Across the last two seasons, all four meetings between Coventry and Birmingham took place at St Andrew’s.
Disputes behind the scenes – similar to those that had forced them to call Northampton’s Sixfields Stadium home in 2013/14 – saw the Sky Blues call upon their near neighbours to facilitate a ground-share for the 2019/20 and 2020/21 campaigns, the latter of which saw them return to the Championship for the first time in eight seasons.
Mark Robins’ side’s troubles on the road were offset by their surprisingly strong home form last term and, despite periods of inconsistency, they stayed well clear of the bottom three and finished 12 points above it when the season concluded in May.
On Tuesday night, in a game live on Sky Sports Football, the pair will face off at the Coventry Building Society Arena for the first time since a 10-year agreement for Coventry to return was signed back in March.
Here, we take a look at the rise of Coventry under Robins and assess whether this season’s surprise package can maintain their early season form to cement their place in the mix for promotion to the Premier League, where they last played in 2000/01.
Second time lucky for Robins
Reeling from relegation from the Championship in 2012, Coventry started 2012/13 with three straight draws that saw chief scout turned coach Andy Thorn sacked, and went onto lose five games in a row thereafter as their descent picked up speed.
In mid-September, Robins arrived on a three-year deal and quickly turned things around, taking the club from what appeared to be an inevitable relegation battle to the cusp of the League One play-off places and guiding them to the Northern Area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
But after less than six months in the job, he left to take charge at Huddersfield, with Coventry subsequently falling away to finish in mid-table.
Then, just over four years later, he returned. Within a month, he had gone one better than his previous spell and won the Checkatrade Trophy final, though it was a brief highlight in a season where City were relegated to League Two after finishing second bottom.
Since then, however, the Sky Blues have been an irrepressible force and, in spite of the aforementioned issues off the pitch, achieved two promotions in three seasons.
The first came in 2017/18 when they spent extended periods of the campaign in the top seven of League Two, before seeing off Notts County in the play-off semi-final and Exeter in the final to confirm an immediate return to the third tier. Back-to-back promotions might have followed in 2018/19 without a seven-game winless streak throughout November and December 2018 that played its part in them finishing eight points off the pace.
In 2019/20 though, they did manage to get there. Ensconced in the play-off race after two defeats in the opening 19 games, they began to gain momentum and won five games in succession in February 2020, which took them to second before they started March with 1-0 victories over Sunderland and Ipswich. It was those six points that propelled them to the top of League One, where they stayed until football was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 13.
When it was decided that the final table would be settled on a points-per-game basis, a total of 18 wins, 13 draws and just three defeats from 34 games saw them crowned champions with an average of 1.97 PPG, 0.2 higher than that of second-placed Rotherham.
Settling back in the Championship
As is usually the case for promoted teams, survival was the ultimate goal for Coventry last season; a chance to get to grips with the Championship after quite a sizeable amount of time playing at a lower level.
Seven of their first 11 games ended in defeat, yet they avoided falling below the threshold into the relegation zone and continued to do so when they finally broke out of that rut with a goalless draw, incidentally with Birmingham, on November 20 2020.
That started an eight-game unbeaten run, which first illustrated that the building blocks for something significant were already there. It was particularly noteworthy that they managed to go on such a positive run – even holding eventual champions Norwich to a draw – without star frontman Matt Godden, who missed large spells of the campaign through injury.
It granted them an increased margin of error in the battle against the drop, though they still had to turn on the style in the final month, winning five of the last seven games and then rounding it off in style with a 6-1 final day win at home to Millwall, with six different players on the scoresheet to boot.
“To sign off at St Andrew’s with a win and performance like that is just what we wanted to do,” said an elated Robins afterwards.
“I wanted a good performance to finish the season off and I got it in spades – it was outstanding. Moving back into Coventry, we’ve got that stability – we can work towards a brighter future and keep building.”
Taking the second tier by storm
Even when factoring in the move back home from St Andrew’s and the positive signs from last term, even the most optimistic Coventry fan would have been hard-pressed to predict such an upturn in their fortunes.
Summer transfer business was solid, if unspectacular, and included the additions of experienced pair Martyn Waghorn and Simon Moore on free transfers, with the loans of Ben Sheaf and Viktor Gyokeres made permanent. But the Sky Blues hit the ground running.
A last-gasp winner from Kyle McFadzean helped them to a 2-1 opening win against Nottingham Forest and by the time of the first international break, they were seventh. When domestic football restarted, they were desperate to climb the table and did so quickly, with Gyokeres playing a particularly pivotal role.
The Sweden international had scored three goals in 19 appearances during a loan spell from Brighton in 2020/21, but clearly levelled up over the summer and the 23-year-old went through a purple patch throughout September and into October, notching seven in six games.
Meanwhile, last season showed the importance of home form and Coventry have carried their ability to excel on home soil back to the Coventry Building Society Arena. Of their nine games played there so far this term, they have won seven, drawn one and lost one – a record bettered only by Fulham, by way of a superior goal difference.
Reasons to be positive about the club’s outlook include a 4-1 thumping of the Cottagers just three days after a 5-0 humbling of their own away at Luton – two results that just about sum up the Championship.
Is a promotion charge on the cards?
With more than a third of season gone, it is a reasonable time to begin asking whether Robins’ men can continue in this manner and continue to mount a challenge at the top end of the table.
Ahead of Tuesday’s visit of Birmingham, Sky Bet have Coventry priced at 5/6 to finish in the top six, 5/1 to achieve promotion, 14/1 to achieve automatic promotion and 50/1 to win the title.
After 18 games, they have accrued 31 points; last season Norwich, Watford and Brentford – who went on to be promoted to the Premier League – had points totals of 37, 33 and 31 respectively at the same stage, while the year before, Leeds, West Brom and Fulham had 37, 39 and 32 respectively.
Based on that information alone, Coventry stand a fantastic chance of at least troubling the play-off places.