Over the past few seasons Coventry City have found themselves in trouble. In 2008 the side narrowly escaped relegation to League One by beating Charlton on the last day of the season, since then they have always found themselves close to the drop zone and this season things have got even worse as the team prop up the Championship.
It not only on the pitch where things have gone wrong, behind the scenes board members have been coming and going like there no tomorrow fuelling rumours that the club is in serious financial trouble.
I caught up with Neil Allison who blogs at www.skybluesblog.co.uk to find out his opinions on everything that has been going on and how he feels going in to game:
Recently Coventry has gone into turmoil, not just on the pitch but behind the scenes as well, do you fear for the future of your club?
It’d be daft not to. We’ve recently been told that the club is looking more stable financially, but the truth is, that has all come at a price, and at a real detriment to the football team. They’ve slashed the wage bill, but what that really means is they’ve got rid of the highest earners (who also happened to be our best players), with the upshot of this leaving with a team that looks certs for relegation to League One.
Putting the finances aside, there appears to be real issues at board and owner level too, with the constant chopping and changing of members, and it’s no secret that many of the departing members have done so because they simply didn’t agree with the policies of our owners; Sisu. In short, the club’s in a right state at the moment, which is having a very noticeable impact on the pitch – a manager muddling his way through the season with a squad that is quite clearly lacking suitable options.
The gap between you and the teams just outside the drop zone is getting bigger, can you see Coventry turning the season around?
Everyone wants to be positive, but I think we can all see that we’ve given ourselves an absolute mountain to climb. That’s not to say we should lay down and accept our fate though. We need to stop surrendering leads so often.
In true Coventry fashion, we’ve squandered so many points (well into double figures) from winning positions this season, which is mainly down to poor tactics and approach, but clearly, we’ve also been bloody unlucky along the way. The challenge now is clear: If we’re to survive we pretty much need to win around half of our remaining 25 games. For a team that has only won two games so far this year, that’s a momentous ask. If there is a change and out of nowhere we gain fresh investment and can add some bodies to the squad, it’s a maybe – but as it stands, and with the way the team is playing, we’re looking done for, I’m afraid.
The majority of your games you’ve only lost by a single goal, do you feel a little hard done by to be propping up the table?
As I’ve alluded to, there’s been an element of bad fortune, but even then, that tends to stem from our approach of taking the lead, then sitting back and inviting the opposition to attack us. Okay, you can’t warrant for bad bobbles going against you at the end of the game. That doesn’t hide the fact that if we were better at controlling, retaining and utilising the ball once we take the league, we wouldn’t leave ourselves in these precarious positions all the time. For weeks earlier in the season our boss Andy Thorn would protest that we were in a false position, but there’s nothing false about bottom at Christmas; we’ve not been clinical enough and we’ve not been professional enough to win games that were there for the taking.
You do have some decent players in the team, notably Freddie Eastwood and Gary McSheffrey. In your opinion why is the team just not getting any results?
It’s funny you should mention those players, because by reputation, they are good players and the opposition are wary of them, but in reality, Eastwood has been told he can leave the club so hasn’t played a game in months, and Gary McSheffrey has been off-form for all but three games this season. We’re a squad with some very solid performers at this level, such as Martin Cranie, Sammy Clingan and Lukas Jutkiewicz. Unfortunately, they’re accompanied by the mighty inconsistent, such as the McSheffreys and David Bells, as well as some very young kids who are still learning the game. We simply don’t have the options to change things, so end up rotating the same group of players, each of whom is low on confidence and is unable to make any impact. It’s a tricky little cycle to get out of.
Peterborough are a free scoring side are you worried how you your team will fare against them?
2-1 has been a very common scoreline against us this year, so as a general rule, we haven’t been tonked very often so far. We’re a funny
side, and are capable of putting in good performances against teams at the top and bottom – although whether the result comes is another matter. Southampton came to our place and caught us with some swift attacking play, and we’ve generally struggled against sides that come into the game with any sort of momentum.
Will you need to adjust your game play to prevent a wave of goals going against you?
I sound like a whinging swine, but we’ve not won in about 11 games, so there’s clearly something we’re doing wrong and we need to adjust our play somewhere. There’s a bit of discontent amongst our fans at the moment surrounding our diamond formation, which many attribute our bad form to. I’m a little different in that I think the problems are mainly individual and things are a bit more complex than “our formation isn’t working”. We will however be missing a big part of that formation – Sammy Clingan is out for a few weeks with a broken toe – so we’re having to work around this. It didn’t really work out for us at the weekend against Hull, so I have a feeling we may, by necessity, see a change of shape this weekend.
Is there anyone in the posh squad who you will be particularly wary of?
George Boyd has always caught my eye over the years. I can see why certain managers wouldn’t be too keen on him given his style of play, but there’s a very definite quality there and one which concerns me. I remember Peterborough visiting the Ricoh a few seasons back now, and Boyd was the outstanding performer that day, who struck me as someone who was able to cause defenders problems, especially those lacking confidence. Obviously another player who has caught my attention is Grant McCann. His unfortunate injury at the weekend against Leicester is clearly a blow for you, and I certainly wish him well recovering from it, although from an opposing fan’s perspective, his absence certainly makes life ever so slightly easier for us (on the face of it, at least).
Who will be your key man?
He’s only on loan for the month, but Gary Gardner has already shown a touch of class which is beyond many of our other players. He scored very early on his debut, and gave a tremendously assured performance throughout. I ran a poll a couple of weeks ago asking who our fans thought should play at the point of our diamond, and he was an overwhelming winner. With Sammy Clingan missing, we had to drop him back to the holding midfield role at the weekend (he’s 19 and yet he’s the only one who can be trusted), but he swapped in the second half to move him closer to the forwards in an attempt to harness his attacking quality. He’s certainly one to watch out for.
What player has surprised you the most this season?
There are two players, one who you may have an interest inhearing about, and another is a defender so you don’t need to concern yourself
too much with him. Big Lukas Jutkiewicz has taken up the mantle of goalscorer this season following the departure of Marlon King. He’s a strapping young man, who has a good stride about him when he gets going, and is always up for the battle. He’s found himself in the right place at the right time on a fair few occasions this season, and is starting to show a strikers’ instinct in and around the box. He still has some way to go with his composure with the ball at his feet though, and will often let his first touch get away from him. I’d also ask all Peterborough fans to watch him and see whether you notice just how often his shirt gets pulled. If he was allowed to play and not pulled down all the time, this man could be really good.
The other player I feel I should to mention in the interest of fairness, even though he won’t cause you much grief, is our defender Richard Keogh who was often erratic for us last year, but has found a very consistent streak this. He’s still a bit of a wally, but he certain deserves recognition for his improvement.
Finally what do you predict the score will be (including goalscorers) and where do you expect to finish this season?
Even though we may lose 2-1 most of the time and logic suggests I should go for that, I think we could take a draw from the game. Let’s say 1-1. Like I’ve said– we often find ourselves in winning positions, and the players should be doing better than they are at holding on to points. They can’t keep going on like this forever, can they?
In many ways, our final position in the league will probably reflect our approach and condition off it. If we find some investment and are able to work the loan market, I’d like to think we’d be able to make a real fight of staying in the league. If things carry on in the same vein for much longer, I can’t see us delivering the required ratio of wins in the half-season we have left. It’s just too huge a task.
You can follow Neil on twitter @neilallison