MATT BARLOW: Mark Robins has cleared clouds for Sky Blues

MATT BARLOW: Mark Robins has cleared the clouds for the Sky Blues after securing Coventry their highest league finish since 2006… he is the modest architect of their rise from the depths as they chase a play-off place

  • Coventry boss Mark Robins has led his team to their highest finish for 17 years 
  • The Sky Blues should clinch a Championship play-off place on the final day 
  • Robins has taken Coventry from League Two to the Championship top six 

Take your pick, because you can start the Coventry City story anywhere you want. 

Perhaps on the day they slid out of the Premier League in 2001 ending 34 unbroken years in English football’s top flight as one defiant fan held a sign promising, ‘we’ll be back’.

Or the slump into the fourth tier having failed to deliver a top-six finish for almost half a century, or the homeless years, seasons spent lodging at Northampton Town or Birmingham City to a backdrop of angry protest.

Or as recently as last October, when another season groaned into life with no wins in seven games, a pitch not fit for purpose, untreated in preseason and destroyed by the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens, a suspended points penalty, a transfer embargo and landlords, the owners of Wasps rugby, about to go bust.

Wherever you begin, all narratives lead joyfully to Saturday. 

Coventry City could be set for a return to the Premier League via the Championship play-offs 

Mark Robins should be a contender for Manager of the Year for the work he’s done at Coventry

Victory against Birmingham in front of a full house in triumphant mood, hours after new owner Doug King struck a crucial deal for the team to remain at the CBS Arena for another five years.

Security, stability and success together at last. Happy days and enormous credit is due to manager Mark Robins, the modest architect of this rise from the depths.

There were few arguments when Vincent Kompany won the Championship’s Manager of the Season at the EFL awards last week. Kompany has invigorated Burnley after relegation and led them stylishly to the title.

There were inevitable grumblings from South Yorkshire about Paul Heckingbottom’s omission from the short-list. Michael Carrick has transformed Middlesbrough. Rob Edwards recovered from the sack at Watford to the play-offs at Luton.

Tony Mowbray and Gary Rowett impressed, but Robins has guaranteed the Sky Blues their highest finish since 2006 when they were eighth in the second tier. He will beat that if they win their final fixture, at Middlesbrough next Monday and clinch a shot at an unlikely promotion via the play-offs.

He has done it in the most difficult circumstances and the 53-year-old Lancastrian is not about to reach for the trumpet and herald his own achievements. That simply isn’t his style, which, for many in football, is all part of his enduring popularity.

Robins started his second spell as Coventry boss in 2017, unable to stop them sliding into League Two.

He was joined later in the same year by Adi Viveash, a hugely respected coach with nine years of success behind him in Chelsea’s academy, and chief executive Dave Boddy, who was led Newport County’s return to the EFL from non-league.

Together with different recruitment chiefs, they have consistently found value in the transfer and loan markets to create a balanced team with a reputation for attractive football.

Viktor Gyokeres, signed from Brighton after a successful loan spell, has taken most of the plaudits this year. Swede Gyokeres scored his 21st league goal of the season on Saturday and has registered 10 assists.

Gustavo Hamer, a Dutch-Brazilian midfielder who cost £1million from Zwolle, has become a fans’ favourite in midfield and yet there is more.

Viktor Gyokeres and his trademark celebration, which could fire Coventry to promotion 

Robins has blended this quality with the know-how of experienced lower-league campaigners, such as Kyle McFadzean, Matt Godden, Jake Bidwell and Liam Kelly, who joined Coventry in League Two and led them out against Birmingham.

And with the youthful exuberance of loan signings such as Brooke Norton-Cuffy, Callum Doyle and Luke McNally, and in Josh Eccles another breakthrough from an academy which produced England internationals James Maddison and Callum Wilson. 

Eccles scored the opener in Saturday’s 2-0 win, his first goal for his hometown club.

All of this without arguably their best player, Callum O’Hare, a midfielder signed from Aston Villa who was subject to £9million interest from Burnley when he damaged cruciate knee ligaments in December, ruling him out for the rest of the season.

From any angle, from any starting point, it is an incredible achievement by Coventry to be where they are at the end of this season. The clouds have finally parted for the Sky Blues. 

And, despite lingering suspicion about the long-term intentions of Mike Ashley, who bought the stadium from Wasps, this ought to be a time for celebration.

Argentine returns  

With Mauricio Pochettino deep in talks to return to the Premier League as Chelsea’s next boss it could be quite a week for popular Argentinians back on familiar territory.

Ricardo Villa was a guest of Osvaldo Ardiles at Tottenham as they drew with Manchester United on Thursday.

And Sunderland cult hero Julio Arca is back at South Shields where he ended his playing career, appointed manager after Kevin Phillips moved on after promotion to the National League North, tipped for the Walsall job.

Mauricio Pochettino imminent return isn’t the Argentine who’s made a comeback this week 

Beware of the ref 

Away teams quake in anticipation of David Coote’s next appointment. Coote was the referee in charge of Brighton 6 Wolves 0 on Saturday. His previous game was Newcastle 6 Spurs 1.

Young Irons 

The FA Youth Cup, so emphatically won by West Ham who beat Arsenal 5-1 in last week’s final before a crowd of more than 34,000 at the Emirates Stadium, connects with fans because of its heritage and ability to revive images of those players associated with past glories.

For West Ham, this triumph came with reminders of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. For Arsenal, the near miss sparked memories of a crop featuring Francis Coquelin, Jay Emmanuel Thomas and Jack Wilshere, now in his role as coach.

The Youth Cup is an U18 competition, founded in 1952 and open to all, and that carries weight. The same emotions were not in play when Spurs won the U17 Premier League Cup, or when Manchester City’s U21s made it a hat trick of Premier League 2 titles.

The future at West Ham is bright after beating Arsenal to win the FA Youth Cup last week 

Paul knows what’s cooking 

Paul Cook is the first manager to survive an entire 46-game league season as Chesterfield boss since Paul Cook in 2014/15. In between came 14 permanent and caretaker managers. Hardcore instability as highlighted by Paul Fisher @pkfsport on Twitter.

Better build 

Reposm is a unique new charity raising funds to build sheltered housing for retired sportsmen and women who have fallen on hard times. It came together from ideas hatched in cricket and football by former Surrey chairman Mike Soper and former Tottenham and Luton boss David Pleat.

After the setback of the pandemic, Reposm is making good progress with £500,000 pledged by the PFA, and, on Thursday, a dinner hosted by the irrepressible Soper at the Oval last week where speakers Sir John Major, Sir Trevor McDonald and David Gower endorsed this fine sporting cause as it continues to raise funds towards its first home.

Bye-bye Jeff 

Saturday’s simply won’t be the same without Jeff Stelling, the latest broadcasting legend lost in a never-ending quest to change things that don’t need changing.

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