When the axe fell, it was at least swift. Steven Pressley’s two years in charge of Coventry City Football Club ended yesterday with his dismissal from a club that has dropped into the League One relegation places at just about the most difficult time of the season. February is the point of the season at which clubs that have spent the winter months labouring to pick up anything at all need to start winning matches if they are to pull themselves out of whatever mire into which they found themselves being dragged. Last weekend, however, whilst Colchester United, Leyton Orient, Crawley Town and even bottom of the table Yeovil Town managed to pick up crumbs that had fallen from the League One table, Pressley’s team was grabbing a point from the jaws of victory, throwing away what would have been an eyebrow raising three points at Bramall Lane in turning a two goal lead into a two-all draw against promotion chasing Sheffield United.
Whilst coming away from this match with a draw might have been a result that most League One managers would have been reasonably happy with, it was the nature of Coventry’s capitulation at the weekend that gives away the most obvious hints of the team’s recent decline. Playing against ten men, they led by two to nothing with just twelve minutes of the match left to play, but the home side scrambled their way to parity against a Coventry team whose confidence visibly drained from the players’ face after conceding what should really have been little more than a consolation goal for Sheffield United. Pressley’s one hundredth game in charge of the Sky Blues ended as so many others have this season, in disappointment. The end, which had arguably been nigh for much of this season, fell swiftly for the manager within forty-eight hours of the final whistle blowing on Saturday afternoon.
It’s impossible, however, to view Steven Pressley’s time in charge of Coventry City without considering the circumstances under which he had to work for the entirety of it. Whilst the decline of this club has been a slow and painful one, there can be little question that, upon his appointment in 2013, Pressley found himself in charge of a club at which most of the drama was taking place some considerable distance from the pitch. Pressley oversaw the management of the team during its disastrous year long sojourn in Northampton, a period during which the club’s continuing viability was called into question more than once, and then through its return to The Ricoh Arena, that misguided brave new world of a stadium that has turned out to serve mostly as a symbol of the club’s failure to get itself back into the top division of English football, a rarefied height at which it had remained for three and a half decades from the late 1960s on. The Ricoh Arena was supposed to be a precursor Coventry City’s triumphant return to the Premier League when it opened, almost a decade ago. Mismanagement of the club at boardroom level since then has meant that such a triumphant return could hardly be further from the truth of what has actually happened at the club since then, though.
Over the last year or so, Pressley has lost the likes of Leon Clarke, Carl Baker and Callum Wilson to higher placed clubs with deeper pockets than Coventry City have at present, but as recently as September, when the club made its return from its exile period in Northampton, there were signs of optimism that a line could potentially be drawn under the club’s troubled recent past. Pressley had just been awarded with a new four year contract, and more than 27,000 people turned out for the club’s first match back at The Ricoh Arena to see a one-nil win against Gillingham, but since then results have been poor, including an early FA Cup exit at home against Conference North side Worcester City. As he chopped and changed the team in the pursuit of finding a winning formula, the Sky Blues tumbled down the League One table, and six wins in his last twenty-eight matches in charge of the team ultimately proved to be his undoing. Considering the team’s recent form, his departure from the club is no great surprise.
But should it be a major surprise that Coventry City are struggling on the pitch this season? After all, considering the events of the last couple of years or so, it would be unsurprising if we found that a large number of those who were involved with the club over this period of time were displaying symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Indeed, were we it possible to diagnose a football club with a psychological disorder, this particular club would be a prime candidate for such a diagnosis. Coventry City may well have now returned to its home city, but its support remains fractured after years of divide and rule being played by the club’s owners and attendances – despite that bumper crowd for their homecoming match – remain below 10,000 on average this season, whilst recent crowds have fallen to around 7,000 for a couple of recent home matches.
While the club was exiled in Northampton, it was argued by critics of the move that the club staying away from its home city could have long lasting ramifications, that a proportion of those who got out of the habit of watching Coventry City every other week might not return upon its return. It’s not easy to quantify the extent of this when form on the pitch has been so poor, but it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that some have gone, if not quite for good, then at least while the current owners remain in place. Ultimately, perhaps dragging oneself from the warmth and comfort of one’s sofa to watch a malfunctioning team play football becomes that much more difficult when affection for that club has been damaged and this seems to be likely for some – of not many – Coventry supporters over the last couple of years or so. To this extent, the owners of the club are now reaping what whey sewed throughout their exile period.
Dave Hockaday, hitherto of Forest Green Rovers and, somewhat more infamously, Leeds United, will most likely be in charge of the club until the end of this season, and the scale of the task awaiting him cannot be understated. With transfer window closed and only loanees available to the new manager, three long months of making do and mending seem to lay ahead, and whilst a dead cat bounce may be possible with Hockaday’s appointment, whether this can be translated into something more permanent remains to be seen. As for Steven Pressley, well, it was only six months ago that he was being linked with the then vacant Huddersfield Town manager’s job, and it seems unlikely that his stay at Coventry will be his sole managerial appointment. Ultimately, he was unable arrest this season’s slide at The Ricoh Arena once it started and his removal from the job is not particularly surprising. It feels, however, that the manager in this case was not the biggest contributing factor behind the malaise at Coventry City. It still feels as if it may be some time before the Sky Blues get to see clear blue skies again.
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