No manager in the English game right now can claim to be responsible for such a titanic transformation of a side as dramatically or impressively as Mark Robins at Coventry City.
Whether it’s bouncing back from a 5-0 midweek mauling against Luton, to thrash the promotion favourites Fulham within just a few days.
Or perhaps turning Viktor Gyokeres into one of the Championship’s most prolific marksmen having joined from Brighton last summer.
And how about making it six wins out of six home league games since returning to the Ricoh Arena after years in exile, with the Sky Blues sitting joint-second and eyeing a return to the Premier League for the first time since 2001?
The list of accolades is as impressive as it is long.
Robins returned to the club at their lowest ebb in 2017 with off-field complications threatening the mere existence of Coventry City, yet he has since taken them from languishing in League Two to the top end of the Championship.
No wonder then that some City fans believe that his name deserves to be mentioned among the very best who have managed the Sky Blues down the years.
“What he did for the club when he took over in the 1960s with the Sky Blue revolution, he connected the city, the club, the fans, the people all as one.
“You then think of John Sillet and the 1987 FA Cup final win. But next on the list for me and in my lifetime, our greatest ever manager is Mark Robins.
“He took over at the most toxic, disconnected time, everything prior to him coming back, moving to Northampton, countless administrations, a toxic vibe between the owners, the City council, the people, the club it was awful.
“But Robins took us up from League Two and on the way has brought the City, the people the club back together.
“What he’s done off the pitch is so similar to what Jimmy Hill did. With Jimmy Hill it was the Sky Blue revolution, though for me with Mark Robins, it’s been the Sky Blue evolution.”
If somebody had told Coventry fans that their club would be sitting third in the the Championship table after 11 games of the 2021/22 campaign back in the summer of 2019 many would have laughed at the idea.
🏠 Home games 35 miles away
📉 League Two
😕 “He took over at the most toxic, disconnected time.”
💙 “He’s brought the city, people and club back together.”
— FansBet (@FansBet) October 13, 2021
That’s because the Sky Blues were just about to setup temporary home at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground having been forced out of the Ricoh Arena following a row with Arena Coventry Limited over rent.
Six years previously the club had been deducted 10 points by the Football League and faced the very real prospect of liquidation, eventually falling into League Two in 2017.
“When Mark Robins came in it was the lowest I’ve seen this club, it was without question the worst Coventry City team I’ve seen in my life,” notes Ross.
“There was no connection between the team, the players, the owners or the fans, there was just animosity
“For many fans, the idea of being back in the Championship was just a pipe dream, as far as we were concerned we were going down to League Two.
“The owners didn’t seem to care or have a vision and some of us wondered if it would end at League Two
“Mark Robins came back and you were scratching your head wondering what he’d got himself in for.
“After a couple of defeats he came out and said what a huge job he had on his hands, not just on the pitch but off it too.
“But we won the Checkatrade trophy in front of 40,000 at Wembley and that just showed that a little bit of success, 30 years on from our FA Cup final success, just opened up the eyes of our owners that this is a big club and if we can get something going that the support is there.”
In their second season back in the Championship, Coventry City have taken the division by storm, quickly establishing themselves as the league’s dark horses.
Seven wins and a draw out of their first 11 games, including a sensational four-game winning run at home, has seen the Sky Blues move up to third in the table and rub shoulders with the early season promotion pace-setters.
And the brand of exciting, attacking football has certainly captured the supporters’ imagination as well as the results with City enjoying dramatic home wins over Nottingham Forest, Reading and title favourites Fulham.
“It’s been an incredible start to the season,” says Ross.
“It’s not just been the wins and the results, but also the performances, everything has been fantastic.
“We’ve seen late goals, attacking play, being on the front foot, so the season so far we can’t fault it.
“We’ve had one poor performance against Luton but the other 10 have been absolutely incredible.
“Last season we were struggling and battling and in a relegation scrap, we hadn’t showed our full potential and showed the Championship what we were capable of, we were almost apprehensive in our play.
“It came to a head when we lost 3-0 to QPR and the expectation that day was way, way, way, below our expectation.
“The players agreed, the manager agreed and it looked like we weren’t really fighting for our place in the Championship.
“But after that game the players had a meeting and we then four of our next five, including three in a row.
“I believe it was that defeat and the meeting the players had that made the club realise that to stay in the division we had to fight for it and boy did we do that.”
Mark Robins described Coventry City’s Championship survival last season as his greatest achievement in his managerial career to date.
Having taken charge for the second time in March 2017, after a previous spell between 2012 and 2013 before leaving for Huddersfield, he managed to keep City out of the bottom three all season.
And despite flirting with a relegation battle towards the back end of the campaign, they pulled clear of the danger with three games to eventually finish in 16th place with an impressive 55 points.
It was a busy summer for Mark Robins in the transfer market as the Sky Blues look to build on that good finish to last season and build for the future.
Forward Bright Enobakhare returned to the club, joining on a free from East Bengal in the Indian Super League, while two loan players from last season, Ben Sheaf and Viktor Gyokeres, have upgraded their loan spells to permanent contracts to join from Arsenal and Brighton respectively.
Meanwhile, left wing-back Ian Maatsen joined from Chelsea on a season-long loan.
“Gyokeres has joined permanently from Brighton and has been absolutely fantastic,” says Ross.
“He looks really, really sharp he, along with a lot of the other players, have stepped-up, it’s like they now believe in themselves that they belong at this level.
“You can go right throughout the team and the new additions have lifted the team to another level
“But the big thing for me is the players that were here last season and were a little bit passive, they’ve shown so much courage and gone up another level and that has been a key part to our success.”
Over the last traumatic decade, City spent 14 months in exile down the motorway in Northampton, not to mention a further seven months up the A45 in Birmingham.
Now the club finally find themselves back in the city once again at the newly rebranded Coventry Building Society Arena and if form is anything to go by, there really is no place like home.
City continued their impressive 100% home record with a ruthless second-half display in their last game against promotion hopefuls Fulham, recovering from going a goal behind to eventually thrash the Cottagers 4-1.
The Sky Blues’ emphatic win moves them into third place in the table as they look to gain promotion to the top-flight for the first time since 2001.
That victory means Coventry have now won all six of their home games this campaign making the Coventry Building Society Arena somewhat of a fortress for Robins’ men.
And if they continue to pick up points at this rate, their loyal band of supporters will surely be hoping for a top-six finish come May at the very least.
“We’re riding a wave of momentum but it’s momentum that we deserve and we’ve built,” explains Ross.
“To come back after a poor game against Luton and smash Fulham, who have just come down from the Premier League, 4-1 on our own patch showed to me that this team doesn’t just have momentum, but it has character.
“The Luton defeat was more than just a bump in the road, it could have halted the season and we could have gone into freefall, but we didn’t, we bounced back and showed we’ve got quality.
“When we’ve won matches this season we’ve won them well, we’ve taken teams on and we should have scored more goals than we have.
“There will be other poor performances I’m sure and there will be injuries, but if we can just keep that spirit and character then there’s nothing stopping us.
“There’s always a surprise team in the Championship, why can’t it be us?”
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