Today Coventry City face their former manager Gordon Strachan for the first time in a competitive game since he left the club in September 2001. Strachan did bring his Celtic team to the Ricoh for Richard Shaw’s testimonial game in 2006 but the game at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium is a landmark. Some eagle-eyed folk did spot the wee man in the Ricoh stands at the fixture between City and Boro’ earlier in the season, some weeks before his predecessor Gareth Southgate was sacked and his subsequent selection as Southgate’s successor was not a big surprise. Gordon didn’t have a very good record against Boro’ whilst managing City, winning only two games out of eight. Many fans will remember the opening game of what turned out to be the relegation season in 2000 when an average Boro’ side won 3-1 at Highfield Road with debut boy Alan Boksic scoring twice and giving poor Colin Hendry the runaround. That day many City fans realised that City’s 34-year stay in the top flight was going to be seriously under threat.
The Riverside is one of several Championship grounds where City have never won. Opened in 1995, City had the honour of scoring the first opposing goal there (Isaias netting), but in five league visits they have picked up only one point, as well as losing two cup ties there.
Last August I highlighted that there were seven away grounds where City had never won a league game: Leicester’s Walker’s Stadium, Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, Scunthorpe’s Glanford Park, Preston, Boro’s Riverside, Swansea’s Liberty Stadium and Cardiff’s new stadium. I said that if City failed to win at all of these grounds then the chances are they will not be in the play-off mix come next April. Here we are at the final away game of the season and barring a surprise win today City have not won at any of the seven grounds and are not in the play-offs.
I spoke to former City player Lol Harvey at last week’s game and he reminisced about the late Charlie Timmins who he played alongside in the 1950s. Lol was close to Charlie in his playing days but the pair had lost touch until I put them in touch about four years ago and they had re-established a fine friendship. One of the most interesting comments that a sad Lol made was regarding Charlie’s playing ability. He pointed out that unusually for a defender of that era, he wasn’t a great tackler but did have exceptional passing ability and was renowned for his runs into the opponent’s half of the pitch. Lol described how Charlie would advance over the halfway line and be looking for centre-forward Ted Roberts. He could deliver an excellent cross and would invariably find Ted with his deep crosses.
Graham Williams sent me an email recently reminding me that former City player Martin Jol is enjoying a successful first season as manager at Ajax Amsterdam. The British papers have concentrated on Steve McClaren’s rehabilitation at FC Twente but Jol has rebuilt his own career after being treated shabbily at Tottenham. With one league game remaining Ajax are a point behind Twente and any slip by McClaren’s team next weekend will hand the title to Ajax. Jol’s team are also in the Dutch Cup Final and will face Feyenoord in the first ever two-legged final. The games, with the first leg in Amsterdam tomorrow and the second in Rotterdam on 6 May, will be attended by home fans only in an effort to avoid crowd trouble.