I imagine the question that most Cov supporters will be asking themselves is why on earth it took Coventry until mid-March to exhibit the kind of consistent form that we all knew they were capable of producing?
Yes, prior to then there had been odd games where you thought maybe, just maybe, there was a faint spark of hope – against Richmond in January was an obvious example – but too often the spark failed to ignite into something brighter and more permanent and the glimmer soon faded into further disappointment.
Yet here we are – on a run of 5 games unbeaten and with every chance of making it six. The team is now playing with a confidence and assurance that undoubtedly would have seen them challenge for honours had they been able to maintain their form after encouraging performances against Wharfedale and Loughborough in the opening two games of the season.
A lot of discussion has taken place over the last few months as to why it went so wrong, so quickly. I guess there are many different reasons but the fact remains that the season was as good as over by the end of October as far as any promotion challenge was concerned, despite other leading teams dropping points early on.
I’m not going to go over old ground, other than to say that any argument which has at it heart the suggestion that recruitment last summer wasn’t acceptable and that players coming into the squad in August weren’t of at least an equal level of ability to those already here, should now be put to bed once and for all.
Preece, Roberts, Ryan, Thomas, Hough, Weightman, Woodburn, Smith (who signed later but was on trial in August, I think) have all made an real impact this season. Although Preece and Roberts have left, doubtless they would have played a part in these final few games. Hough, Weightman, Ryan, Thomas and Woodburn have all excelled during the recent run, as have the rest of the team.
When Coventry have underperformed, it’s the whole team that has been at fault not certain individuals and certainly not just those who were recruited in the close season.
Whilst there has been plenty of debate about where it all went wrong, there has been far less consideration as to why Coventry have suddenly begun to play like a top of the table team, a team that is still weakened by injury yet is not just competing with the top teams in the league, it is beating them.
Just what is the catalyst for this change in the team’s fortunes?
The reappearance of some key players might have something to do with it, I guess.
The return of Callum MacBurnie, Rob Knox and Matt Jones has made a massive difference defensively and with the three of them starting to play at a level approaching that of last season, suddenly there are far more attacking options. Callum has only played something like 12 games in all, Rob 15. They have been greatly missed.
George Tresidder, at scrum half, seems more attack-minded than Wayne Evans and is inclined to snipe round the base of the scrum and take the ball earlier from the loose. Whilst he lacks the experience of Evans, he does provide quick ball which Matt Jones can use to his advantage. He occasionally gets caught with the ball where Evans wouldn’t, Wayne’s experience would have avoided him getting into such a situation in the first place, but Tresidder has played a big part in the team’s recent successful run.
In the forwards, the decision to stick with a back row of Sam Pailor, George Oliver and Alex Woodburn, with Daniel Carpo on the bench to come on in the final 20 minutes, has clearly added more stability and Oliver and Woodburn win us a lot of ball at the breakdown. Wright and Thomas, originally paired together through necessity, have made it increasingly difficult for Tom Poole to reclaim his place in the second row.
In the front row, Tiploma Kivalu has proved to be an excellent late addition to the squad. having been criticised in some quarters early on over his apparent lack of fitness, he has developed into a real strength in the front row and with Andy Brown, Chad Thorne and Joe Foreman all proving there worth, the front row haven’t been bossed around too often since Christmas. Matt Price has taken centre stage in the no 2 shirt, ably supported initially by Devlin Hope and then Jake Farnworth.
However, most of these players had featured at varying points in the season prior to the beginning of the recent run, but they didn’t’ seem to have the impact that they are having at the moment. So it must be down to other factors. The fact that the team has remained pretty much injury free in the last 5 games, allowing Scott Morgan to select from a settled squad has helped too, but not enough to explain such a dramatic change in fortunes.
But there is another more obvious answer, a slightly contentious one which is probably unlikely to be given much credit from inside the club, other than perhaps from the players, but one which is nevertheless worth exploring, if only for it to be dismissed elsewhere.
I would tentatively suggest that the single biggest factor in the recent improved performances on the pitch is down to the frustration and anger players have increasingly felt at what has been happening since the original announcement back in January that Scott Morgan would be replaced by a full-time coach come the end of the season, together with additional changes in the coaching staff..
There’s no doubt in my mind that players were pushed much closer together as a squad as the uncertainty over their futures became more evident. Listening to many of the players who have been forced to move on, it is clear that their hearts for the time being remain firmly with the club and many would gladly have stayed had they been offered contracts. Many are gutted to be going.
I firmly believe that with so many players within the squad left feeling isolated and in the dark, the effect has been to galvanise them into a much stronger and more effective unit.
The Cov Dog has become a wounded beast and is all the more dangerous as a result.
Wounded and cornered and with the scent of its own blood in its nostrils, it has reacted in the only way it can…by shaking itself free of its shackles and becoming its own master.
These are professional sportsmen, true to themselves, the coaches and the supporters.
The only way they can respond is through their actions on the pitch. If I’m right, and I accept I might be wildly off the mark here, then to publicly voice their anger would only have caused a negative response from the club…but to go out on to the pitch and convert all that frustration and disappointment into positive energy, well they might not be here in August, but hell, have they proved a point.
In February, there were many of us who felt that results and performances were such that wholesale changes were needed. A couple of months later and there are many more voices than there were beginning to question just how wise it is to let quite so many players go.
At one point it looked as if Rowland Winter was going to get the easiest of rides – results were poor, confidence low and the squad massively underperforming. Wholesale changes were essential. It’s one that I am sympathetic to, even now, although not quite so wholesale as those we are presently seeing.
Now, however, players who are exiting the club have suddenly made things a lot, lot harder for him because unless the team start producing results early on next season, then questions are inevitably going to be asked as to why so many of the current squad, a squad containing many players who have proved themselves at this level over a number of season, were deemed to be surplus to requirements.
Playing devil’s advocate here, the players have been united by a degree of rumour and apprehension. The uncertainty surrounding the futures of Scott Morgan, Dave Addleton and the other coaches can only have added to their frustrations.
So the desire to play for each other and for the supporters, too, has been the single biggest contributory factor in Coventry’s resurgence. This is by no means the strongest team that Cov could field, with Cliffie Hodgson, Gaston Mieres, Jacques Le Roux, Adam Parkin, Wayne Evans and Tom Poole all having a strong case for inclusion were they fir and/or available.
However, such is the feeling of unity within the squad at the moment, even players who haven’t necessarily performed at the level expected of them earlier in the season (which is most of them) have been able to raise their game, carried along by the feeling of comradery.
For me, this is the main reason behind the recent improvements in results – having felt let down and isolated the squad have come together to form a much closer, more tightly-knit group of players and with that has come an increased confidence in themselves and each other. It has been especially evident in the last couple of games, with players talking to each other far more on the field, with encouragement coming from all areas of the pitch.
Strength sometimes comes from adversity.
Maybe this is one such instance.
Just how much truth there is in this, well only the players will know.
But it’s my take on why results have improved of late, even if it might not be shared by everyone.
I’ll put the result so of last Friday’s poll into tomorrow’s post – it’s been the most popular of all the polls included in the posts, although that might be because there are a lot more reading the posts as the season, and the blog, comes to an end. If there you haven’t yet voted and would like to – please see below:
If you could plead the case for up to 3 (sorry to put a limit on the number but it makes it more interesting this way) of the current squad to be offered new contracts next season other than those already announced, who would they be?
I’ve included a poll so that it’s possible to compare your choices with those of other readers and thus see if there’s any general agreement.
You have up to 3 votes, although you don’t have to use them all. Just click on the in the square next to the appropriate name(s).
The choices appear randomly, so the order you see them in will be different to that of other readers.
Hope this makes sense.
Thank you in advance for taking part…results tomorrow!
And to end on a bit of fun…