Coventry City: Pushing for a Premier League Return

Playoff despair culminated the 2022/23 season for Coventry City, losing on penalties to Luton Town, who completed their fairy-tale story and made their way to England’s top-flight yet again. It would have been easy for those in the club to hang their heads, wondering what more they could do to enter the promised land after being in touching distance. The start of this season saw the Sky Blues hit with some serious setbacks but that hasn’t stopped them, they look to push on and make it successive playoff campaigns, hopefully seeing success this time round. 


The Rise from League Two


Coventry were Premier League regulars, applying their trade in the top-flight between 1967 and 2001, which saw them finish 19th and end their Premier League story for the time being.  The next ten years saw City be a Championship side, finishing mid-table for most of the seasons with the highest finish being 8th place in 05/06 under then manager Micky Adams.


Much like their Premier League status, the time in the Championship came to an end after 11 seasons in the second tier, dropping to League One and immediately struggling to gain stability with 18th and 17th place finishes coming in their first two seasons.


Tactical Analysis: How Coventry City Reached the Playoff Final


Their third season was completely different, finishing 8th and looking like improvements were being made in the West Midlands. The total opposite was the case, a 23rd-place finish in 2016/17 sealed relegation to the bottom of the Football league after accumulating 39 points in the entire season. March of this season saw Mark Robins start his second stint at Coventry, a vital figure in their meteoric rise. Despite their relegation, the EFL Trophy was secured signalling the first of many high points for the club.


Despite the trophy win, City fans didn’t know what was to come and thought their beloved blues were on a downward spiral which never seemed to stop. Quite the opposite did happen, the one campaign in League Two ended with a playoff campaign after a 6th place finish.  Coventry demolished Notts County 5-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals before beating Exeter 3-1 in the final under a blue sky at Wembley, a sign of things to come for Robins’ side.


The return to League One left Coventry with a point to prove after the disappointment of their last venture in the third division. An instant impact was well and truly made, finishing eighth and missing out on the play-off spots by eight points.


The following season was unfortunately interrupted by the worldwide pandemic, ending Coventry’s season after 34 games. City won’t have seen it as an unfortunate occurrence however, points per game placed them as champions of League One, finishing five points clear of runners-up Rotherham.


Gustavo Hamer: Coventry’s Midfield Orchestrator


Their time in the Championship has been steady, seeing them make progress continuously as their fourth season in the second tier is yet again a playoff hunt for the Sky Blues. Their first two outings on their return to the Championship ended in 16th and 12th-place finishes respectively. 


The 22/23 Championship season was dominated by Burnley’s centurions, blowing every other team out of the water as they swiftly returned to the topflight. Coventry quietly recorded a fifth-place finish accumulating 70 points and only one point ahead of Blackburn, who narrowly missed out on the playoffs on goal difference. 


Their playoff campaign started with a 0-0 draw at home against a strong Middlesborough team, leaving an uphill battle for the squad in the return leg. The 57th minute of the return leg was a miracle for Coventry fans, Victor Gyokeres assisted Gustavo Hamer to secure their 1-0 aggregate win. The two players defined Coventry’s campaign and saw them into the playoff final.


Despite going 1-0 down to Luton in the final, the same linkup of Hamer assisted by Gyokeres equalised, and eventually the game was sent to penalties after strenuous efforts by both sides.


Ellis Simms – A Future Everton Star In The Making?


After six perfect Luton penalties, Fankaty Dabo stepped up hoping to keep his team in it. His penalty would be the final action of his City career, sending the spot kick over the bar. He would be released over the summer and now plays at Forest Green as they look for League Two survival. 


23/24 season


Today, Coventry sit eighth in the Championship and are hunting for a spot in the top six and a playoff place. The start of the season saw Viktor Gyokeres leave for Sporting whilst Gustavo Hamer joined promoted Sheffield United, meaning his goal in the playoff final did in fact secure him top-flight football, but not Coventry. Gyokeres recorded 31 goals + assists in the previous campaign, the most goal involvements of any player in the league, with both players leaving for a combined £24 million. 


City would be clever with their investments, bolstering the squad with some huge signings. American Haji Wright would join for close to £8 million, Ellis Simms would swap Everton for Coventry in an estimated £3.6 million deal as Milan Van Ewijk would leave his home country in a £3.5 million move. The names mentioned were a few amongst many notable signings in an attempt to replace their departed players. 


Player Analysis: Callum O’Hare


The start of the season was shaky for Coventry. They would start with a tough away trip to relegated Leicester, losing 2-1 before travelling to League Two side Wimbledon in the EFL Trophy and again losing by the same score line. City would only win three games in all competitions out of their first 17, victories against Middlesborough, QPR and Blackburn Rovers would secure most of their league points, with a lot of other games ending in draws. 


In the 24 games since, Coventry have only lost four times with revenge coming for their opening day defeat and even making their way to the FA Cup last eight, ending Maidstone’s run in the 5th round with a 5-0 pummelling. Coventry’s form has slightly plateaued recently however, losing their last two league games. A 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Preston North End was followed by a 2-1 defeat at the hands of West Brom, both of which are hunting for the playoffs like City themselves. The results came a week apart, with both games being televised on Friday nights. Coventry may prefer to gather their points under blue skies.


City currently sit one point above Preston, one behind Norwich and three behind Hull, who occupy the final playoff spots. Positives are certainly showing for Coventry, sitting fifth in the expected goals ranking with 53.9. With 57 goals scored, they are slightly outperforming the metric  and showing they are converting chances accordingly — only Leicester, Ipswich, Leeds, Southampton and Norwich have scored more.


Whilst they are scoring goals, the defence is also playing a part in their playoff push, recording 11 clean sheets this campaign which is the joint 6th most amount in the league. However, they have conceded 42 goals from 42.0 xG, and they will need to continue to batten down the hatches in defense as they look to secure yet another trip to the promotion playoffs.


Plymouth Argyle: The Green Army On the Rise


Controlling the game is a huge factor for City’s success, with January signing Victor Torp and homegrown talent Josh Eccles the marshals of the middle third. The Sky Blues average 51.2% possession per 90 and 389.5 passes per 90, whilst only winning the ball 4 times in the final third on average per match. This shows the ability Coventry have to get behind the ball and allow teams to play into their hands rather than pressing high up the pitch and win the ball in their own half. When the ball is won, their ability to keep possession and dictate play is a big reason for their success thus far.


Replacing Gyokeres


Viktor Gyokeres is no ordinary Championship striker, he is quite extraordinary in terms of his talent. The Championship is now a league a lot of European giants tend to shop in to find their next talent, Jude Bellingham being the most notable as he swapped the West Midlands for West Germany with his move to Borussia Dortmund. However, most top clubs overlooked the Swedish striker following his season, with him gathering 31 goal contributions in the league alone. 


Portuguese giants Sporting CP did not overlook this gem from the second tier, snapping him up for £17.1 million. Gyokeres and Sporting have got on like a house on fire, with the Swede once again bagging goals for fun. In Liga Portugal, Gyokeres has 18 goals and 8 assists in 22 games and 32 goals and 9 assists in 35 games in all competitions this season.


The prolific striker ranks in the 93rd percentile for goals scored, the 95th percentile for touches and the 99th percentile for chances created when compared to other strikers in similar leagues across the last year. A lot of talk surrounds the striker now, with speculation as to where he could be heading when the summer transfer window opens. Rumours suggest a £86 million release clause has been placed on the head of Gyokeres, guaranteeing big money for Sporting who took a chance.


Replacing the Swede was never going to be a simple task, but Haji Wright and Ellis Simms were signed as his replacements, and neither is doing a bad job at just that. Wright, signed from Antalyaspor in August, has 12 goals and 5 assists. A respectable tally for a first season with games still left to play. Ranking in the 72nd percentile for goals scored, there were worse options available and at the age of 25, Wright still has time to blossom.



The American is a nuisance for any defender, ranking amongst the highest for many metrics compared to others in the championship. Averaging 0.48 goals a game from 3.67 shots per 90 and 7.17 touches in the opposition box highlight his ability to get in and around the attack and look to score. He also plays a huge part defensively, winning 2.01 aerial duels per game with a 62.1% of tackles won. His energy shows the part he plays in the team, not only scoring goals but helping City be defensively solid. 


Ellis Simms hasn’t quite hit the ground running like Wright, but his contribution has been equally important for the team. The former Everton academy man has notched 9 goals and 2 assists in 40 games this season, one goal less than his best tally in professional football as he scored 10 in 20/21 when on loan at Blackpool in League One.


Stadium issues


The previous years haven’t been easy for Coventry, with many issues with their home, the Coventry Building Society Arena, adding to the relegations seen. In the 22/23 campaign, a stint of home games had to be postponed due to the state of the pitch as the EFL deemed it unplayable. Years prior, the club failed to agree a deal with the stadium’s owner, Rugby team Wasps leaving the club homeless. Luckily, Birmingham’s home of St Andrews allowed Coventry to play at their ground and hosted Coventry home games in the 19/20 and 20/21 season.


In January of 2020, Coventry was drawn at “home” to Birmingham in the third round of the FA Cup. The tie ended 0-0 forcing a replay to be played at St Andrews again, with Birmingham players and fans truly feeling they were in fact the home team on both occasions. At the start of the 22/23 season with the pitch issues, Wasps went administration leaving questions for the future of Coventry and its home ground with some even labelling the arena as cursed. 


Despite all these issues, Coventry themselves have seen improvements in their performances whilst the controversy has ensued around them. Mark Robins has stuck by his side through the issues, something many managers would not have the patience to do and is now the longest-serving manager in both the Championship and League One.



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Despite the endless issues for City, it seems blue skies are in their future. A club full of young talent on the brink of Premier League football who just need some luck on their side. The run-in will be massive for City to reach the playoffs, having to play Hull, Leeds, Ipswich and Southampton, all of which are highflyers in this year’s edition of the Championship. If City carry on in this upward trajectory, there is no doubt they can cement themselves as Premier League regulars once again.


By: Josh Wright / @joshwrightt12__

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mick Walker – CameraSport