“Mr Blue Sky” was the uplifting choice of music as the teams stepped out at Sixfields on Sunday but for managerless Sheffield United the gloom deepened. Forty-eight hours after David Weir’s dismissal, the Bramall Lane club hit rock bottom in League One, ending the weekend at the foot of the table after their eighth defeat in 11 matches.
Whoever replaces Weir may take encouragement from a second-half rally in which they scored twice, although their feeble efforts before that were a more accurate reflection of their current failings.
Chris Morgan, the club’s Under-21 coach and caretaker manager, said: “We have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. There’s a new manager next week and, hopefully, the new man comes in and lifts us up.”
As for the identity of that manager, he gave no reason to doubt that the bookmakers have got it wrong in making Nigel Clough favourite to become United’s seventh manager in six years. “Nigel Clough’s the name on everybody’s lips,” Morgan said. “I’ve not heard another name mentioned. It sounds like people have made their minds up.”
For Coventry, this was another bittersweet afternoon – their fourth win in six matches at a stadium 35 miles from home. Were it not for the 10-point deduction imposed before the season began, they would be in the play-off places, manager Steven Pressley having put together a team with plenty of youthful energy and, crucially, an attacking duo of Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson with a genuine understanding, who now have 18 goals between them in League One. “You certainly get your money’s worth here,” said Pressley, though sadly there were just 2,078 fans at Sixfields, 966 of them from Sheffield.
On the hill behind stood a small group of fans with their “Sisu out” banner directed at the club’s unpopular owners. That is the bigger issue at stake but on the pitch at least Coventry are getting it right.
It took just six minutes for Clarke to open the scoring with a precise volley from full-back Blair Adams’ cross. Wilson doubled the lead with a powerful first-time strike from Carl Baker’s pull-back and four minutes after the break, it was 3-0 as Clarke, who could easily have had a hat-trick, rolled a low shot beyond United keeper George Long.
Sheffield looked bereft of confidence. Weir had sought to instil a patient, passing game – a radical change of philosophy and one that his squad had struggled to take on board. They have lacked a cutting edge all season but substitute Lyle Taylor, a Weir signing, at least ensured an exciting finish with his first goals for the club. A free-kick that flew through a gap in the Coventry defensive wall was followed by a header from a deep Ryan Hall cross.
Coventry City (4-4-2): Murphy; Willis (Phillips, 77), Webster, Clarke, Adams; Baker (Daniels, 67), Thomas, Fleck, Moussa (Barton, 81); Wilson, Clarke. Substitutes not used Burge, Manset, Garner, Haynes.
Sheffield United (4-4-1-1): Long; Westlake, Maguire, Collins, Hill; Flynn (Hall, 73), Coady, Doyle, Brandy; Baxter (Taylor, 41); King (McGinn, 57). Substitutes not used Howard, Lappin, Murphy, Ironside.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).
Goals. Coventry: Clarke 6, 49, Wilson 32. Sheffield United: Taylor 62, 80