Robins hoping to banish the gloom from Sky Blues

The Coventry manager faces Arsenal and tells Simon Hart he has high hopes for future

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The Independent Online

You have to go back 20 years now to the day in August 1992 that Mark Robins helped cause a stir by scoring twice on his Norwich City debut in a 4-2 victory at Arsenal. It was the first day of the inaugural Premier League season and the 42-year-old remembers it well. "I was a sub, I'd only signed the day before and I came in and scored two goals," he recalled. "One was a header with my first touch and the second one a volley."

Robins heads to north London today in new-boy mode once more, albeit this time as the freshly installed manager of a Coventry City side facing Arsenal in the League Cup third round. Upsetting Arsenal again appears a mission impossible with a Coventry team at their lowest ebb for nearly half a century: Saturday's 2-1 home defeat by Carlisle in his first game was their fifth loss in a row and left them joint-bottom of League One. "See what I mean about negativity?" he joked when this was put to him, but he knows it is no laughing matter.

"There is an air of negativity around from everybody I speak to," the 42-year-old observed, adding: "We've got a group of players here who've been battered from pillar to post We've got to start being positive with them."

Lifting the gloom will take some doing given Coventry's downward spiral. Since exiting the Premier League in 2001, they have had 11 different managers in 11 years yet managed just one top-10 finish in the Championship. The cost-cutting of the club's hedge-fund owners, Sisu, has alienated some supporters and led to the departure of Ray Ranson, the man who attracted their investment in 2007, averting administration in the process. Last season's doomed campaign offers a case in point. After losing nine players in summer 2011, Coventry brought in only one outfield player and manager Andy Thorn then had to sell his leading scorer, Lukas Jutkiewicz, in January. Then, after retaining Thorn and allowing him to recruit nine new players this summer, Sisu dismissed him after he began the campaign with three draws.

Yet the club's managing director Tim Fisher apologised to a fans' forum this month – "to draw a line once and for all under the previous mistakes that have been recognised by Sisu" – and is eager to look forward. The club's £500,000 monthly losses have been halved and they are reportedly close to agreeing a deal to buy back their 50% share in the stadium.

The new manager is happy with this ambition. Soon after his Highbury double, on this very day in September 1992, Robins actually played for Norwich against Coventry in a fixture between the then top two teams in the Premier League. He cites Norwich's success in rebounding from the third tier as cause for hope for Coventry. "[This] is a magnificent football club, it is a club that wouldn't be out of place in the top flight should it return there, should we make sure the building blocks are in place. "

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