The collective paranoia surrounding that day in 2001 which condemned Town to relegation as an improbable series of results improbably happened casts a pall that refuses to clear 20 years later.
The victory at Forest a couple of weeks ago effectively confirmed Town’s championship status, logically if not mathematically, but the refusal to cement their position with supine performances since has simply added significant, perhaps immutable, pressure on a coach who fails to convince and a hierarchy labouring under a cloud of distrust.
It was fitting that the final point needed to scramble over the line was undeserved. The fundamental issues which have afflicted the club since the turn of the year were on full display, not least self-inflicted defensive frailty which Coventry failed to translate into a handsome victory.
From day one, with Stearman’s back pass handing Norwich victory, this season has been defined by defensive negligence leading to shameful goals against record; more boobs than Razzle.
Yesterday’s culprit was Toffolo, who, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, decided that he could escape the attentions of 3 Sky Blues players without exposing the rest of the defence. His options were, admittedly, limited though one of them included clearing the ball away from danger which seemed the obvious choice to make.
In fairness to the left-back, his poor decision making was punished, unlike the multiple attempts made by his colleagues to hand Mark Robins a victorious return to the scene of possibly the worst day of his managerial career. Town’s defending probably gave him flashbacks to that opening day drubbing by Bournemouth.
An evenly dull first half featuring two weak efforts by the home team and a fairly obvious penalty denied to the visitors when Keogh stopped a shot with his arm, was categorised as acceptable by Corberán post-match, presumably on the basis that his team enjoyed decent levels of largely unproductive and painfully slow possession.
To be fair to Carlos, there wasn’t a great deal wrong with the left-hand side of his team; the defence managed to navigate 40 odd minutes without handing chances on a plate to the opposition and Sanago proved once again that he isn’t a bad target man at times. Sadly, and remember that this was the coach’s choice, he completely exposed Rowe on the right-hand side and received a quite dreadful performance in return.
Compounding the decision to play him out of position, something of a Corberán feature, he paired him with Bacuna whose rare moments of brilliance never balance his lack of care, appalling decision making and staggering self-indulgence. The much-maligned Holmes, who really needs to be taken off dead-ball duties, including the increasingly ludicrous long throw which invariably falls short and never creates a threat, did his best to spark life down the right but it was a losing battle.
Koroma, put through by O’Brien, should have produced a much better effort than the one easily saved and Keogh managed to completely miss the ball when presented with the best chance of the half, but Town’s lack of penetration on the rare occasion their approach play looked threatening, epitomised a largely unremarkable first half. Comfort could be taken from the referee’s poor decision on the handball claim; at least they went to the break level.
Perhaps news that our hapless relegation rivals were again struggling to start to put together a sequence of wins which would have defied all logic, injected the carefree and apathetic attitude to fairly basic disciplines which allowed the visitors to dominate the first 20 minutes after the break.
Presented with a succession of chances as a more intensive press elicited all the usual errors, misjudgements and carelessness which has dogged this collection of players since Christmas, Coventry contrived to make hard work of putting their opponents to the sword.
Schofield, who endured a horror show at Ewood, made two excellent saves to keep Town in the game only for his colleagues to completely fail to sharpen up.
Rowe’s nightmare afternoon came to an end after yet another error – how he re-emerged from the dressing room was puzzling unless he was going to be switched out left – only for Pipa, his replacement, to put Coventry through on goal with an errant pass shortly after his arrival.
Coventry were finally rewarded for their dominance when Toffolo’s ill-advised slalom into a brick wall released Shipley whose deflected shot wrong-footed Schofield.
It would have been fitting for Town’s survival to be further tainted by a predictably ignominious home defeat, but Coventry managed to deliver a thoroughly undeserved equaliser for their hosts.
An Eiting corner was fumbled by the keeper and half-cleared by a defender to Ward who finally notched a goal after a quite horrible return to the club which has been blighted by injury and ineffectiveness. It was well taken.
In the end, the 47 points gained following the Forest victory was enough and the halcyon days of Autumn 2020 had delivered the points needed to slightly out perform two low budget opponents and two clubs clearly in financial crisis. It is no cause whatsoever for even the slightest celebration.
Support for Carlos’s continued employment is sketchy and perhaps founded on mistrust that Phil and Mark could make the right decision on a successor. The promise shown in the early months is also to his credit, though his tactics, selections and in-game changes since have been puzzling, to say the least.
It is difficult to view Town’s current trajectory as anything but downward (few would express any confidence that next season will be anything other than another grim relegation battle) and it demands a huge stretch of credulity to believe a turnaround in fortunes is just one summer away.
With just the festival of schadenfreude represented by the Derby/Wednesday deathmatch to look forward to, a miserable season can be put to bed and not spoken of again. It seems unlikely that many will be tuning in to the meagre offering on show in Reading next Saturday, though it is the type of game Ward revels in so witnessing another pointless hat trick may be a draw.
Let’s see if Carlos survives the week (likely).