Let me start with a disclosure. I have a soft spot for Coventry.
True, I didn’t in May 1985 when they beat champions Everton (already in their flip-flops and swimming trunks) 4-1 to ensure their survival and condemn Norwich to relegation from the top flight.
But a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, much of it toxic for Coventry and its fans.
My last match preview was Bournemouth, a club for whom my admiration is limited. They have a pile of money, which at times they’ve used quite ruthlessly.
Coventry couldn’t be more different.
If Norwich fans think we’ve had some hard times in recent years, including relegation to League One and near-administration, Coventry fans could rightly say “Hold my beer”.
All looked hopeful in 2005 when they moved to their new home, the splendid Ricoh Arena – but the next decade was a tale of slow decline. By 2013 Coventry’s owners SISU – don’t get me started on them – put the club into administration and made it play at Northampton.
By 2017, amid turmoil and understandable fan revolt, they were relegated to League Two.
With the club’s owners unable or unwilling to reach agreement with the Ricoh’s owners, Coventry remain homeless, now ground-sharing with Birmingham at St Andrews.
On the playing side, though, a saviour emerged in 2017 – in the shape of our own Mark Robins. As manager he’s done a phenomenal job, achieving promotion into League One through the playoffs, then out of it last year as champions.
And he’s done it in style. His team plays good, positive, possession-based football. Its main weakness is a tendency to overdo that style and get caught in possession in dangerous areas.
Sound familiar? Saturday’s game should be a good one to watch.
Our contact with Coventry in recent years has rarely been on the pitch (see below). Important and amicable dealings have happened off it, though.
In particular, we’ve signed two outstanding young talents from them: James Maddison and Sam McCallum. Each signing was regarded as a coup for Norwich, with bigger-name suitors knocking on the door. In each case we clinched the deal by offering the player back to Coventry on loan.
Maddison, of course, was a coup. Once we had a manager in Daniel Farke who was prepared to trust him, he blossomed. His eventual sale to Leicester enabled us to assemble the league-winning team of 2018-19.
McCallum also looks full of promise. While injuries now make us wish he was an option at Carrow Road, Farke is adamant his development will be best served by regular football under Mark Robins at Coventry.
We won’t see him on Saturday against his parent club, of course – but I suspect we’ll see a lot of him in future.
Our league meetings with Coventry over recent years have been few and far between. The last were in 2010-11, as we made a passing visit to the Championship on our journey from League One to the Prem.
We won at Coventry in December 2010 – almost inevitably with two goals from our Teemu Pukki of the time, Grant Holt – then welcomed them in a festive mood on the final day of the season at Carrow Road. Despite sporting one of the hangovers in evidence, Holt still scored in an entertaining Desmond (2-2).
So, few pointers from history for Saturday’s game. What can we expect?
Wecan be pretty sure it’ll be a game of football, not hoofball. It won’t bear much resemblance to the bruising battles at Stoke and Middlesbrough – or the forthcoming joys of facing Tony Pulis’s Sheffield Wednesday.
Coventry try to play the right way, which will probably suit us. Even with a patched-up team, we may have too much for them.
Like every game in the Championship, though, complacency could be a killer. They have some smart players, notably the creative Gustavo Hamer. We’ll miss the leadership of Tim Krul, as well as the spark of Emi Buendia.
In terms of leadership, I’ll quote the wise words of my American sister-in-law Holly who follows every game from Upstate New York: “Others will have to step up”.
My sympathy for Coventry doesn’t, of course, extend to diluting my desire for a City win. With the caveat that my prediction record is on a par with Donald Trump’s handling of Covid, I think we’ll get it.
I’m going for 2-0 Norwich.