In an environment where the slate is wiped clean every year, past glories count for less and less with the passing of time. This, of course, lends to the fickle nature of football. One minute, you’re a champion; the next an abject loser. From a Jimmy Hill to a Russell Slade; A 1st-season Mourinho to a 3rd-season Mourinho; 2004 Wenger to 2018 Wenger. Of course, the parameters for what constitutes where you belong on that scale depends on who you ask, and how much patience you have.
The question is, where do we think Mark Robins is on that scale? But first, a football match.
Coventry City vs. Rochdale – 01/09/18
The game started with us sitting back and letting Rochdale spend the first few moments in control. With only two minutes on the clock, Lee Burge was tipping a very good half-volley from 20 yards over his crossbar. A few half-chances later, though, and we started to take control. We spent the majority of the half in command; working the ball around well, allowing our full-backs to push forward and help overload their defenders, but our shooting let us down.
Luke Thomas continually impressed on our right flank. Unlike last week’s fixture against Gillingham, the loanee spent a bit more time out towards the touchline, yet still saw a great deal of the ball. He also used his right foot a couple of times (literally, a couple), to add slightly more unpredictability to his game, and improved on what was already a solid performance from last week. This paired well with the performance of Jack Grimmer, who was under little threat from Rochdale left winger Matt Done, and thus was allowed to double-down on the right side with Thomas, contributing as many shot attempts and crosses as he could muster.
On the other wing, Jordan Shipley was solid, but didn’t add as much thrust as he had in his showings against Plymouth and Gillingham. Rarely running with the ball, and practically never making a run past his full-back off the ball, he instead left the always-energetic Brandon Mason to do the legwork.
For all of our build-up play though, we didn’t manage to test Magnus Norman in the ‘Dale goal. Nary a shot on target to behold, and that’s a concern. Now, if you’re a more experienced pessimist like myself, you know what that leads to. Regardless, the vast majority of fans would have gone into half-time expecting us to grab the bull by the bollocks, if not the horns, and turn them over in the second half without so much as an eke of a whimper from the opposition; so apparent was our faux-dominance for the last 30 minutes we had just witnessed.
The teams came back out for the second half. Well, we came out in body at least, but only Rochdale came out in spirit. As soon as the last-minute beverage-breakers in the stands placed their posteriors in position upon their plastic pedestals, we fell behind. Pegged to a paltry piece of poaching, but it was far worse than that.
As the players were steadying themselves for an incoming Rochdale corner, the ball had already been played out to the near corner of the 18-yard box, to a player who the Frenchman Tony Andreu had surrendered his marking duties for. Said player then floated a cross across the box to the far post and Calvin Andrew, somehow unmarked despite having been surrounded by players in his way mere seconds beforehand. Andrew’s finish was sweet, but cleared away by Jonson Clarke-Harris just behind the line. The ball had fully crossed the line by that point, and no-one could really argue it (at least not from where I was located). 1-0 Rochdale out of bloody nowhere.
All of a sudden, our mentality was shot. Our confidence gone, the players were as jittery as Shakin’ Stevens during an earthquake. We let Rochdale have another great chance that was spurned thanks to the efforts of Burge (one of few players who could come out of the second half with any credit. They went on to have two more strikes ruled out for offside, whereas all we could muster were several punts up the pitch so that Rochdale could come at us again.
With 5 minutes gone in the second half, Jesus made an appearance. Or was it the Pope? The Archbishop? No, wait, it was just the Chaplain. Conor Chaplin, to be precise, but by the way the previously apathetic audience in attendance suddenly accentuated their applause, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that we’d signed one of the aforementioned to come play for us.
Of course, Chaplin’s debut was much feted for a reason. Upon the sale of Marc McNulty early in the summer, Chaplin had been earmarked as his ideal replacement. The transfer became a saga due to Portsmouth’s want to sell him, but also their unwillingness to do so until they had things tied up for a replacement on their end. This episode meant that we had opted to sign Jordy Hiwula and Amadou Bakayoko, in case Robins didn’t get his man. Now, we have all three, though there is no doubt as to who is the main man now.
Chaplin came on for Andreu (a good thirty minutes before Robins usually makes a sub!), and slotted into the hole behind the striker. Many don’t see this as a suitable position for him, but he tried with all the intent, purpose, and energy, that most players show when making their debut. He managed to get a good shot away, forcing Norman into a good save after 67 minutes. Incidentally, this was our first shot on target. 67 minutes. 1 shot on target.
While that sinks in, let me tell you about our other good chances around that time. Following a break, Chaplin played in Thomas down the right channel. Thomas ignored the attentions of the back-tracking defender to get a shot away with his right foot, across the goal. Sadly, and despite how it appeared to the many of us at the far end of the ground (I was already mid-jump from my seat), the ball went wide. Clarke-Harris also managed to head wide what should have been a certain goal. Just another day at the office.
The rest of the game went without much of note. We lost all impetus we had during the first half, resorting to constant launches up the field. Whenever we did try to build from the back, pressure from both our fans and the Rochdale playing contingent caused us to try something else, and launch the ball up the field.
Reise Allassani came on for Shipley, and Bakayoko for Clarke-Harris. Perhaps Robins thought that an injection of pace would help us fashion more chances as the game slipped away from us. So, we launched the ball up the field.
Full-time: Coventry City 0-1 Rochdale
Quite simply, we were poor for the second-half. Quite what happened at half-time is unfathomable. Did Doyle’s cat die? However, we perhaps could have excused our second half, had we scored during the first. That is something that cannot continue, as it is becoming more apparent that our defence is looking a somewhat soft touch. So if we can’t rely on grinding out results, we simply have to score more. If we keep creating chances, we have to start putting them away. Will Chaplin provide a means to that end? We shall have to wait and see.
To answer the question I poised at the start of this diatribe – where do I see Mark Robins on the scale of successful or surplus? Well, the truth is, I personally don’t see him on there at all right now. It is still early days, and although we have a long way to go, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t want to see an upswing in results. I’m never one to go lighting fires early on, and certainly don’t want to call for his head. And yet, some sections of our support already are, and that’s worrying to me. He can continue to say the right things as he has been, and we may start to pick up a few more points, but unless he can get those few supporters back on side, there’ll always be a shadow around him, neck-ready albatross in hand. Like I said before: You, dear reader, will have you own opinion and answer to the question, to which you are entitled, but perhaps if we were to go around shooting them off on social media or in the stadium (why were we booing? Have things been that bad as to boo off our team at full-time on Saturday?), then perhaps our shots would be as inaccurate as those we saw at the Ricoh this past weekend. Let’s just get together, give our team a bit more support, and let things unfold as best as they can on the pitch.
Let us unite in cautious optimism. Onwards, and upwards.