Ghana's No. 1

From 24th in the Championship to the top flight?

Published on: 25 May 2023

Mark Robins - once a Wembley winner himself with Manchester United in 1990 - will be leading out Coventry for a third timeChampionship play-off final: Coventry City v Luton TownDate: Saturday, 27 May Venue: Wembley Kick-off: 16:45 BST Coverage: Live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app, live radio commentary on BBC CWR and BBC Three Counties Radio, updates on BBC Radio 5 Live

Coventry City are back at Wembley on Saturday. They have never lost a final there and their 36,737 fans will have what they deem their "lucky end". They are just one game away from a return to the Premier League.

It is a far cry from where they were the day they got relegated from the top flight in May 2001.

The tale of woe continued over the next two decades.

In 2005 they were forced to leave their Highfield Road home and just two years later the Sky Blues were saved from potential extinction by just minutes following Sisu's late takeover.

In 2013 they sought refuge from their ongoing rent row with the local council by moving to Northampton.

They moved back to their home at the Ricoh Arena the following year, with fellow tenants Wasps now their new landlords.

But in 2019, they had to move again, to Birmingham City's St Andrew's ground and spent two seasons there.

It is easy to forget where the club were early on this campaign - bottom of the league, without a pitch, having to postpone four home games and then even briefly without a ground too when they were served with the threat of an eviction by the stadium's new owners.

That is enough drama for most clubs over 22 seasons. Never mind just one.

Coventry defender Fankaty Dabo treated Gus Hamer to a fireman's lift after firing the Sky Blues to Wembley

Thankfully for Sky Blues fans all is calm again. City are in the Championship play-off final on the back of a run of just one defeat in 19 games, they have a new owner in Doug King. And, most importantly of all, they have the reassuring hand on the tiller of their unflappable manager Mark Robins.

"He's always that composed, calm head," said Coventry captain Liam Kelly, the club's longest-serving player and Robins' first signing when he returned in March 2017.

"Sometimes it's easy to panic and make rash decisions," Kelly told BBC CWR. "But it's all about having faith and not over-reacting when things don't go well.

"It is the consistency in everything he does on and off the training pitch that sets him apart.

"To have that faith in our process, the way we play and the work we are doing. He always said it will provide dividends - and ultimately it has."

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Typically Robins is still busy keeping people's feet on the floor ahead of what, financially speaking at least, is the club's biggest game in their history. As it is for Luton too.

"Regardless of the result, we've had a phenomenal season," Robins told BBC CWR.

"The reconnection with our fans has been amazing, especially now with the arrival of Doug King as owner. And there's nothing wrong with having a plan.

"To be at Wembley is special. That noise when it hits you makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. But you have to keep your focus on the opportunity we have ahead of us.

"Luton are a really good team with good technical players. They have played at this level longer than we have.

"They finished third, 10 points ahead of us and they will be considered favourites."

'A City moving in the right direction'

Coventry supporters rightly point out that, whatever the outcome at Wembley it has been a remarkable season and there are good reasons for being optimistic that a frequently troubled club is now moving in the right direction.

They go to Wembley in excellent form with only one defeat since the start of February, a run which started with a home draw against Luton.

The squad may lack numbers compared to some of their Championship rivals but it is packed with talented players.

Viktor Gyokeres and Gus Hamer could be Premier League bound whatever the result of the final.

Ben Sheaf's reputation is growing all the time, Luke McNally has added quality at the back and Kyle McFadzean is having the season of his life.

And then there is the tightness of the unit, led lately by the fit again Kelly, the one survivor from the League Two promotion winning squad in 2018.

The King of Coventry City

Analysis - BBC CWR's Clive Eakin

While Robins is king as far as Coventry City fans are concerned, he is not the ruler at the club.

That became the property of Loughborough University mathematical engineering graduate Doug King, chief executive of Stratford-upon-Avon-based oilseed processing facility Yelo Enterprises, when he completed his purchase of the club in January.

Previous owners Sisu had not always proved the most popular with fans since the London-based hedge fund first rescued Coventry from being wound up when they took over the club with 20 minutes to spare in late 2007.

Few Coventry City fans knew who Doug King was when he took charge - and now he has his own face mask

It was not always the smoothest ride, largely due to City not having owned their own stadium since leaving Highfield Road when it was sold for housing redevelopment in 2005.

A long-running row over ground rent twice forced the Sky Blues to seek temporary groundshares outside the city - first at Northampton in 2013 for just over a season, prior to Wasps being allowed to move in and also become their landlords, later followed by two seasons with Birmingham City, before returning to Coventry again in 2021.

Even this season they were forced to play an EFL Cup home tie at Burton Albion when the CBS Arena surface was ruled unfit following summer overuse from pop concerts and Commonwealth Games rugby.

But, despite fans having to turn on their search engines to find out who he actually was, the early signs have been good. And, even if he has just simply turned up in the right place at the right time, Coventry City are better off for having a new King.

Coventry's climb up the league

31 July - opening day: The Sky Blues start the campaign with an impressive away point at Alex Neil's Sunderland thanks to a late Viktor Gyokeres equaliser.

The 24-goal Viktor Gyokeres collection began on the first weekend of the season at Sunderland

30 September - bottom of the league: After seven games, six of them away from home following their early season pitch woes Coventry have three draws, three points and no wins.

1 October - first victory but still bottom:Gyokeres grabs a first-half winner against Middlesbrough to earn the Sky Blues their first win of the season in only their second home game.

15 October - still a point adrift at the foot: A goalless draw at Bristol City, a home defeat by Burnley and an away win at Cardiff sees them pick up four points but they remain 24th.

19 October - off the bottom: Martyn Waghorn's late penalty sees them beat Sheffield United to climb off the bottom of the Championship.

All of Jamie Allen's six league goals came in a run of 22 games between October and February

22 October - third win in a row: A 2-0 victory at Stoke, their third victory in a week, sees them climb to 22nd.

1 November - out of the drop zone: After picking up just one point from two home games, Coventry beat Blackburn with a goal from Allen. City move up to 19th.

5 November - continue to climb: Gyokeres gets the only goal of the game at Watford as the Sky Blues rise four more places to 15th.

8 November - top half: Late goals from Hamer and Gyokeres earn a 2-0 home win over Wigan Athletic which lifts City into the top half for the first time.

12 November - World Cup break: Two Gyokeres goals beat Mick Beale's high-riding QPR 2-0 to lift City up another place going into the World Cup break. News of the impending Doug King takeover also breaks a few days later.

21 December - closing in on the play-offs: After returning to action with a defeat and a draw, the Sky Blues continue the climb with a stoppage-time Gyokeres penalty to beat West Bromwich Albion in another of their rearranged games.

Nine-goal Matt Godden's first-half penalty earned Coventry a 1-1 draw at home to Luton in February

21 January - new year slump: Coventry tumble down the table after a five-game winless post-Christmas run. Speculation that they might lose Gyokeres in the January transfer window culminates in a 4-2 home defeat by Norwich City.

14 February - Gyokeres ends drought: After a home win over Huddersfield, a narrow defeat at West Brom and a home draw with Luton, Gyokeres nets the only goal against Millwall to end his seven-game league scoring drought.

4 March - closing in again: Two wins and a draw followed by a 4-0 win at Huddersfield send Coventry back up to eighth, within three points of the play-offs.

1 April - last defeat of the season: After two draws and four more goals on their travels at Blackpool, the Sky Blues lose 4-0 at home to Stoke, but it turns out to be their last defeat of the regular season.

Gus Hamer is Coventry's second top scorer with nine league goals

1 April - within a point: Following two successive draws, Gyokeres gets a double in a 3-0 win at QPR to move Coventry within a point of the top six.

22 April - into the play-offs: Goalkeeper Ben Wilson's amazing late equaliser at Blackburn followed by a 2-1 home win over Reading puts City into the play-off places for the first time.

8 May - Coventry finish fifth: After beating former landlords Birmingham City in front of 30,175 fans, the best Sky Blues crowd for a league game since they moved to the Arena in 2005, Coventry draw 1-1 at Middlesbrough to end the season in fifth and book a two-leg play-off semi-final with fourth-placed Middlesbrough.

17 May - Off to Wembley: Following a goalless first leg against Boro, Hamer's second-half beauty at the Riverside fires the Sky Blues to Wembley.


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