Monthly Archives: March 2013

The misery continues for Coventry

This week marked the latest low point in the sorry recent history of Coventry City as the club entered administration.

Coventry were relegated from the Premier League in 2001 and it would be fair to say no club in the Football League has had a more miserable 12 years than Coventry. Administration is a huge blow for their fans just when they were hoping to stabilize in League 1, but by now Cov fans are used to bitter disappointment.

The Ricoh Arena is at the centre of Coventry's latest problems

The Ricoh Arena is at the centre of Coventry’s latest problems

In 2001 the Sky Blues were relegated from the Premier League after 34 unbroken years in the top division. This was despite the best efforts of manager Gordon Strachan and despite having a squad which included John Hartson, Mustapha Hadji, Craig Bellamy, Lee Carsley, Gary Breen and Gary McSheffrey.

Despite losing some of their best players Coventry expected to be challenging for a quick return to the Premier League, but they found it tough to adapt to life in the second tier.

They quickly went from big-guns to mid-table mainstays and struggled to build any kind of momentum in the Championship. In their 11 years in the second tier they only finished in the top half three times and never looked capable of challenging for promotion. Their highest finish came in 2006 when they ended the season eighth in the Championship but even then they were 12 points outside the play-off spots.

There were big expectations for managers such as Gary McAllister, Micky Adams, Iain Dowie, Chris Coleman and Aidy Boothroyd to turn the club’s fortunes around but all of them struggled as the club further stagnated.

Many clubs find moving to a new stadium can give them impetus, but the opening of the 32,609-seat Ricoh Arena in 2005 had no such effect on Coventry, who remained in entrenched in the lower end of the Championship.

The stadium became a costly albatross around the club’s neck. Coventry narrowly avoided administration in 2007, but the cost of renting the state of the art stadium continued to hamper the club.

Coventry’s inability to sell out the massive ground caused different problems. It provoked ridicule from fans of other clubs who went to great lengths every time they visited the Ricoh to point out the vast expanses of empty seats. It also had an expectedly detrimental effect on the players. Once the initial excitement of new facilities wore off, they were left with an empty bowl and very little atmosphere to inspire them.

Coventry’s dismal time in the Championship came to an end last year when they were finally put out of their misery and relegated to League 1. At first glance it looked like a damaging blow for the club but fans and pundits put a positive spin on the situation, pointing to big clubs like Norwich, Leicester and Southampton who had been relegated to League 1 and quickly returned in a far stronger position (on and off the field) than when they were relegated.

Unfortunately, this season has been yet another mediocre and ultimately disappointing season of false-dawns and let-downs.

Andy Thorn was let go just 3 games into the season and it took the Sky Blues nine games to register their first league win, against Oldham at the end of September. Things looked set to improve as Mark Robins transformed the team and got them playing vibrant attacking football.

Unfortunately after dragging the club to the edge of the play-off spots Robins left to take over at Huddersfield Town. Results since his departure have been far from catastrophic and much to the amazement of onlookers the East Midlands club has sustained its play-off push.

This was of course until this week’s announcement that the club would be entering administration, meaning it would suffer a 10 point deduction, all but ending their hopes of going up via the play-offs.

The news was unsurprising. A few days prior to the announcement, the club had moved many of its operations out of the stadium.

The club is estimated to be combatting debts of around £60m, and the biggest problem is the ludicrously high rent the club currently pays on the stadium, which is run by ACL. The Coventry owners Sisu have been lambasted for agreeing to ACL’s high demands in the first place, but have found it difficult to negotiate a solution to the rent bill of £1.3m.

The club is in a desperate mess, and fans are unsurprisingly furious with the club’s owners.

Coventry never recovered from their shock relegation from the Premier League in 2001, and since then has failed to generate any momentum. The 12 years which followed relegation have been miserable and uninspiring, and new boss Steven Pressley has a delicate juggling act to perform if he is to reverse the club’s decline.

The former Celtic and Falkirk defender takes over a club with bags of potential but a heap of problems off the pitch.

After 12 years Coventry supporters just want something to cheer. The club recently disappointed its fans once again by losing 3-2 on aggregate to Crewe in the JPT semi-final, meaning they were denied their first Wembley final since their famous FA Cup triumph in 1987.

Supporters are just asking, when are they going to be allowed to be positive again?

Why doesn’t anybody want to get promoted to the Premier League?

Most clubs dream of promotion to the Premier League and all the perks which come with it. Great away trips to some of the top clubs in Europe, increased media attention and a huge cash injection are what most Football League fans dream of at night.

So why are Hull, Watford and Palace so intent on staying in the Championship?

Why don't clubs want to go up?

Why don’t clubs want to go up?

This weekend all three clubs lost and these are not anomalies. The chasing trio have been seriously inconsistent in recent games and none of them seem willing to take advantage of the other clubs’ unreliability. It’s almost as if they don’t want to go up.

The bizarre thing is the way all of these clubs have dragged themselves up the league to get into a position to challenge for second spot, only to lose their nerve just when they have the chance to assert their authority.

Palace, for example, had a great start to the season but the surprise departure of Dougie Freedman knocked them. As Ian Holloway got to know the club Palace lost pace with the division’s front runners.

But at the start of February they began a tremendous run, where they once again clicked, and clambered up the league. This run culminated with a magnificent 4-2 win against Hull, which appeared to signal Palace’s promotion push was ready to blow away the likes of Hull and Watford. But after this impressive result the Eagles slipped up against former manager, Neil Warnock, with a 2-2 draw at home to Leeds.

Then at the weekend Palace failed to lift themselves for the trip to arch-rivals Brighton. They were duly beaten 3-0 by the free-flowing Sussex side.

Watford’s story is similar. Just a few weeks ago Gianfranco Zola was praised on this blog for taking a group of borrowed foreigners and turning them into an elegant, attack-minded team. But just when they looked set to take the reins and pull away from the chasing pack they’ve stumbled.

They’ve now lost their last two games, firstly against a Blackpool team who have been far from spectacular (at least on the pitch) this season. Then on Saturday they travelled to relegation-threatened Barnsley and lost 1-0. Even though Barnsley have seen a resurgence since David Flitcroft was appointed manager this was still a frustrating result for Watford who are tiring at the wrong time of the season.

Hull are currently second in the Championship, but are inconsistency personified. Their last five results read:

Lost away to Bolton 4-1

Won at home against Birmingham 5-2

Lost away to Palace 4-2

Won away against Burnley 1-0

Lost at home against Nottingham Forest 2-1

At times Hull look confident, solid and goal-hungry. At other times the Tigers seem meek, vulnerable and overly conservative.

Champions-elect Cardiff now lead the league by seven points with a game in hand over the chasing pack. But Cardiff have been extremely sporting in the last few weeks, giving their rivals plenty of chances to catch them. Cardiff’s scrappy win against Wednesday was only their second in their last six games. The Bluebirds have given Hull, Watford and Palace more than enough chances to catch up and even overtake them, but they’ve failed to capitalise on the Welshmen’s slip ups.

This inconsistency presents two big problems for these three clubs.

First of all it goes without saying if they’re reluctant to snap up the second promotion spot, somebody else could sneak up on them. At the moment Nottingham Forest look the most likely option to take over. Billy Davies has transformed Forest since he took over and the brilliant victory at the KC Stadium was their sixth in a row.

They’re still eight points off Hull, but if they can keep up their scintillating form, who’s to say they too can’t snatch automatic promotion from the stumbling front runners?

The second big problem concerns the play-offs. It’s always difficult for players to raise their game for the play-offs if they’ve narrowly missed out on second, and are still depressed about it. But if they’re not in good form anyway the play-offs suddenly become a daunting proposition.

This year more than ever before we’re looking outside the current top six for potential play-off winners. There are plenty of good sides who have probably underperformed this season but could do very well in the play-offs if they can find some good form.

We’ve already discussed Forest’s good form, and even though Leicester are by now out of automatic promotion contention the Foxes have proved in the past when they are at their best they are possibly the best team in the league. If they can recapture their form from the first half of the season, they could be play-off favourites.

Likewise Brighton have underperformed in general this season but Gus Poyet’s team are big match players, and they showed on Sunday what they can do when they click. Dougie Freedman too has had an impact at Bolton and their defeat against Ipswich on Saturday was their first in nine games. They have played themselves into play-off contention.

There are just ten games remaining in the regular season, but this means there are 30 points up for grabs. These are by far the most important games of the season for teams chasing promotion, either automatically or through the play-offs.

If players and teams can’t raise their games and hold their nerves for these matches then they don’t deserve to go up.

Torquay’s quick-fire collapse could continue

The League 2 relegation dogfight features some predictable names such as Barnet, York, Wimbledon and Aldershot. Plymouth and Accrington Stanley are also less than surprising inclusions in the scrap. But as recently as early February any suggestion of Torquay being dragged into the mix would have been ridiculed.

The situation is getting desperate for Torquay

The situation is getting desperate for Torquay

But the Devon club, who have featured in the last two League 2 play-offs, now find themselves just one place and one point above the drop zone.

Last season they were just three points off automatic promotion to League 1, and two years ago they lost agonizingly to a John Mousinho stunner in the play-off final at Old Trafford. Until December they looked a decent bet to finish in the top 7 again this season, but things have taken a turn for the worse, and the Gulls have taken just one point from their last nine games.

Torquay started the season with hopes of promotion, despite the sale of key players in the summer. Torquay’s first half of the season was steady but unspectacular, although they were unbeaten at home until an embarrassing defeat against non-league Harrogate, which many fans now see as the start of their slide down the table. Since their loss against the unfancied Yorkshiremen the Gulls have only registered one win at home.

Torquay’s form had already dipped when they were dealt a hammer blow at the start of February with the news popular manager, Martin Ling was likely to miss the rest of the season with a “debilitating illness.”

Ling’s mystery illness required his assistant, Shaun Taylor, to step into the role, but his four games in charge all ended in defeat. Former Bury and Scunthorpe manager, Alan Knill, took over four games ago, but three losses and a draw have taken the Gulls within spitting distance of the bottom two.

Torquay were relegated out of the Football League for the first time in the club’s history in 2007, but returned two years later, which was a tremendous achievement in a competitive division. They don’t want to put themselves in the same position again, but with just one win since December 1 fans are extremely concerned.

The atmosphere at Plainmoor has become increasingly tense and nervous, with frustration rebounding constantly between the crowd and the players.

Their only win in 2013 was the televised derby away at Exeter, which ended in a 1-0 win, but even then they were extremely lucky and Torquay could count themselves lucky the Grecians had left their shooting boots at home.

Despite having an adequate squad to stay up, Torquay look disorganized at the back. They’re leaking sloppy goals, and look bereft of self-belief at the back.

To add to their defensive worries, hefty striker Rene Howe has hit a dry spell, and hasn’t netted in his last eight games, which is extremely unusual for the goal-machine and extremely worrying for his club, who have been dependent upon him for goals in recent seasons.

Torquay’s collapse is remarkable, and the club seems to have become a trembling mess overnight. But as Alan Knill himself pointed out, in League 2 a losing run can turn into a winning run astoundingly quickly.

But with just 10 games remaining, the Gulls form has to turn around quickly or they could find themselves in deep trouble, without enough time to save themselves.