INTERVIEW: Tom Davies on Coventry City’s promotion-winning campaign

Following his arrival at the club in the summer of 2017, Tom Davies had to bide his time before breaking into Coventry City’s defence, with Jordan Willis and Rod McDonald forming a formidable partnership. However, the 26-year-old kept his head down and he was determined to prove that he could play his part as Mark Robins’ men aimed to make an immediate return to Sky Bet League One.

As the season progressed, Davies began to display the qualities needed to earn a regular place in the starting line-up. He quickly gained a reputation for being a combative centre-back who could comfortably handle the rigours of Sky Bet League Two, and he went on to make 26 appearances in a sky blue shirt either side of an injury that kept him out of the side for six weeks.

Davies’ form ensured he was one of the first names on the team sheet during the final stages of the campaign and he played a pivotal role in pushing the team into the play-offs. However, during City’s semi-final home leg against Notts County, he was involved in an incident off the ball and was subsequently handed a three-match retrospective ban, meaning he had to watch on as the Sky Blues triumphed at Wembley Stadium.

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On missing out, he said: “It was gutting. Having to ring my Dad to tell him about the ban was difficult – it certainly wasn’t a nice feeling. You can’t be selfish in football though, and everyone at the club wanted to get promoted and that’s what we have achieved. I may have missed out on a semi-final and then the final at Wembley, but we have done what we set out to do this year so I’ve got to be happy with that.

“When I came in during the summer, promotion was what the gaffer talked about. It’s notoriously tough to do that (getting out of League Two at the first attempt), but with the players that we’ve brought in and the other lads coming through, we managed to do it and it was just unreal to do it for the fans.

“There were a few blips and because the league is so tight, one time we were up to third and then we dropped down to eighth or ninth shortly after. But, with players like Tom Bayliss and Sparky (Marc McNulty), we were always confident we could get the job done. I think when you have the quality of players we have at the top end of the pitch, you have to be.”

Although Davies would have been frustrated having to watch the 4-1 victory away to Notts County and the Wembley triumph over Exeter City from the sideline, he admits he was very impressed with how the squad performed and handled the pressure of the occasion. The Sky Blues scored both in first matches before going on to win, meaning in the 29 games where they have opened the scoring, they finished the season unbeaten with 27 wins and two draws – a remarkable stat for such a young team.

The central defender believes that the academy graduates who have made the step up to the senior squad have been crucial in securing success, but he admits that the experienced professionals have been imperative too in what was a long, hard season. City’s game management has dragged them over the line, and with the scorching heat beating down on the Wembley turf during the final, their approach to the fixture prevailed once more and Davies wasn’t surprised.

He said: “We were unbelievable, especially in the second half of the final which was some of the best football we have played all season. That comes from the manager and Adi Viveash as they are very good at instilling how much things mean, not just to the lads themselves, but the whole City. You could see when we came out for the second 45 that he had spoken well at half-time to get the lads’ heads on it.

“It’s well documented that we have a young squad and you’ve got people like Bayliss and Jordan Shipley who have come in and played over 30 games each this season. That’s an unbelievable achievement for those lads and they have been helped massively by the management.

“You’ve then got your experienced pros like Michael Doyle and Liam Kelly to talk them through games, but what all the youngsters have done this season is incredible. They will go on to have good careers in the game and that is testament to Coventry City and the academy here.

“The lads that have stepped up have been a breath of fresh air and it adds a youthfulness to the team, but it’s refreshing to know that the club has such a productive youth system and everyone is reaping the rewards.

“We don’t have too much contact with the academy , but there are very good coaches and people here. It’s like a family which creates togetherness and unity within the team. If that starts at the lower levels, the lads are going to be nurtured correctly and that filters up into the first team.”

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With two products of the academy finding the net in the play-off final in Jordan Shipley and Jordan Willis, the youth system came up trumps again, but Davies was surprised to see the latter curl one beyond Christy Pym in the Exeter goal. Jack Grimmer, a fellow defender and a close friend of his, then wrapped up proceedings with a superb finish, but Davies has joked with them about their strikes.

“We’ve been saying it since they scored, but I never saw those two goals coming! They are top players who have been solid all season, but when Jordan got the ball I was thinking ‘pass it, I don’t want you shooting from there’, but he’s just whipped one into the corner.

“Then, my boy Grimmer looked absolutely knackered so I think he has swung a left foot at it and it’s flown into the top corner. I said to him that he was trying to waste time by putting out for a throw-in, but it’s ended up going in. He has been getting some stick, but he will never forget that.

“I’m just buzzing for the boys. For them two to score against Stoke in the FA Cup and to do it in a Wembley final is unbelievable, so they’ve stepped up on a big occasion, pulled one out of the bag, and they will always remember the day.”

Around 38,000 Coventry City supporters made the trip to watch their team compete under the famous arch, and with thousands coming out to celebrate with their heroes during Wednesday’s open-top bus parade, the potential of the club was showcased once more and the backing has been overwhelming for the players and staff over the past 10 months according to Davies.

Throughout the season, there has been a real bond between the players and the fans, something which Davies is keen to strengthen. The togetherness in the changing room has also been widely reported and the defender is loving life as a City player, touting Mark Robins’ recruitment as one of the main reasons why there is such a powerful sense of unity at a club which hasn’t had that for a while.

He said: “I think the gaffer has recruited well in terms of bringing in strong characters. Last season, the lads were losing more than they were winning, and that makes it hard because you have a disconnect with the fans and people stressed. Bringing in winners has helped massively, and you turn up to work every day to do a job that we all love – there is no reason not to be happy.

“People like Doyler are worth their weight in gold and he is a superb captain. On the day of the final, he text me to say that he was thinking of me for missing the game, and little things like that, he does. Those touches are great and he is one of the biggest factors as to why the lads got themselves over the line.

“He is an angry man and he can be hard work out on the pitch, but he only does it because he wants the best for his teammates and he wants it for Coventry City. He is a born winner and he wants success in everything he does, and that’s why he came here, because he wanted another promotion.

“Having figures like that in the changing room does make a massive difference. You want to do well for him because it means so much to him. That’s why the team spirit is so good, due to those people who drag everyone else through. It is invaluable.”

“From a personal point of view, I have made some great friends here and I look forward to coming in to work. Generally, it’s a great club to play for and the boys in the changing room make it like that, so to round it off at Wembley was unreal. It’s probably the best way to go up, so to get that done and share it with the fans was excellent.

“I didn’t really understand the level of support that we had until the final and the bus parade, but when we pulled into the city centre you could see thousands of people lining the streets – it was quite emotional really. It was clear how much it means to fans, and to be a part of that on Wednesday was phenomenal.

“Hopefully the success generates more support next season and it would be great to fill the Ricoh out a bit more. It means as much to the players as it does to the fans and we all want the same thing, to be successful with Coventry City. If we can do that, there’s no reason why supporters won’t continue turning up and singing like they always do – it’s an amazing feeling when we are all in it together.”

With a few weeks to go until preparations begin for the 2018/19 Sky Bet League One campaign, Davies is going to enjoy a short break before returning to training raring to go. Having won promotion with Portsmouth in 2016/17, he is relishing the opportunity to play in the third tier and he fully believes that the Sky Blues can compete at the top end of the table.

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Photo Courtesy of Dave Howarth – Press Association

He acknowledges that keeping hold of key players will go a long way in ensuring the team are suitably prepared, but he is just looking forward to testing himself at the next level whilst having fun at the same time, particularly on social media where he has quickly become a cult hero.

“I’m so happy and relaxed here that I want to just be myself, and the fans seem to like that so I’m having a great time. I like to have a laugh on social media with the fans as they deserve the success as much as we do, so we can share it all together which is a lovely thing to do,” he said.

“I’m not touching any more Budweiser for a while now as I’ve had enough, but I am going golfing in Portugal with my mates to have a chilled time. With the season finishing So late, we haven’t got the longest break, but I will have a few weeks not doing much before getting some jogging and bike sessions in.

“The gaffer has said we need to hit the ground running next season and we must come back in decent shape so that we can get a solid pre-season under our belts. We need to keep hold of our main players which may be tough, but that isn’t my concern.

“There is a good core to the group and a real sense of togetherness in the dressing room, so with a couple of tweaks and a few quality additions, there’s no reason why we can’t be pushing at the top end of the table.

“We have the players to do that and we have the experience, but success breeds success and hopefully we can manage the expectations that we set ourselves to kick on next season in the league above.”

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