Tuesday, 21 December 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 18.12.10

The Sky Blues kept another clean sheet in the 0-0 draw at Reading last week, making it four in a row, the best run since 2002. It is now 398 minutes since they last conceded a goal, the Darren Ambrose penalty early in the second half at Crystal Palace last month. The run in 2002 was four games in December that month, which incidentally was enough to earn Gary McAllister his manager of the month award. In all the team went 487 minutes without goalkeeper Morten Hyldegaard conceding a goal. The man who ended the run was Crystal Palace’s Ade Akinbiyi. Amazingly City’s form slumped immediately and they won only one of their remaining 20 games. The games were:-

14 December 2002 Wolves (a) 2-0
21 December 2002 Derby (h) 3-0
26 December 2002 Reading (h) 2-0
28 December 2002 Sheffield U (a) 0-0

The last time City kept five clean sheets in a row was the previous season, in October 2001, when Roland Nilsson’s team were on an 11-game unbeaten run. The fifth clean sheet was a 2-0 home win that briefly lifted them to first place in the league. That run lasted 491 minutes and was finally broken by Preston’s Richard Cresswell, a striker who has haunted the Sky Blues for many years.

There was also a run of five clean sheets during the Don Howe era in 1992. In one of the most boring periods of the club’s history the run consisted of a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace followed by four 0-0 draws (Liverpool (h), Southampton (a), Man United (h) and Norwich (h). In the following game an 83rd minute goal by Sheffield Wednesday’s Viv Anderson meant Steve Ogrizovic had gone 572 minutes without conceding.

The club record for successive clean sheets was set in 1934 when the Bantams, a Division Three (South) team, were more renowned for their goalscoring feats than their defensive abilities. In the five seasons between 1931 and 1936 the team scored 502 league goals with the legendary Clarrie Bourton notching 164 of them. The first of the six clean sheets (which were spread over two seasons) came at Highfield Road as City recorded their record league victory, 9-0 over Bristol City, a week later in the final game of the 1933-34 season there was a 0-0 draw at Clapton Orient. The next season started:

Northampton (h) 2-0
Clapton (a) 1-0
Bournemouth (a) 2-0
Clapton (h) 4-0

In those days goal times are notoriously difficult to rely upon but my estimate is that the team went 649 minutes without conceding before Watford’s Jimmy Poxton put one past City’s keeper Horace Pearson.

At last week’s excellent Diamond Club lunch I bumped into City fan Dennis Cox who reminded me that I had not answered a question he posed some months ago. It concerns former City players Brian Nicholas and Lol Harvey and their arguments over the years about when they faced each other in City v QPR clashes. Brian played for QPR for six years but only once did he come face to face with Lol during that time. It was 29 January 1955 at Loftus Road and Rangers ran out 3-2 winners with goals from Smith, Cameron and Kerrins with Tommy Capel netting twice for City. Lol always reminds me of how he was in the team that 4-0 at Loftus Road in 1952 but unfortunately Brian wasn’t in the QPR side that day. On the subject of Brian it is great to see him back watching games at the Ricoh. He was very poorly earlier in the season but last week he looked back to his best. He won’t thank me for putting this picture from 1951 in the newspaper!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 11.12.10

Another home win last Saturday over struggling Middlesbrough took Coventry City to 33 points, a rare feat in the wilderness years since the club were relegated from the Premier League. In fact that total has been bettered only once in that time, the first season down in 2001-02 when the management partnership of Roland Nilsson and Richard Money looked set to take City straight back or at least get into the top six for a crack at the play-offs. That dream was shattered with a disastrous run of six defeats out of seven in April 2002. At this stage (20 games gone) in 2001 City had reached 34 points and the table shows the record in subsequent years with the manager responsible.

2001-02 (Nilsson) 34 points
2002-03 (McAllister) 27
2003-04 (McAllister) 25
2004-05 (Reid) 25
2005-06 (Adams) 18
2006-07 (Adams) 29
2007-08 (Dowie ) 28
2008-09 (Coleman) 24
2009-10 (Coleman) 19

Strangely the season with the lowest points at this stage, 2005-06, saw City achieve their best finish in those nine seasons by virtue of the influence of Dennis Wise and Don Hutchison. Their introduction to the side, around this time of the year, saw the final 26 games yield 45 points. Now if Aidy Boothroyd’s team could get 45 points from here that would give them a final total of 78 and a virtual shoo-in to the play-offs. One can but dream!

Aron Gunnarsson, assuming he plays at Reading today will become only the seventh overseas player to reach the 100 league game milestone for the club. Aron, now in his third season with the Sky Blues has some illustrious names ahead of him:

1 Peter Ndlovu (Zimbabwe) 177
2 Dele Adebola (Nigeria) 163
3 Arthur Lightening (South Africa) 150
4 Mo Konjic (Bosnia) 138
5 Magnus Hedman (Sweden) 134
6 Youssef Chippo (Morocco) 122

(I have not included any naturalised overseas players e.g. Cyrille Regis)

Talking of overseas players, Geoff Moore who keeps immaculate records of who has played at the Ricoh since it was opened in 2005 tells me that 76 different nations have been represented at the stadium in five years. On Saturday Boro’s striker Tarmo Kink would have been the first Estonian but sadly stayed on the bench. Earlier this season we saw the first Uruguayan at the Ricoh; Barnsley’s Diego Arismendi who is on loan from Stoke. Until Geoff mentioned Arismendi to me I was unaware of him yet Stoke paid almost £3 million for him in 2009 and he has only played one half of a League Cup tie for them. He has apparently won two caps for his country but it does make you wonder how these people get work permits.

Since the move to the Ricoh in 2005 only four penalties have been missed by opponents and on Saturday Boro’s Leroy Lita became the first player to miss two. Westwood saved his spot-kick as did Stephen Bywater did in September 2005 when Lita played for Reading in a 1-1 draw. The other two misses were also both Westwood saves, from Wolves’ Ebanks-Blake in 2009 and Scunthorpe’s Gary Hooper last season. Over the same period four City players have missed spot-kicks: Michael Doyle, Elliott Ward, Sammy Clingan and Leon Best.

Monday, 6 December 2010

JIM'S COLUMN 4.12.10

Last Saturday’s win at Scunthorpe’s Glanford Park was not only City’s first victory at the Irons’ new ground but also the first in the town. City had never played a league game there until 2008 but had lost on their two visits prior to Saturday as well as losing an FA Cup tie in 1935 when Scunthorpe were a Midland League side.

Even accounting for the freezing weather the attendance on Saturday was a pitifully low 4,397, making it the smallest league crowd to watch City since 2,077 were at Selhurst Park in 2002 to see City beat Wimbledon 1-0 with a Gary McAllister penalty. It was also the lowest crowd to watch any game in the Championship since 2006 when 4247 watched Colchester v Barnsley.

I have been reading Bobby Gould’s autobiography recently and if you want a Christmas present for a Coventry City fan I can certainly recommend it. His story is amusing and fascinating and takes you from Gould’s Coventry roots through a playing career that spanned 19 years and a management career that was even longer. To use an old cliché Bobby had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus and rarely stayed at any football club for very long.

By virtue of the fact that he had almost six years at Highfield Road as a player and two spells as a manager, the Coventry coverage in the book is quite substantial. Before Jimmy Hill signed him as an apprentice in 1962, Bobby had been ‘heartbroken’ to be told by Billy Frith that he wouldn’t make the grade with the team he supported. When Hill reversed that decision Bobby vowed to ‘run through a brickwall’ for JH and City supporters of a certain age will readily confirm that he did. His first team career did not start well and in 1966 he was given the unenviable task of replacing the ‘King’ of Coventry City, George Hudson, who had been controversially sold by Hill. The immensely skilful Hudson, in the fans’ eyes, could do no wrong whilst Gould for all his running and physical approach could never wear the mantle of Hudson. A year later however City were promoted and Gould had proved the doubting Thomas’s wrong by netting 24 goals.

There are some amusing stories of his time as a City player and he sheds new light on one of the more controversial days in the club’s history, the day Hill lost it with Ian Gibson. ‘Gibbo’, a club record signing in 1966, had not been too impressive in his first couple of months at the club and things came to a head at an away game at Carlisle. It is known that JH let rip at Gibson at half-time at Brunton Park and that the player came close to leaving City as a result but Gould reveals that Hill’s patience had been stretched by Gibbo’s antics on the long train journey north when in Bobby’s words: ‘he demonstrated a flatulence habit by using a naked cigarette lighter flame as a prop’. Gibson was left in the cold for six weeks before Hill buried the hatchet and recalled Gibson and City went on a 25-game unbeaten run that clinched promotion.

In 1983 Gould, a rookie manager with less than two years experience, was handed the City manager’s job for the first time. He walked into a dressing-room full of players angry at the treatment of previous manager Dave Sexton and in the main determined to leave the club. Gould’s career is littered with instances where he didn’t stay anywhere where he wasn’t wanted and when he arrived at Coventry he was determined not to try and keep any player who didn’t want to play for the club. As a result a whole generation of homegrown players were allowed to leave, many for less than their true worth but Bobby replaced them with a squad of players who would not only fight to the death but would also form the nucleus of the 1987 Cup winning team. Peake, Gynn, Bennett, Kilcline, Ogrizovic and Regis were all signed by Gould during this time. One funny story of that period concerns Les Sealey and the Coventry club car that he failed to return. Chief Executive George Curtis went with a chauffer and dozens of spare keys to Luton’s ground (Sealey had joined the Hatters) and emptied Les’s belongings onto the ground in his parking space before driving the recovered car back to Coventry.

Bobby admits that after a dream first six months he ‘lost it’ and City were lucky not to be relegated. He lasted less than 18 months in the job but in 1992 he returned for a second spell, an older and wiser man, having led Wimbledon to their 1988 FA Cup win in the meantime. Again things went well for a while and his wheeling and dealing made City a stronger outfit. Then Bryan Richardson became chairman and things went downhill fast. My one disappointment about the book is that it sheds little new light on their relationship and the reasons for Bobby’s resignation in the Loftus Road toilets after a 5-1 defeat. Many people involved with City during the Richardson era have remained silent over the man’s antics because of a so-called confidentiality clause in his severance agreement and maybe Bobby sensibly wants to avoid a libel case. Either way we will have to wait longer for the real reasons for his departure to come to light.

Bobby Gould is signing copies of his book 24 Carat Gould in Waterstones (Smithfield Way) next Wednesday (8th December) at 5pm.