So Mr Robins… we meet again.
Stewart penned the preview for the home game with Cov at the end of November and confessed to having a soft spot for the Sky Blues. I too share that sentiment.
Not only do they have the redoubtable Mark Robins at the helm – a name guaranteed to give City fans a warm, fuzzy feeling – but back in the 1970s, when primary school rules deemed it compulsory to have a second team, the Sky Blues were mine.
A family connection – my late Uncle Fred lived in Warwick – meant that Coventry vs Norwich (a) was the first fixture I looked out for on the fixture list as it meant a weekend away, which included watching City play.
It was the era of Ernie Hunt, Willie Carr, and a young Irishman by the name of Donal Murphy, who Uncle Fred promised me was going to be the next George Best (he wasn’t – he played most of his career in the League of Ireland), and Dad and I would sit among the Coventry faithful in seats near my uncle.
Highfield Road was, at least in the eyes of a primary school kid, a nice ground and I never understood why it was sacrificed for the ill-fated Ricoh Arena. And I never saw City win there.
I can’t recall exactly how many visits we made – it was four or five – but given that City’s Highfield Road record in the 1970s was played eight, lost eight, I’m pretty confident in saying not only did we lose continuously, we also rarely scored a goal.
All part of my apprenticeship for a lifetime of supporting City was how Dad described it, and despite that decade of pain inflicted by the Sky Blues, it was a great fondness that I’ve always followed their fortunes.
Uncle Fred hung around long enough (and was there) to see Cov win the FA Cup in 1987, which pleased me, but he was spared the club’s sad decline from Premier League regulars to occupants of League Two as recently as 2017-18.
That’s it’s a club that’s now upwardly mobile and is managed by a City legend can only be a good thing, but their salvation won’t be complete until they return to Coventry. St Andrews may be home for now but Coventry fans need and deserve better.
What we do know is that Robins’ men will be tough opponents tomorrow even if we don’t know exactly what either coach has planned in terms of a starting XI.
The 1-1 draw in late November was one of the many tight, twitchy nerve-janglers that we’ve had to endure this season and concluded with Max Aarons picking up what we thought at the time was a serious injury in the lead up to Coventry’s equaliser.
On the night, despite City dominating the stats, few argued that Coventry were well worth a point, and Maxime Biamou’s equaliser, however late, was just reward for an organised and increasingly enterprising performance.
The problem for City, who were at the very peak of the injury crisis at that time, was all they had to show for their territorial dominance was a Mario Vrancic penalty after Pepe (yep, that’s what I’m calling him) Placheta was adjudged to have been fouled by Coventry’s keeper.
And as the second half wore on and with the legs and minds of an over-stretched squad struggling to cope, Robins’ men upped the ante sufficiently to earn that point. It wasn’t a smash and grab, it was deserved, but it was structured and planned rather than gung-ho.
We can expect a similar approach tomorrow. Robins will have them motivated and organised and, like Farke, while he has bigger fish to fry, he’d still not baulk at the prospect of a cup run, even if the allure of a big tie in future rounds is diluted by the prospect of empty grounds.
It’s still the FA Cup.
The Sky Blues currently sit 16th in the Championship – a more than decent return in their first season back – and at the moment have a comfortable-looking seven-point cushion from the relegation zone.
While wins have been quite hard to come by for Robins’ men – they have won just six of their 23 games – they have proved a tough team to beat, having lost only twice in their last 12, and did win away at Millwall last weekend.
The Sky Blues’ new loan signing Matty James, who played against us for Barnsley only last weekend, has declared himself ready to play but striker Matt Godden, who was injured just 15 minutes into the Millwall game, looks certain to miss out.
Quite what other changes Robins will make, and how far-reaching they will go, will have to wait until 11:00 am tomorrow but it’s almost certain that Daniel Farke will go big with the changes, especially as it’s now emerged that three positive Covid-19 tests – including Tim Krul and Adam Idah – have emerged from the latest round of testing.
But virus or no virus, changes would have been made anyway and we should expect to see Tyrese Omotoye and Andrew Omobamidele at least in the squad while the likes of Kieran Dowell, Placheta and Jordan Hugill will surely make the starting XI.
As such, it’s a tricky one to call but if City do find their way past Coventry and in the hat for the fourth round, then on Monday night they will not only find out their next round opponents but also, potentially, their fifth-round opponents.
The double draw marks a change in the FA’s traditional approach but has been done to give clubs a better understanding of their fixture schedule during this condensed season.
For what it’s worth, and I really have no idea what to expect, I’m going for a 2-1 Norwich win and a starting XI that looks something like this…