Sunday, 24 February 2013

Jim's column 23.2.2013

In last week's column I wrote about Mark Robins' record as a manager and it generated a lot of interest with many surprised that his win percentage was higher than Jimmy Hill. I mentioned the managerial reign of Jesse Carver, the last City boss to be lured away to another club and fellow Sky Blue historian Paul O'Connor pointed out that Carver & Robins league records are remarkably similar.

 The two records are:































Paul points out that it’s not a fair comparison but if managers since 1919 are compared on points per game assuming 3 points for a win, they have the two best records of any manager (apart from Lee Carsley!). Carver actually had a higher percentage of wins than Robins. Paul also pointed out that Harry Storer, Jack Fairbrother, Eric Black and Roland Nilsson all had a higher wins percentage than Jimmy Hill. It is worth noting too that Carver’s record was based on a strong home record (12 wins, 2 draws and 0 defeats) as opposed to Robins’ poor home record but strong away record.

City's interest in  the Johnstone's Paint Trophy ended on a cold night in Cheshire as City failed to do themselves justice until the referees watch ticked past the 90 minute mark and a good number of their fans, including me, had left the Gresty Road stadium. BBC CWR had poor Dan ringing in without knowing the final score and he argued till he was blue in the face that the game had ended 0-0. I was 20 minutes down the M6 when I managed to pick up CWR and learned that I had missed the late goals. This is not going to be Coventry's year for a trip to the final at Wembley and our hopes now rely on finishing the league season with a strong vein of form to reach the automatic promotion places or more realistically the play- off positions. Their rivals have been catching up with their games in hand and as far as City fans are concerned, with mixed results. Swindon shook off the departure of Paulo Di Canio and won well at Tranmere, who seem to have hit the wall. Whilst Bournemouth slipped up badly at Preston, Yeovil's outstanding form has lifted them into the top six. As of this morning two points separate the top six and with Seventh-placed Brentford a further two points behind and the Sky Blues four points behind the Bees.

Today four of the top six meet each other with Sheffield United travelling to Bournemouth and Doncaster entertaining Yeovil. After today's home game with Crewe the Sky Blues have two massive games with a trip to Bournemouth's Dean Court on Tuesday night followed by a home cracker with current leaders Swindon Town. With 13 games left the Sky blues probably need 27 points (9 wins) to finish in the top six. Any defeats in the next three games could signal the end of City's play-off push.

City travel to Dean Court for a league game for the first time since the 1963-64 promotion season when they slipped up 1-2 to the Cherries and their only win in 11 league games there since the war was in April 1957. They did travel there for a League cup tie in 1988 when John Sillett's team comfortably won 4-0 on the way to a 7-1 aggregate win. Since then the ground at Dean Court has been transformed with the pitch being rotated 90 degrees and all the stands being rebuilt. After last week's ninth away win at Bury City are now on the brink of equalling the club record of 10 wins on the road set in 1969-70.

Swindon are another side who haven't played the Sky Blues for many years until this season. They did have one season in the Premier League in 1993-94 but before that City and Swindon hadn't met in league action since 1964-65 when the Robins were relegated from Division Two.

Next Saturday's game is also the annual Legends Day at the Ricoh, the seventh year running the event that brings City's former players together has been held. I hate to tempt fate but the Sky Blues have never lost on the six previous Legends Days. Around 50 former players are expected to be entertained to lunch by the Former Players Association and will be presented to the fans in the traditional half-time parade. Several attendees will be making their first appearance at a Legends Day including former player and manager Bobby Gould, Kevin Gallacher, Gerry Baker and a veteran from the 1950s, Ronnie Waldock. After the game tHe day ends in the traditional way with appearances on the stage at the G Casino. It should be a great day.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Jim's column 16.2.2013

At the end of another tumultuous week in the history of Coventry City the Sky Blues have lost their 11th manager in 12 years with Mark Robins, 146 days into the job, leaving to join Huddersfield Town. Many fans are understandably upset and annoyed that Robins has walked out on the club, especially as he has been instrumental in a big turnaround in the club's fortunes since arriving in late September.

In those 146 days his team have played 25 league games, winning 13, drawing five and losing seven. In cup competitions they have played eight, winning five and losing three. His win ratio in league games is 52% , the best in the club's history, even emulating Jimmy Hill's record in the Sky Blue era, although to be fair JH's career spanned six years.

Robins' team has lifted the fans' spirits after the depressing relegation season and a woeful start to this campaign. The away form especially has been phenomenal, setting a club record of six consecutive league wins and losing only twice in 12 games and the club record of 10 away wins in a season stands a fair chance of being broken. The goals have flowed in especially in November and December when McGoldrick was on fire and the goals per game of 1.80 is the best under modern managers. 

Not everyone has been totally convinced about Robins however. One blogger this week didn't think Robins was the Messiah and pointed out that the home form under him has been very poor, five league defeats since he arrived and only five wins in 13. The critic also pointed out that with City's salary budget (allegedly one of the three largest in the division) they should be winning this many games and be in a top six position. He went on to say that the two home defeats last week highlighted the shortcomings in defence, and the lack of punch in attack and a feeling that maybe we have been rumbled. On several occasions Robins' team has shown little idea how to break down a hard-working, defence-minded team of which there are many in this league and who all seem to raise their game at the Ricoh.

The irony is that the club have for the first time in years lost a manager to another club after sacking nine of their previous managers, the exception being Gary McAllister who resigned to support his dying wife. Some have argued this week that the club have treated some of their managers so badly that they deserve being shafted by Robins.

The last man to walk out on Coventry City to join another club was Jesse Carver in 1956 after six months in charge. It was a major shock in the football world when City unveiled Carver as their new manager. The Liverpudlian Carver was a highly rated coach in Italy at the time and many wondered why he chose to manage an English Third Division side. Chairman Erle Shanks made him one of the highest paid managers in the English game with a salary close to £100 per week (at a time when most players were earning £15). 
 Carver arrived with a tan that complemented his man about town personality and with his tailored light grey suits and camel coat he looked more like a Hollywood film mogul than a football manager. He warned supporters not too expect too much but his words went unheeded – promotion talk was, as always, in the air.
 His innovations were far-reaching, from wooden shoes and bathrobes for the players to prevent them catching cold whilst getting out of the showers to made to measure lightweight continental boots for all the players. He also bought 40 footballs, one for each player on the staff as he expected them to practice their ball skills at all times. He also brought from Italy former Swedish national coach George Raynor as his number two, another man with an outstanding reputation on the continent.
Over 24,000 fans were at the opening day win over Bournemouth and the football was slick and exciting. At home Carver’s team were unbeatable but away from home they struggled for results and promotion hopes looked slim. Throughout the autumn rumours persisted of a move back to Italy but these were quashed by Shanks.
 By now it had become apparent that Carver and Raynor’s continental style was not quite enough to win promotion amidst the hurly-burly of the Third Division and Carver re-shaped his approach. In December he bought Ken McPherson from Middlesbrough, a big bustling centre-forward and the team won five games on the trot culminating in a 5-1 thrashing of Millwall in front of a crowd of 30,000.
 But there was another major story brewing. Behind the scenes Carver had made it clear to Shanks – he wanted to leave. The Midlands didn’t suit his wife’s health and he made an urgent request to be released from his three-year contract. The board reluctantly agreed and Carver left the club on New Years Eve. He denied that there were any other offers for his services but within hours of him returning to Italy on 3rd January 1956 Internazionale announced he would be their new manager.
 City released him on the understanding that he didn’t work in England during the remaining period of his Coventry contract. He did return to a coaching job at Tottenham in 1958 but failed to settle and later he moved to Portugal. After a spell in the USA he retired to England in the late 1960s.
 Between Carver and Robins Coventry had 26 permanent managers and 19 have been given their P45s. The seven not sacked include four who moved upstairs (George Curtis, Joe Mercer, Gordon Milne and Ron Atkinson), one who walked out (Bobby Gould), Gary McAllister and one, Jimmy Hill, who left football for a plum job in television. Now JH was a true messiah!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Jim's column 9.2.13

The last week has seen Coventry City hit the heights and plummet the depths with vastly contrasting results. The 2-1 win at Bramall Lane was a massive result in City's quest to reach the League One play-offs and the eighth league away win of the season. City put on another impressive away display to clinch the points despite a fierce rearguard action in the second half. The club record for away wins is 10, set under Noel Cantwell in the old Division One in 1969-70; a feat that earned a sixth place finish and qualification for the old UEFA Fairs Cup. No Coventry City side has ever won nine away games in a season but there have been five previous occasions when there have been eight away victories - in 1937-38, 1938-39, 1963-64, 2001-02 & 2003-04. With seven away games remaining there must be a good chance of equalling the club record, if not setting a new record.

In 1969-70 Cantwell's team which featured many high quality players including Willie Carr, Ernie Hunt, Ian Gibson, Bill Glazier, Chris Cattlin and Roy Barry, achieved some amazing away results, especially after having won only three road trips in the previous two seasons. Amongst the grounds they won at were Highbury, White Hart Lane, Derby's Baseball Ground and Molineux (where they clinched the European place). However in a similar vein to this season the team struggled to replicate their away form at Highfield Road, winning nine out of 21 at home.

The win at Bramall Lane raised expectations for the Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie with Crewe on Tuesday night.  Sadly it all went wrong for the Sky Blues and the full house crowd of 31,054 was left frustrated as despite their team have the lion’s share of the play and numerous chances the visitors took advantage of some naive play and racked up an impressive 3-0 win. The odds must be heavily in Crewe's favour now but I'm sure the Sky Blue Army will travel in hope that the deficit can be recovered. The defeat was the team’s biggest home loss since Bristol City won 4-1 at the Ricoh in March 2011.

As expected that crowd set a competition record for a non-final tie, topping the previous record of 29,901 set at Southampton's St Mary's Stadium against MK Dons two years ago. It was also the second largest crowd to watch the Sky Blues at the Ricoh - just 350 odd below the Chelsea crowd in 2009. It was however the largest night home crowd since the West Ham League Cup semi final in 1981. There must have been thousands of City fans paying their first visit to the stadium for some years. Many people have commented that whenever the club get a big crowd they fail to perform and the statistics bear that out. Last week I listed the top eight gates at the Ricoh and of these, plus the Crewe game, City have won only one, drawn three and lost five. What has to be borne in mind however is that the biggest gates were almost always against clubs from a higher division or from near the top of the same division.  

31,407 v Chelsea (FA Cup) 2008-09. Lost 0-2
30,154 v Crewe (JPT) 2012-13.  Lost 0-3
28,184 v Leeds United  2010-11.  Lost 2-3
28,163 v West Brom (FA Cup) 2007-08. Lost 0-5
28,120 v Middlesbrough (FA Cup) 2005-06.  Drew 1-1
27,992 v Wolves 2007-08. Drew 1-1
27,212 v Birmingham 2006-07. Lost 0-1
26,856 v Wolves 2005-06. Won 2-0
26,723 v Leicester 2005-06. Drew 1-1

It hasn't always been the case that the team don’t perform in front of a big crowd however. In 1967 a record Highfield Road crowd of 51,452 saw the Sky Blues beat Wolves and in 1963 a crowd approaching that figure saw Third Division City knock Second Division Sunderland out of the Cup. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Jim's column 2.2.2013

On Tuesday evening Coventry City will run out to a crowd approaching 30,000 for their JPT Northern Area final first leg tie with Crewe Alexandra. Although the match is already a sell-out for Coventry fans, the final attendance is difficult to predict because of Crewe’s unsold allocation of tickets and how many seats will be unavailable because of segregation. We do know that City have sold ‘over 28,000’ tickets and that means that a new record will be almost certainly be set for the competition for a non-final match. The record, 29,901, was set two years ago at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium for their area final with MK Dons. 

The ground record at the Ricoh is 31,407 for the Chelsea FA Cup fifth round tie in 2009 and largest crowds since the stadium was opened in 2005 are:-

31,407 v Chelsea (FA Cup) 2008-09
28,184 v Leeds United  2010-11
28,163 v West Brom (FA Cup) 2007-08
28,120 v Middlesbrough (FA Cup) 2005-06
27,992 v Wolves 2007-08
27,212 v Birmingham 2006-07
26,856 v Wolves 2005-06
26,723 v Leicester 2005-06

That record is highly unlikely to beat topped but it will be the second highest Ricoh crowd in the eight years that the stadium has been open. It will also be City’s biggest home crowd for a night game for 32 years – in 1981 35,411 watched the League Cup semi final first leg against West Ham.

The Coventry element of the crowd is going to be close to 29,000 and one of the biggest ‘home’ contingents for a long, long time. Bearing in mind that for the Chelsea game there were around 5,500 away fans, the home element was in the region of 26,000. That attendance was the largest for a Coventry home game since before Highfield Road was made all-seater in 1981 – the aforementioned West Ham League Cup game. I seem to remember that there were around 5-6,000 Hammers’ fans that night, making the ‘home’ following 29-30,000. So I think you have to go back to 1977 when Liverpool came to Highfield Road for a League Cup replay (they won 2-0) when the attendance was 36,105 and I ‘m pretty certain that there weren’t too many Liverpool fans for an evening match five days before Christmas.

Keith Ballantyne was in touch after the recent Tranmere home game and said he remember City playing Tranmere at Highfield Road in the FA Cup in early 1968. It was the first time he went into the, then new, West End terraces. The teams drew 1-1 but Tranmere pulled off a Cup shock by beating the Sky Blues 2-0 in the replay at Prenton Park. Keith thought that Tranmere’s former City centre-forward George Hudson did not play in that match at Coventry, but took part in the replay and scored.

He asked me to clarify that point and also asked if any other ex-City players had featured in any of our other Cup disasters, including the infamous Kings Lynn game in 1961.

‘The Hud’ played in both the cup-ties in 1968 and missed a good chance in the first game. In the replay he scored the second goal (George Yardley scored the first) in the Cup upset in front of an excited Prenton Park crowd of 20,996. Hudson, who had controversially been sold to Northampton by Jimmy Hill in 1966, had joined Tranmere from the Cobblers in January 1967 but his goalscoring form was on the wane and just over a year later he was released by Tranmere and his professional career was over.

As for other ex-Sky Blues to appear in FA cup shocks against their former club I can think of Gary Bannister (for Sheffield Wednesday) in 1984 and Louis Carey (for Bristol City) in 2007. The Owls, then a Second Division side, knocked out the Sky Blues, a First Division outfit at the time, in a 3-2 win at Hillsborough. Bristol, a league below City in 2007, beat City 2-0 in the Ricoh Arena replay after a 3-3 draw at Ashton gate. I am sure there are more.