In 1959, Coventry City celebrated the inauguration of the Fourth Division of the Football League by getting promoted after seven seasons in football’s basement. Within eight years they were a First Division club and, against all odds, they held onto their status in the top division for almost three and a half decades before slipping through the trapdoor again. They might have been expected to launch a bid to get straight back into the Premier League, but the last nine seasons haven’t been particularly kind to the Sky Blues. They have left their former home, Highfield Road, for the Ricoh Arena but have had a couple of battles with financial difficulties which have impacted upon their ability to challenge for a place back in the Premier League since then.
If August is a time for optimism amongst football supporters the length and breadth of the nation, then Coventry supporters have more reason to enjoy the salad days of the new season than most. For three of the last four seasons they have led the Championship table during August, but in each of those seasons any early signs of their challenge have fallen away. Will this year, then, be any different? Such a recent history might explain why there is such a disappointing crowd – just over 13,000 – here today, and new manager Adrian Boothroyd, who replaced Chris Coleman at the end of last season, may have cause to wonder how he can arrest the torpor of the last few seasons. Coventry City sometimes give the impression of having fallen a little too comfortably into the role of being a mid-table Championship side.
Coventry have four points from their opening two matches so far this season, but even so they aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders. An opening day win against a Portsmouth team that seemed to still be getting to know each other was followed with a draw at Watford that needed a comeback from two goals down with just three minutes of the match left to play. A weak performance, however, by an under-strength team at Morecambe in the first round of the League Cup saw them dumped out of that particular competition at the first hurdle. If confidence is brittle at the Richoh Stadium at present, Boothroyd needs his team to show some powers of recovery against Derby County this afternoon. Derby started the season with cautious optimism after an opening day win at Leeds United but they have been brought back to earth with two successive defeats since then, and they matched Coventry in also getting knocked out of the League Cup by League Two opposition, in the form of Crewe Alexandra.
Coventry start the match slowly, and after twenty-six minutes a poor clearance by goalkeeper Keiron Westwood almost allows Derby’s Paul Green to lift the ball over and into the goal – only some smart thinking by Ben Turner brings about a headed clearance. Coventry, though, make the best of their good fortune and take the lead six minutes later. A corner from the right-hand side falls for Carsley, but his shot is blocked on the goal-line by Gareth Roberts. Seconds later, though, Coventry have a penalty when Dean Leacock’s mis-timed tackle brings down Gary McSheffrey. Lukas Jutkiewicz’s penalty is too close to the dive of the Derby goalkeeper Stephen Bywater for comfort, but it squeezes through anyway. Encouraged by the goal, Coventry push forward in search of a second goal and Gary McSheffrey shins the ball wide of an almost open goal just before half-time, but the interval comes with the lead still at 1-0.
Seven minutes into the second half, though, Derby haul themselves level. Robbie Savage is playing his five hundredth league match this afternoon, and he sprays the ball wide for John Brayford. With the Coventry suddenly opened up, his low cross in from the right is turned in from seven yards out by Dean Moxey. As if to demonstrate how variable Coventry’s confidence is, this early goal turns the table and it is now Derby that look more likely to score. Indeed, they should manage this when more crisp passing finds Moxey unmarked in the penalty area and with only the goalkeeper to beat, but he screws his shot wide of the post when he should really have scored.
It’s a miss that turns out to be a costly one for Derby. Clive Platt’s flicked header is acrobatically turned around the post by Bywater, but it is only a stay of execution for them. They fail to clear the resulting corner from Gary McSheffrey on thr left-hand side and the ball works its way out to the opposite wing, where Lee Carsley, himself a former Derby player, swings the ball over for Ben Turner to head in at the far post. There is still time for Derby to come painfully close to snatching an equaliser. More smart play on the right hand side from Derby, who have looked more fluid in attacking positions for much of the game, leads to a low cross that Moxey stretches for and reaches, but his shot is brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by Westwood, and in stoppage time a header from Leacock flashes wide of the post, but Coventry hold on for the three points that take them up to fourth place in the table.
It is likely that this match will be typical of the Championship this season. These were two evenly matched sides, either of whom, one suspects, could with a little luck push into the play-offs or, with a little bad luck, could yet find themselves looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation places in the new year. Derby were unfortunate this afternoon, and deserved better than the nothing that they came away from the Ricoh Arena with. Coventry City, meanwhile, won this match without playing particularly well and, whilst this is a handy habit to get into, it can work both ways. There will be plenty of occasions throughout the rest of the season when they may not be as lucky defensively. Adrian Boothroyd is still tinkering with his team and they will put in more settled performances than this over the course of the rest of the season. Coventry supporters certainly know better than to get over-excited by a couple of wins in August, though.