Everybody loves a good Bank Holiday, but it’s safe to say that Monday will take some beating. As soon as we arrived at Wembley, you could sense that it was going to be a good day. Beautiful weather, a sea of sky blue and an incredible atmosphere amongst the 37,000 Coventry City supporters who had taken over the capital.
Despite my emotions being all over the place, I remained cautiously optimistic given the fact that Exeter City are a very capable side. However, there were definitely less nerves than when we played Notts County at Meadow Lane. That’s no disrespect to Paul Tisdale’s men, but I just sensed that we would prevail against another footballing side who didn’t carry as much physical threat, something of an Achilles’ heel for us.
Once the referee blew the whistle to get proceedings under way, the almighty roar from the Coventry end was deafening. A bright start then increased the volume somewhat, and a measured knock-down from Maxine Biamou allowed Marc McNulty to send a dipping volley over on six minutes. Not quite the dream early goal we craved, but a positive sign that our players could open them up.
With both teams trying to settle into some kind of rhythm, all four sides of the stadium stood up to applaud in unison on nine minutes as they remembered the lives of Cyrille Regis and Adam Stansfield. It was a moment to send shivers down the spine. Meanwhile, the cagey exchanges continued down on the sun-beaten pitch, but it was the Sky Blues who were fashioning the better of the chances.
Michael Doyle picked out McNulty with a through ball with a quarter of an hour played, but the Scotsman was denied by a perfectly timed Jordan Storey challenge. The striker was able to set his sights again four minutes later after a remarkable passing move, but he could only find the clutches of Christy Pym in the Exeter goal.
It was then the Grecians who enjoyed a more positive spell and they began to impose themselves on the game, but Lee Burge comfortably saved Storey’s header on 29 minutes. The Grecians called the ‘keeper into action again through Ryan Harley four minutes later. Jordan Shipley then went close on the counter up the other end almost immediately afterwards, and that proved to be the final meaningful effort of a tense first half.
Speaking to fellow supporters during the break, they all seemed to share the same thinking. That was that if the Sky Blues came out and got an early goal, we could go on to win rather comfortably. Fortunately for the strong contingent of Coventry fans, that is exactly what happened and the West Stand was absolutely rocking as a result.
Just four minutes into the second half, Jordan Willis picked up the ball on the edge of the area and shuffled it out of his feet with a perfect first touch. The centre-back then released his inner striker, curling an effort into the far corner past a despairing Pym before wheeling away in celebration. A finish worthy of the occasion, and a goal that propelled the Sky Blues a step closer to League One football.
Whilst the noise continued to proliferate around the stadium, it was Exeter who were expected to react to going a goal behind, but Coventry continued to maintain possession and frustrate their opponents. On 55 minutes, the lead was doubled as Shipley became the second academy graduate to find the net, sending an effort over Pym’s head via a deflection. It wasn’t as pretty as the opener, but the feeling amongst our fans having widened the margin was one of euphoria.
Hearts were in mouths two minutes later, however, as Jayden Stockley went down under a challenge inside the area. All eyes quickly looked towards the referee, but he was unmoved and Coventry’s brief scare was alleviated. Remarkably, we then made it 3-0 courtesy of another screamer; step up, Jack Grimmer. It was an afternoon for stunning strikes, and this one probably topped Willis’ effort as the right-back bent one into the top corner with his weaker foot. Game over.
With Exeter forced to come out and chase the three-goal deficit, that left space in behind for the Sky Blues to exploit and Tom Bayliss did almost make it four. Matt Jay also went close up the other end as Burge denied him with a smart save, but the Grecians did have time to find a consolation. Substitute Kyle Edwards found a yard of space on the edge of the area and he conjured up a fine curling effort that nestled into the corner. Something for the Exeter fans to cheer, but the day belonged to Coventry City.
Once again, every single player deserves great credit for ensuring we got over the line. League Two is notoriously hard to get out of and the likes of Portsmouth show that, so to secure promotion at the first attempt is a great achievement. I don’t even want to imagine how this blog would read had we lost because it would have been a bitter pill to swallow, but after 49 games, the lads have delivered our first promotion since 1967. Defensively we looked solid and the Kelly/Doyle partnership was key to that, but we carried a real threat going forward again and it’s a joy to watch at times.
It doesn’t cure all of the off-field uncertainty that surrounds the club, but there is certainly a much greater bond between the supporters and players than I can remember. After years of pain and misery, we now have something to cherish and seeing the smiles on faces on the way out was something that will always stick in my mind. For those young fans who could easily be swayed into becoming armchair fans, days like this will go a long way to ensuring they stay sky blue.
Mark Robins has done an incredible job over the last 14 months and he has instilled a winning mentality that has been lacking for too long. He led us to our first trophy in 30 years, our first ever season whereby we’ve reached 70 points, our first top six finish for 48 years and our first promotion for 51 years. To achieve that in such a short space of time is remarkable, and here’s hoping the Robins revolution can continue next season and beyond.
The challenge now will be keeping hold of our star players as there will inevitably be interest in their services. If we can go into the new campaign with the likes of Bayliss and McNulty still around the place, exciting times could be ahead. We also have the luxury of Tony Andreu and Jodi Jones returning to, so I feel relatively confident that we can do well in League One. I’m not going to look too far ahead, but let’s enjoy this moment and continue to back the boys because they deserve it, as do we.
Play Up Sky Blues.