3 Play-off games.

Points: The Sky Blues gathered 75 league points during the season – the first time the club has reached 70 points in a season since that three points for a win was introduced in 1981. If three points for a win had been in place before 1981 City's total of 75 would have been the fourth highest in their league history). However under the two points for a win City would not have qualified for the play-offs.

Home Form: 13 wins, 4 draws, 6 losses. 13 home wins was the best haul since 1986-87 when 14 were won (out of 21 games). 43 points equals the number won in 2005-06 which was the best since 1986-87. The defeats were largely surprising – to the two promoted clubs, Newport and Forest Green, and the debacle against Yeovil. The club recorded eight consecutive home wins between December and February, the club's best run since 1954.

Away Form: 9 wins, 5 draws, 9 losses. After winning only 8 away points the previous season this was a massive improvement and the third highest total of away wins in the club's history. The team were able to end the Swindon bogey and win there for the first time since 1960 but still can't win at Notts County in the League where the last victory was in 1963, but more than outweighed by the 4-1 play off win. No team scored more than two goals against City in away league games.

Wins: In total therefore, 22 league victories were recorded – the highest since City won the Second Division title in 1967 with 23 (from a 42 game season). It was two short of the highest for a 46-game season – set in 1958-59 in Division Four.

Biggest win: The biggest league win of the season was 6-1 at Cheltenham in the penultimate league game of the season. This equals the highest post-war away win achieved three previous times.

Biggest defeat: The 2-6 defeat at home to Yeovil was the heaviest defeat and only the second time in their league history they have conceded six in a home game. It was the biggest home defeat since Tranmere won 5-1 at Sixfields in 2013-14.

Goals for: The goals for total of 64 was 27 more than the previous season but three less than in 2015-16 when city finished eighth. Between February and April the team scored in 14 consecutive games, the best run since the start of Mark Robins' first spell in charge in 2012. However the team went 457 minutes without scoring in October, the worst run since 2002.

Goals against: City conceded 47 league goals, the lowest since the club left the Premiership in 2001 and equals the lowest conceded in a 46-game season. The team kept sixteen clean sheets in the league, that's two short of the club record set in 1938-39 and equalled in 1958-59. Lee Burge kept 14 clean sheets, the best since Steve Ogrizovic's 15 in 1987-88. Oggy's record came from 38 games, Burge kept goal for 39.5 games.

Final position: The final position of 6th was the highest final position since 6th place in the old Division One in 1969-70. After the first two games of the season they were never above 3rd place spending just 12 days in the automatic promotion positions in the remainder of the campaign.

Leading scorers: Marc McNulty was leading scorer with 28 goals, twenty three in the regular league season, one in the FA Cup, two in the FL Trophy and two in the play-offs. McNulty scored more league goals than any player since Bobby Gould hit 24 in the 1966-67 promotion campaign. His total goals is the best since George Hudson netted the same number in all competitions in 1963-64. Terry Bly scored 29 in 1962-63.

Max Biamou, despite a slow start, was runner up with nine goals (5 league, 4 cup & other). Sixteen different players were on the score-sheet during the season.

Doubles: City achieved six doubles- over Swindon, Carlisle, Cheltenham, Grimsby, Crewe and Wycombe. That equals the club record in a season, last achieved in 1969-70. Three teams beat City home and away: Forest Green, Yeovil and Accrington.

Appearances: For the seventh season running no outfield player was an ever present in the league – the last to do so was Richard Keogh in 2010-11. Michael Doyle started the most (44) followed by Jack Grimmer (42) and Marc McNulty and Lee Burge (40). When all competitive games are included Grimmer (53) pips Doyle by one. McNulty with two sub appearances appeared in 52 games.

Players used: 29 players were used in league games (the lowest number for seven seasons) and further six appeared in cup games. Of the 35, 19 players made their debuts during the season and five made only one appearance. Four loan players were used (four less than in 2016-17) and the lowest for a number of years. In addition to the 35 players used, six more, Corey Addai, Darragh Leahy, Reice Charles-Cook, Tom Bilson, Jak Hickman and Reece Ford, sat on the bench as substitutes but were not used.

City continued the recent trend of using a high number of players. 34 or more players have been used in 15 seasons of which 12 have been since being relegated from the Premier League 17 years ago. City bucked the trend however by having a good season!

19 debuts is the equal 9th highest in City’s history and of the 11 seasons where 19 or more debuts have been made 9 have been since relegation from the Premier League. The only other seasons in that list were inevitably City’s first eventful season in 1919-20 and then 1926-27 when the club moved from Division 3 North to South.

In the 17 seasons since falling out of the top flight 311 players have made their City debut at an average of 18 per season. Compare that with 313 players making their City debut in the previous 41 years from 1960 to 2001 at an average of 7 per season.

Oh for some stability!

On the opening day of the season nine City players made their debut, seven in the starting line-up and two subs. This is the most since 10 made their City debut versus Northampton on the opening day of the 1926-27 season.

994 players have represented the club in competitive games since the club joined the league in 1919 and the 1000 milestone is likely to be reached next season.

Home-grown players: Of the 35 players used 14 of them were home grown products of the Academy. It is now more than seven years that a City team did not include a home-grown player. On several occasions seven academy products represented the club during a game and there were seven in the Wembley squad.

Of note was the full League debut of Devon Kelly-Evans against Exeter when he got the nod after Stuart Beavon pulled up in the warm-up and proceeded to score the second goal in a 2-0 win.

Records: Michael Doyle rejoined the club and his 52 appearances took his total appearances for City to 349 and up to equal 10th place in the club's all-time appearance chart, alongside 1950s defender Roy Kirk. Doyle has also played more league games in his career than any Irish-born footballer apart from Dennis Irwin. Jordan Willis with 169 games is now 69th on the club's all-time appearance chart, two behind Gary Breen & Dion Dublin). Lee Burge is the only other player who has topped 100 appearances. The Morecambe game was his 100th league game and in total he has played 119 games.

Victory over Chesterfield 1-0 at home on New Year’s Day ended a run of 10 consecutive home League games without a win on 1 January that dated back to a 4-0 win over Stoke in 1985.


Substitutes: Max Biamou made the most substitute appearances (22, 19 league and 3 cup). Jordan Shipley was the most substituted player (19 times). Seven goals were scored by substitutes: Shipley & Nazon (Luton a), Nazon (Lincoln a), Biamou (Newport a and Yeovil h (2)) and Ponticelli (Notts Co. a). Biamou is only the sixth City player to score two after coming off the bench and equals a record of three goals from the bench in a season previously achieved by Marcus Tudgay, Andy Morrell & Patrick Suffo.

Average attendance: Home 9,255 (2016-17 9,203), up 0.5% & the highest in League Two. Away 5,211 (2016-17 8,163), down 36% & the third highest in the division. If away fans are stripped out, City's average home following was 8,434 up 2.3% from 8,243.

Highest home attendance: The biggest official league crowd was 28,343 for the Accrington game in February but the actual attendance was more like 21,000 with many free tickets not being used. It still counts as a record crowd for a League Two game since the reorganisation of the league in 2004. The false crowd will also go into the record books as a record for a league game at the Ricoh topping the 28,184 when Leeds visited in 2010-11. The Accrington game apart there were three games where the home element topped 10,000 – 15,090 v Morecambe, 14,648 v Notts County (play-off) and 10,587 v Stoke (FAC).


Lowest home attendance: The lowest league crowd of the season was 6,151 for the Carlisle game in September - the lowest league crowd at the Ricoh. Cup crowds were generally very poor with just over 5,000 watching the League Cup-tie with Blackburn. In the FA Cup the two home ties with non-league opposition each attracted around 3,000. In the Checkatrade Trophy there were two attendances under 2,000 including 1,425 for the dead rubber with West Brom.

Away followings: For league games City’s away following averaged 1,268 (2016/17 806), an increase of 57%. The best league following of the season was 4,149 at Notts County. In the FA Cup City took almost 8,000 to MK Dons and 4,500 to Brighton. The smallest was 339 for the trip to Exeter in January but there was a severe restriction on tickets because of ground developments and a good number of City fans were in the home areas. Lincoln brought the most fans (3,324) to the Ricoh in April whilst Stoke topped that in the FA Cup with 3,612. At the other extreme, Crawley brought only 159 fans to the league game whilst Shrewsbury (129) and West Brom (43) bought miniscule followings in the Checkatrade (FLT) Trophy, the latter the lowest away following since the Ricoh opened in 2005.

Highest away attendance: The biggest away league crowd was at Notts County (10,316). This was topped in the play-off game (17,458). The crowd at Brighton for the FA Cup game was 26,966, the largest crowd to watch a City away game (excluding Wembley) since 2014 when over 59,000 watched the Sky Blues at the Emirates in the FA Cup.

Lowest away attendance: The smallest away crowd was 1,773 at Morecambe when with 708 City fans the home element was just over 1,000. It was the lowest away league crowd since 1932 when 1,215 watched City at Thames FC.

Won from behind: (2) In league games City came from behind to win twice at Swindon and Lincoln. On five occasions the team came from behind to get a draw Crawley (h), Mansfield (a), Newport (a) Walsall (FLT) (a), Notts Co (play-off). Twelve points were won from losing positions, eight more than last season.

Lost from in front: (0) City never lost after scoring first – the last time they achieved this was 2006-07. In three games City took the lead only to be pegged back for draws. Four points were lost from leading positions compared to 23 the previous season.

Best run: The Sky Blues best run was seven unbeaten in February and March. Following defeat at Colchester they won four games and drew three.

Worst run: After two disastrous runs in 2016-17 the Sky Blues never went more than four games without a win in 2017-18.

Hat-tricks: (3) For the first time since 1977-78 the Sky Blues recorded three hat-tricks. Back then Mick Ferguson scored all three. This season McNulty scored two (Grimsby and Cheltenham) and Jodi Jones the other (Notts County). McNulty is the first player to score two league hat-tricks in a season since David Speedie in 1988-89.

Jodi Jones became the 6th City player to score an opening day hat-trick and the first for 20 years when Dion Dublin scored all City’s goals in a 3-2 win over Chelsea.

Opposing hat-tricks: (0) Three Yeovil players managed a brace each in the Glovers 6-2 victory at the Ricoh but no one scored a hat-trick.

Former Players: This season no former players scored in a league game but former loanees Dominic Samuel (Blackburn) and Daniel Agyei (Walsall) netted in Cup games.

Own goals: For City: (1) Troy Brown of Exeter was credited with an own goal in the home league game.

Own goals: By City: (0)

Penalties: For City: (8) McNulty converted seven out of eight attempts with his only miss coming at Carlisle. Clarke-Harris scored the other. In addition City won the penalty shoot-out at Walsall in the Checkatrade (FLT) Trophy which was the first time City had been involved in an ABBA-style shoot out.


Penalties: Against City: (5) Five opposition players netted from the spot - Jacobsen (Wycombe h), Ogedi-Uzokwe (Colchester a), Eisa (Cheltenham a), Adam (Stoke h FAC), Ismail (Walsall a FLT). No opponents missed penalties.

Fastest Goal scored: 70 seconds: Tom Bayliss scored after 70 seconds in the home game with Cheltenham, his league debut. It was the fastest league debut goal since Wayne Andrews' 23rd second goal in 2006 but the fastest by a starting league debutant since Ron Newman in 1956. McNulty's goal against Stevenage was timed at 90 seconds.

Fastest Goal conceded: 55 seconds: Matt Rhead smashed in Lincoln's opening goal in the 4-2 defeat in April after just 55 seconds. In the home game with Yeovil the Sky Blues conceded three goals in the first 15 minutes – the worst start to a game since 1956.

Red cards: Coventry: (2): Rod McDonald (Port Vale h) and Jordan Willis (Mansfield a). Tom Davies received a retrospective ban after the Notts County home play off game.

Red cards: Opponents: (8) This high number reflects the lengths that some teams had to go to in order to stop City playing football. The culprits were: Berrett (Grimsby a), Bolton (Shrewsbury h), Weir (Chesterfield a), Dunne (Swindon a), Lapslie (Colchester h), Rea (Luton a), Wiseman (Chesterfield h), Wilkinson (Stevenage h).

FA Cup: The Sky Blues ended their miserable run of three successive knock-outs to lower status clubs by defeating two non-league clubs and then proceeded to eliminate two clubs from a higher status (Stoke and MK Dons) to reach the Fifth round for the first time since 2009. It was the first time they have defeated two clubs from a higher status since 1963 and the two scalps make it eight in 99 years! The victory over Stoke was in terms of difference in league placings, the Sky Blues biggest win since they joined the Football League in 1919.

Postponements: The Lincoln home game on the first Saturday of March fell foul to the 'Beast from the East' with the match postponed on the morning of the game. This was the first ever postponement at the Ricoh and the first City game called off because of weather since 2002.


Bookings: Unsurprisingly Michael Doyle won the award for most bookings, 14. He avoided a yellow cards for the first nine games and also avoided a suspension but once the early deadline was over he was back in form racking up five in the last seven games.


Television: There were four live televised games for the club, the away game at Barnet, two playoff semi finals and the Wembley play-off final.

New Grounds: City played competitive games at five grounds for the first time: Barnet's Hive Stadium, Accrington's Crown Ground , Forest Green's New Lawn, Rodney Parade, Newport and Whaddon Road, Cheltenham. In addition they played a league game at Cambridge United for the first time

Wembley: only three of the side that won at Wembley in the Checkatrade final started the play-off final: Burge, Willis and Stokes. Reid came on as sub to make it four.

The final at Wembley on 28 May was the latest finish to a season, beating 26 May in 1947 (after postponements in a torrid winter) and the famous 1985 finish against Everton.

With many thanks to Paul O'Connor

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Jim's column 26.5.2018

What a remarkable night at Meadow Lane last week. The Sky Blues turned in one of their finest performances for many years to confound the experts and reach the League Two play-off final. For ten or so minutes in the second half things got a bit hairy but Lee Burge's fine save from Jon Stead steadied the ship and the team ran out worthy winners and could have scored several more goals. As it was 4-1 is the biggest away win in a League Two play-off tie.

The Notts County hoodoo was well and truly consigned to the dustbin as City won at Meadow Lane for the first time since a 3-0 victory at the start of the 1963-64 promotion campaign. Mark McNulty took his tally for the season to 28 in all games, equalling George Hudson's record in that same campaign. Since the Second World War only three players have scored more than McNulty:

Ray Straw 30 (1958-59)
George Lowrie 29 (1946-47)
Terry Bly 29 (1962-63)

So it's on to Wembley for the second time in just over a year to face Exeter City on Monday afternoon. Exeter lost in the final to Blackpool twelve months ago and on league form probably start as the favourites but we all know that anything can happen (and often does) at Wembley. The record crowd for a League Two final is 61,589 for the first at the new Wembley in 2007 between Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury. That record will not be broken as at the time of writing City have sold around 36,000 and Exeter 10,000.

The Sky Blues and Exeter are relative strangers these days; this season was the first time the clubs have been in the same division since 1958-59 when City won promotion out of the old Division Four at the first attempt. In 36 Football League games (all but this season in Division Three South) City have won 15 and lost 12 with nine draws but the Grecians have won only once in Coventry whilst City have won five at St James' Park. Exeter did however win an FA Cup tie at Highfield Road in 1955 (1-0) and a Division 3 South cup game in 1934 (1-0) but City prevailed in a Football League Trophy game at the Ricoh in 2014 (3-1).

The clubs did meet in the Southern League between 1910-14 and the Grecians generally had the upper hand. The first league meeting took place at St James' Park in December 1926 and the home side ran out 8-1 winners, a record defeat for City at the time. Four Exeter players scored a brace that day (Messrs Dent, Purcell, Blackmore and Compton) with Jimmy Heathcote netting a consolation for City.

This season's games were entertaining with the Sky Blues ending Exeter's eight-game unbeaten start to the season with a 2-0 home victory in September with an own-goal from Troy Brown and a late second from Devon Kelly-Evans. In the return in January the Grecians got their revenge when Ryan Harley's early goal was enough to win the game.

Next week is the final column of the season and my delayed stats review of the season will be ready for publication.


Monday, 14 May 2018

Column 12.5.2018

After seventeen seasons of trying the Sky Blues have finally made it to the Football League play-offs by virtue of finishing sixth, their highest league finish since 1970. On Saturday evening the Sky Blues entertain Notts County in the first leg of the semi-finals with the return at Meadow Lane on the following Friday and the chances are there will be a record crowd for a League 2 (or Division 4) play-off semi-final this weekend. The current record is 19,462 and was set in 2004 at the Huddersfield v Lincoln game at the Galpharm Stadium. It wouldn't surprise me to see 25,000 at the Ricoh this weekend.

City's record against the Magpies is not inspiring. City won 3-0 on the opening day but County won on their previous two visits to the Ricoh, which sandwich a 3-0 Sky Blues win at Sixfields in 2013-14. Prior to that City had won six out of seven home league games at Highfield Road, the exception being an amazing 5-1 defeat in 1982, one of the most embarrassing results in City's history. Before that City had not lost at home to the Magpies since 1951. Older fans will remember County being City's opponents on the opening day of the 1962-63 season when goals from Terry Bly and Hugh Barr gave City a 2-0 home win as City wore the new all Sky Blue kit for the first time in a competitive game.

At Meadow Lane City's record is very poor. They haven't won there in eight league visits since the last victory in August 1963 when George Hudson (2) and Willie Humphries gave City a comfortable 3-0 win. That was one of only two wins there, the other coming in 1950, 2-0 courtesy of Ken Chisholm and 'Plum' Warner, when 41,000 packed into Meadow Lane.

The full record of league games is:

Played W D L F - A
Home 19 9 3 7 33 - 25
Away 19 2 5 12 17 - 33

Notts County have been in the play-offs on four previous occasions and have reached the final three times. In 1987-88 they lost 2-4 on aggregate in the Division Three semis to Walsall but two years later they were back under the managership of the legendary Neil Warnock and beat Tranmere 2-0 at Wembley. Twelve months later they were back again to reach the top flight by beating Brighton 3-1. They remain the only club to win play-off finals in successive years. Their stay in the old Division One was brief – they were relegated the following season (and saved the Sky Blues on the final day by sending Luton Town down). They were back at Wembley in 1995-96 in the Division Two (tier 3) but lost 2-0 to Bradford City.

City will go into their first two-legged tie since 2013 this weekend. That was when City played Crewe in the JPT (Football League Trophy) Regional final and lost 3-2 on aggregate after a nightmare home first leg. Before that you have to go back to 2000 when the League Cup second round was reduced from two legs to one. In 22 seasons of two leg ties in that competition the Sky Blues were only defeated on four occasions (Everton, Walsall, Scarborough and Tranmere). I'm pretty sure City's first two-legged tie was in the FA Cup of 1945-46 when for one season only the Third round was played over two legs. City drew Aston Villa and won 2-1 at Highfield Road but lost the second leg 2-0 to exit the competition. They have played two leg games in the UEFA Fairs Cup in 1970-71 and then in the Texaco Cup for the following three seasons. That competition was hardly memorable with victory in only one tie (Falkirk in 1971) and three defeats (Motherwell (2) and Newcastle). Probably the most famous two leg ties were in the League Cup semi finals on 1981 and 1990. In 1981 West Ham were defeated 3-2 at Highfield Road but edged City out of a Wembley trip with a 2-0 win at Upton Park. Nine years later City controversially lost the first leg at the City Ground, Nottingham, 2-1, and Forest held on for a 0-0 at Highfield Road to go through.

I make that 32 two-legged ties with 20 wins and 12 defeats on aggregate. City have been at home in the first leg on 14 occasions and ended up progressing in only seven of those ties.

Finally, congratulations are in order for a good friend of mine, Geoff Moore, who, by watching City at Cheltenham two weeks ago, joined the '92 club'. He has now watched the Sky Blues play at all the current 92 league clubs in a first-class game. There are three current grounds where City have not played (the Etihad, West Ham's London Stadium and Huddersfield's Galpharm Stadium) but Geoff did see the Sky Blues play those clubs at Maine Road, Upton Park and Leeds Road respectively.

His first away ground was Swindon's County Ground for an FA Cup third round tie in 1966 and since then has seen City play on 118 different English grounds not including Wembley Stadium, Sutton United and Motherwell in Scotland where he attended a Texaco Cup game in the 1970s. If City are promoted via the play-offs he will miss out on the new league clubs (Macclesfield and possibly Boreham Wood) but I'm sure he will sacrifice that for football in a higher division.

Are there any other City fans who can match or better Geoff's record. I suspect Kevin Monks must be close!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Jim's column 5.5.2018

Despite that sensational 6-1 win at Cheltenham, the nerves are still jangling amongst Sky Blue fans ahead of today's game with Morecambe. The added twist is that Morecambe may need something from the game to avoid returning to the Conference after eleven seasons in League Two. That will depend on the 23rd-placed club Barnet keeping their excellent run under new boss Martin Allen going – they have won four of their last six games – and beating already-relegated Chesterfield at home. If Barnet win then Morecambe will need a point at the Ricoh to finish above the Bees and avoid the drop.

The win at Cheltenham was the ninth away win of the season, an impressive record bettered only twice in the Sky Blues' history (in 1969-70 (10) and 2012-13 (11)). The result was rarely in doubt once Tom Bayliss had scored in the twelfth minute and the team went on to record a scoreline that equalled the biggest away league win since World War 2. City have won 6-1 away on three previous occasions in those 73 years, at Carlisle in 1958-59, at Crewe in 2001-02 and at Walsall in 2003-04. The club's biggest away win occurred 91 years ago on Easter Monday 1927 when, in their only ever visit to Aberdare Athletic, City won 7-0 with goals from Jimmy Heathcote (2), Billy Bird, Frank Herbert, Jack Crisp, Alex McClure and Robert Ferguson. Twenty-four hours later in the return game, with fans expecting another hatful of goals, City struggled to win 1-0!

Marc McNulty was at it again at Cheltenham netting another hat-trick to take his league total for the season to 23 and 26 in all competitions. He has overtaken players like Calum Wilson, Adam Armstrong and Ian Wallace and is now the highest league scorer in a season for over 50 years - since Bobby Gould's 24 goals in 1966-67. Today McNulty could overtake George Hudson and Bobby Gould and the two City legends will be at the game to see if he can achieve a remarkable feat. Any potential play-off games don't count as league goals but do count in the all competitions category, therefore Marc could even top Ray Straw's tally from 1958-59.
                                                                 Ray Straw

Most league goals in a season (post WW2)
Ray Straw
1958-59
27
George Lowrie
1946-47
26
Terry Bly
1962-63
25
Ken Chisholm
1950-51
24
George Hudson
1963-64
24
Bobby Gould
1966-67
24
Marc McNulty
2017-18
23

Most goals (all Comps) (post WW2)
Ray Straw
1958-59
30
George Lowrie
1946-47
29
Terry Bly
1962-63
29
George Hudson
1963-64
28
Marc McNulty
2017-18
26
Bobby Gould
1966-67
25

McNulty is also a record breaker when it comes to hat-tricks. He became the first City player to score more than one league hat-trick since 1977-78 when Mick Ferguson scored three in a season. Darren Huckerby scored two hat-tricks in 1998-99 but one was in the FA Cup.

City fan Neil Monaghan posed an interesting question in the pub at Cheltenham on Saturday. He wondered if Michael Doyle has made the most Football League appearances by a player from the Republic of Ireland. We knocked around a few names including Roy and Robbie Keane, Dennis Irwin, Noel Cantwell but I promised to find out for Neil.

I contacted the English National Football Archive (www.enfa.co.uk) whose comprehensive database provides the results, line ups, scorers and league tables of all games since 1888. A search of their database gave me the top ten Southern Irish-born players by appearances in league games as follows:

682 Dennis Irwin
628 Michael Doyle
614 Frank Stapleton
584 Tony Dunne
575 Damien Delaney
572 Don O'Riordan
565 Tommy Eglington
557 Johnny Giles
538 Barry Roche
537 Graham Kavanagh

Doyle will need more than a full season of games to overhaul Irwin's total but it is still an impressive record for the Sky Blues' inspirational captain.


Today is Legends Day at the Ricoh Arena and over 50 former players are planning to attend. This year's event is dedicated to the memory of Cyrille Regis who will be represented by a good number of his relatives including his widow Julia. Former players from seven decades will be joining the traditional half-time parade from Lol Harvey and Brian Nicholas from the 1950s through to Dele Adebola and Andy Morrell from the 2000s. There are some big names attending including George Hudson, Bobby Gould, Colin Stein, Roy Barry, Ian Wallace and Keith Houchen. If you're at the game today make sure you are in the arena to give our former players a great reception on what may be a famous day.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Jim's column 28/4/2018

The nerves are jangling amongst Sky Blue fans this week after the defeat to Lincoln on Tuesday night. Instead of dwelling on that result and the two remaining vital games I thought I would respond to a few requests for information from readers.

Apologies for mentioning Lincoln City again but Mick Williams asked me about a City friendly game at Sincil Bank that he attended in the mid 1970s. Mick wrote:
It was definitely a friendly and I believe therefore it would have been pre season and I think it must have been in the mid 1970's and I think it would more than likely be around July or August 1976. It was a warm and light evening and my friend Spangle and myself had been driven there by a Coventry based work mate of mine that had a soft spot for Lincoln City. Also with us was another work mate who supported Man Utd.

We stood behind the goal in the middle of the home end and eventually Spangle and myself revealed our Sky Blue scarves. After our identities had been discovered by the Lincoln fans who we were standing amongst and who were clearly taking exception to this invasion, we were escorted out of the home end and onto a terrace along the touch line by a single policeman who was probably the only one on duty that night. He actually said "we hadn't expected any Coventry fans to travel".


The game Mick is referring to was played on 26th April 1976 and was arranged in order to celebrate the Imps winning the Fourth Division title and to present them with the trophy. Their manager was Graham Taylor and it was the first success of his managerial career. A large crowd of 9,573 saluted the champions who had lost only four league games all season and amassed 74 points (equivalent to 106 points in the modern day with three points for a win), an all-time record for any Football League division.

Coventry had finished 14th in Division 1 and took a full-strength team to Lincoln. The game ended 2-2 with Alan Green and Les Cartwright cancelling out goals by John Ward and Percy Freeman. City's line up was: Blyth: Oakey, Hindley (sub Cartwright), Craven, Dugdale, Coop, Murphy, Green, Cross (sub Ferguson), Powell, Hutchison.

Looking at the programme for that game helped to partially explain the home side's success. The chart of appearances show that eight of the team played 40 or more league games with two, goalkeeper Peter Grotier (ex-West Ham) and Ian Branfoot (ex-Sheffield Wednesday) playing 46. A settled side without injuries can have a big advantage in any season in any league.

After Marc McNulty's hat-trick against Grimsby last month several readers were keen to know which City player has scored most hat-tricks in a season for the club. Not surprisingly, first place goes to Clarrie Bourton with seven hat-tricks in 1931-32, his first season at the club, when he netted 49 league goals and was the league's leading scorer. Second place goes to George Lowrie who in 1946-47, the first league season following the war, netted five hat-tricks, including three in successive home games. In third place is Leslie Jones in 1934-35. Les, an oustanding inside-forward who joined Arsenal in 1937, netted four hat-tricks and even outscored the great Bourton with 28 goals to Clarrie's 26. Between the two goal machines they scored 54 of City's 86 goals.
                       
                                                                        Leslie Jones

Another question came from Andy Webster who is an avid City programme collector. He has acquired a programme from a game the Sky Blues played at Eastbourne in 1964 and wanted to know more details of the game. The game was for the Eastbourne Charity Cup and I think there was a strong link between City chairman Derrick Robins and the Eastbourne cricket festival. City, who had manager Jimmy Hill in their line up, won the game 3-1 with goals from George Kirby (2) and George Hudson. The team was: Wesson, Sillett, Kearns, Brian Hill, Curtis, Jimmy Hill, Humphries, Hudson, Kirby, Smith, Rees.

Next Saturday the final home game with Morecambe is Legends Day and over 50 former players are planning to attend. City's play-off challenge will still be in the balance, barring a Mansfield defeat this weekend, and this year's event is dedicated to the memory of Cyrille Regis who will be represented by a good number of his relatives including his widow Julia. Former players from seven decades will be joining the traditional half-time parade from Lol Harvey and Brian Nicholas from the 1950s through to Dele Adebola and Andy Marshall from the 2000s.