Sunday, 6 November 2011

Jim's column 5.11.11

Millwall has never been a happy hunting ground for Coventry City and Tuesday night proved to be no exception. It is 56 years since City won in Docklands – Boxing Day 1955 to be precise – and 16 subsequent league and cup games have failed to yield a victory. Millwall’s supporters already had a reputation back then and Jesse Carver’s team (it was his penultimate game as manager before a premature return to the Italian Serie A) upset them with a professional display, assisted by a stunning display of goalkeeping from Reg Matthews as he edged nearer to his first England cap. Matthews kept the rampaging Lions out and goals from Alan Moore and Ken McPherson ensured a 2-0 win. After the match Reg was the hero again – jumping off a besieged team coach to confront some gruesome dockers. Even in City’s Second Division 1966-67 promotion season City failed to win in New Cross, losing to a Joe Broadfoot goal.

Coventry City have now completed one third of the season and it is time for a review of their record. The Millwall defeat means they have gained only 12 points from 15 games – a poor record, which if replicated over the season would almost certainly mean relegation with 36 points. It is the worst first third of the season since City were relegated from the Premiership in 2001. In the last ten seasons City have averaged around 21 points from the first 15 games – the best, 31 in 2001-02 (under Roland Nilsson), the worst, 15 in 2004-05 (under Peter Reid). City, of course, are generally good starters and have a tendency to fall apart after Christmas, so here’s hoping previous seasons’ trends are reversed this term.

This start is the worst since the 2000-01 relegation season when they clocked 12 points from 15 games – but then it was more serious as they were almost halfway through the 38-game season. The worst start in modern times was under Ron Atkinson in 1996-97 when they gathered a measly ten points from 15 games. That season they won only one of their first sixteen games and by then Big Ron had already paid the price. Fortunately his replacement Gordon Strachan pulled City out of their nose-dive and kept them up on the final day at White Hart Lane.

Their worst ever start, which hopefully will never been repeated, was that horrible first season in the Football League in 1919 – where so many of the dreadful club records reside. That season they gained a pitiful three points from the first 15 games but still managed to survive the drop but only because they bribed their opponents!

Darius Henderson is in a rich scoring vein at the moment with 8 goals in 11 games and six in his last three. Darius is no stranger to the Sky Blues having netted for Watford against them in 2005-06 and again in 2007-08. He was a key member of the Watford team promoted via the play-offs in the former season and was the strike partner of Marlon King. From being one of the top scorers in the Championship he had a torrid time in the Premiership – failing to net until January 2007 and scoring only three goals all season. He re-discovered his scoring form for the Hornets back in the Championship before a big money move to Sheffield United in 2008. He failed to live up to his ‘star’ rating at Bramall Lane and then suffered a serious leg injury which kept him out of the side for most of last season. By the time he was fit the Blades were as good as relegated and his wages were presumably too high for League One. Millwall took a punt and have been richly rewarded.

Finally, a big thank you to all who supported and helped me two weeks ago at my book launch in Coventry. The management and staff of Waterstones, G-Casino and Coventry City were fabulous. Thanks also to my friends from the Former Players Association, especially Billy Bell and the former players who turned out on the day. Not forgetting Dean Nelson for his excellent 1960s video. It was a great day and I appreciate everybody’s efforts.

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