Life Beyond the Premier League: Steven Pressley's kids stop Coventry being all shook up by move to Northampton
Life Beyond the Premier League
Wednesday 11 September 2013
It seems fair to say that no club in English football had a more difficult summer than Coventry City, one dominated by the controversy surrounding their departure from the Ricoh Arena for Northampton, 35 miles away, and further darkened by a 10-point deduction imposed by the Football League owing to the liquidation of their previous parent company, Coventry City FC Ltd.
It is to the credit of manager Steven Pressley and his players that against this pretty desperate backdrop, they have begun their programme so brightly that, six games in, they have already climbed off the foot of League One – last Sunday's 2-0 "home" victory over Colchester provided their first official point, lifting them above Notts County on goal difference.
The fact that without their points' deduction – the club's second of 2013 – Coventry would be sitting in a play-off place underlines Pressley's astute work in building, in extremely trying circumstances, what he describes as a "young, energetic and hungry squad". He spoke to each player individually before the summer break and has been delighted by the focused approach of a team unbeaten in the league since the opening day. "They have not looked for excuses, they've worked exceptionally hard," he said. "The fact so many have come through the system together means they have a real feeling for the football club."
With Coventry under a transfer embargo, Pressley offloaded 18 players over the summer; this enabled him to bring in two new faces in Scotland defender Andy Webster and French forward Mathieu Manset but his overriding policy has been to put his faith in the club's young players with five academy graduates aged 21 or under starting against Colchester – Cyrus Christie, Jordan Clarke, Jordan Willis, Conor Thomas and Callum Wilson.
It helps that Pressley, the former Scotland, Rangers and Celtic defender, has been down this road before in his previous job at Falkirk, where he spent three years before replacing Mark Robins at Coventry in March. At Falkirk, the 39-year-old had to reduce his playing budget by 70 per cent and so focused his energies on the academy. "I studied the trends within Europe and many of the top clubs are developing their own players and that brings a spirit and unity to your club. Sometimes in English football that has been overlooked," he explained.
In Coventry's case, it has also brought a rush of goals from the lightning-fast striker Wilson, 21. His double against Colchester took his season's total to eight already from six League One outings – not bad for a player who had scored only one league goal prior to this campaign. "For a year and a half he had suffered setback after setback with injury and so had never got a good opportunity," Pressley said of a forward whose hard-working partnership with Leon Clarke sets the tone for an aggressive pressing game from the division's leading scorers.
The pity, of course, is that few Coventry fans have seen for themselves the fruits of Pressley's efforts. Despite the team scoring nine goals in their opening two fixtures in Northampton, Sunday's attendance of 1,789 was the lowest league gate in the club's history – a pretty stark message to the club's unpopular owners Sisu, even without taking into account the presence of some 200 protesters on the hill overlooking Sixfields.
Pressley understands the fans' feelings. "Ultimately we all want to play back at Coventry," he said. "The truth is, with our form and the attendances as they are, it is clear to see the supporters will only return when the team has moved back. It is a situation that we have no control over – all we can do is continue to try to put on performances that make our supporters proud."
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