Face fellow play-off challengers Yeovil
9 February ~ As Coventry City prepare to take on Yeovil today, there are more than a few Sky Blues fans rubbing their eyes as they look at the League One table. Uniquely among all 92 League clubs Coventry have not finished in the top six of any league for over 40 years. The last time they were riding this high in any table – they are eighth – the FA Cup was nestling in the Highfield Road trophy room and Margaret Thatcher was still prime minister. Since then the club has gone from top flight escapologists to mid- to lower-table strugglers in the old Division Three.
It is exactly where they were when, in the early 1960s, Jimmy Hill sparked a remarkable rise which culminated in European football less than a decade later. It begs the question: is City manager Mark Robins the new Jimmy Hill? Apart from the fact that it's crass to make comparisons while Robins is so new to the job – he only took over in September last year – their situations are so different, it's almost impossible to answer. Jimmy Hill, after all, had the backing of a wealthy owner and carte blanche to rip the club apart.
Robins has neither luxury. City are living hand to mouth, financially, so the new manager has no money to spend and no way of preventing good players leaving. It's the reason City striker David McGoldrick, still League One's top scorer, joined Ipswich as soon as the transfer window opened last month. But Robins does appear to have a canny eye for spotting players. Leon Clarke, signed last month, has carried on where McGoldrick left off and the youthful team that combines Robins's loan signings and the rump of the players he inherited has been transformed from a soft-centred bunch scared of their own shadows to one which has the confidence to win with late goals.
Last Tuesday's 3-0 home defeat to Crewe in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy may have dented that confidence, though the fact that City dominated the game is something they may hang onto.
Today's match against Yeovil is much more important. Gary Johnson's team are enjoying a good run of their own and stand in the Sky Blues' way when it comes to breaking into the play-offs. The Glovers are one point and one place above City with two games in hand so will have little to fear at the Ricoh.
That is especially so as City's form at home is significantly worse than on the road. Under Robins City have won 13 and drawn five in 24 league games, and it's noteworthy that four of the six defeats during his reign have come at home. Still, no manager since Hill has had such an instant impact. Robins has changed the whole mentality of the club. Goals come more often and throughout the 90 minutes, injuries seem less frequent and absences shorter. All the signs of a successful team.
But its early days and he is operating at a lower level than most of City's many managers of recent times. This weekend's game may be a defining one. Victory could spark a genuine push for the play-offs. Defeat could see that dream start to slip and, in the background, the dispute over the club's rent of the Ricoh rumbles on. If that turns into administration, the revival that Robins has triggered might have been all in vain. Neville Hadsley