When you’ve suffered relegation to the fourth-tier, almost seen your club go out of business and been forced to travel over 70 miles to watch them play, you’re not going to get greedy, right?
Back in the autumn, Coventry City looked genuine play-off contenders as seven wins and a draw out of their first 11 games – including a sensational four-game winning run at home – saw them move up to third in the table.
But just six wins from 19 league games appeared to have derailed what promised to be an even more incredible season than many could have even hoped of.
However, hope springs eternal among the Sky Blues faithful and Saturday’s 4-1 win over Sheffield United puts Mark Robins’ men on 54 points – one short of their tally for the whole of last season – and just three off the sixth-placed Blades.
So are Cov fans daring to dream or is it a case of anything is a bonus after years of turmoil at the club?
“A lot of Coventry fans thought it was going to be a long, hard campaign, a bit like last season, and we’d have all have taken any sign of progress – so to be within a win of the play-offs shows just how far we’ve come.
“A lot of teams have to play each other and we’ve got a big April ahead of us where we play those teams above us, too.
“If we want to get into the mix then we have to get positive results in those games, but while it’s mathematically possible, why can’t we make the play-offs?”
The Sky Blues enjoyed an excellent start, taking 27 points from their opening 16 games of the Championship campaign as they spent 16 of the opening 20 game-weeks in the top six.
They demonstrated a level of consistency, particularly at home, that catapulted them into the play-off picture and a potential shot at Premier League promotion come the end of the season.
💙 “I’m running out of superlatives… He’s a legend.”
📈 “We’re one point off last season's total with 10 games to go!”
— FansBet (@FansBet) March 15, 2022
However, the excitement surrounding their hopes of getting back into English football’s top-flight for the first time since 2001 were dampened somewhat by a dip in form towards the tail-end of last year – winning just one game in five during November and December.
“It sounds like a downturn in form, especially seeing as how well we started the season,” says Ross.
“But we haven’t got as many wins as we deserve due to a number of factors, like; having a small squad while playing with such high intensity has seen us pickup a lot of injuries.
“We’ve also not been ruthless enough; we’ve fallen behind in games 22 times this season and we can’t keep coming back from losing positions – despite having the best record in the league at doing so.
“But it’s very fine margins and I don’t think the performances have drastically changed since we were winning games at the start of the season.
“Since the turn of the year we’ve won just under half of our games in 2022 and picked it up after a very disappointing end to last year.
“Winning six games this year isn’t bad with a few draws in there, we’ve not lost too many but obviously we’ll have to improve that if we’re going to squeeze into the play-offs.”
To even be considering promotion back to the top-flight for the first time in over 20 years at this stage of the season would have been laughable for City fans just a few seasons back.
That’s because at the start of the 2019/20 campaign, the Sky Blues were just about to set up 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.
But the return of Mark Robins – who celebrated five years since the start of his second spell in the Coventry City hot-seat earlier this month – brought about an incredible change of fortunes which has seen the club once again looking to the future rather than lamenting the past.
“This season has been tremendous,” explains Ross.
“Having first gone to watch the Sky Blues in 2002, this has been by far the most enjoyable.
“The connection between the players, the fans and the manager, the whole club is as United as I’ve ever seen, every single season for the last five years, we have improved, on the pitch and off it.
“Last season was our first season back in the Championship in almost a decade and we finished 16th and we were all hoping that if we improved on that, it would be a sign of progress.
“Yet here we are looking destined for a top-half finish, potentially a top-10 and maybe even a place in the top-six in our second season back in the second tier – that is huge, huge, progress.”
A former Manchester United youngster, Robins returned to Coventry for a second spell in 2017 with the club at its lowest ebb as off-field complications threatened their mere existence.
At the time, fans were protesting loudly and often calling out the owners, London-based hedge fund SISU, accusing them of running the club into the ground after taking over in administration in 2007.
There were street protests, pitch invasions and even an incident where a supporter ran onto the pitch during a match against Forest Green Rovers to inform the players they were simply not trying hard enough.
But since then, Robins has taken the 1987 FA Cup winners from languishing in League Two and playing their games in another postcode, sometimes in front of crowds of just a few thousand, to the top end of the Championship and with average gates of almost 20,000.
“I’ve run out of superlatives for that man,” reveals Ross.
“He’s now third in the club’s history when it comes to total games managed, he is a legend and what he’s done this season has been incredible.
“On a small budget, compared to some of the big money that other clubs have splashed around, we’ve done our business cutely and been very smart in the transfer market.
“It’s been tremendous progress, regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season and even if we don’t make the top-six, it’s been a season to remember.”
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