It's now official, Coventry City are relegated to League Two (tier 4). Good Friday's 1-1 draw with Charlton Athletic meant that the Sky Blues were unable to catch the sides immediately above the four relegation places. The draw finally put City fans out of their misery – most of them have known for weeks that relegation was inevitable, probably before Mark Robins arrived to offer a small glimmer of hope. At least he got the team winning a few home games and showing a bit of passion. I think most fans realised that Robins was brought in to start the planning for next season and over the few weeks he has seen performances over a wide range of the spectrum – from gritty wins over Port Vale and Bristol Rovers to capitulations at Rochdale – to be clear where the problems lie.
So, next season the Sky Blues will play in the fourth tier of English football for the first time since 1959. That was the first season of that division and City were there through a reorganisation of the league and not as many believe through relegation. Up until 1958 the Third Division consisted of two regional leagues (North and South) and when the 92 clubs voted to reorganise these divisions into a Third and Fourth league, it was decided that the top half of the Third North and the Third South would comprise the new Third Division and the bottom half of the two old leagues would make up the new Fourth Division. City, by virtue of finishing 19th in Division Three South were put in the new Fourth Division. Strictly speaking therefore, City have never been relegated to tier 4 before!
In 1958-59 City, under the management of Billy Frith, had a poor start with only one point from their first three games leaving them in 23rd place. A run of 15 games with only two defeats saw City surge into the promotion race and in early December they hit the top. A slight dip in March saw Port Vale overhaul them and win the title with over 28,000 watching the teams meeting at Highfield Road. Frith's team finished runners-up with York City and Shrewsbury also promoted. The success was based on an excellent home record with 18 victories and just one defeat, and the best defence in the division with only 47 goals conceded against 84 scored.
Fans are already looking at the likely opponents next season and although Doncaster, Plymouth and Portsmouth have clinched automatic promotion, it's not clear who will be in the play-offs with eleven clubs still capable of qualifying for places 4 to 7. At the foot of League Two there is a scramble to avoid the trapdoor and any two of nine teams could lose their league status. So at this stage it's only certain that we will be visiting Chesterfield (already relegated from League One) and Notts County. However it's fairly clear that there will be first league visits for the Sky Blues to Barnet, Morecambe and probably Cheltenham and Wycombe. The whole picture will be a lot clearer after today's games but it seems that City will also be making their first league visit to Accrington since 1960 (when Stanley played at their former ground, Peel Park) and first time to Lincoln since an FA Cup game in 1963.
Easter Monday offered the Sky Blues an opportunity to end the Spotland curse but they spurned it, losing 2-0. They have never won at Rochdale in nine league and cup visits stretching back to 1920 when Dale were a non-league side and defeated Second Division City 2-1 in an FA Cup replay.
Several readers believed that City are the first team that has played in the Premier League to be relegated to the fourth tier but this is untrue – Bradford City, who were relegated from the Premier League with the Sky Blues in 2001, had four seasons in League Two and Portsmouth were in the Premier league as recently as 2010. The statistic that is true is that City are the first of the original members of the Premier League to be relegated to the fourth tier. Another original member, Oldham, seem to have done enough to avoid being relegated but Swindon, Premier members in 1993-94, are looking very precarious in 22nd place.