|It was cold, it was wet and Highfield Road was almost
empty, but it turned out to be a cracking game of football.
The phone call from the duty editor at Sky Sports News had come
through late in the afternoon: “if you’re available tonight, can
you go to see Coventry City Reserves?”
Enlightenment at last, I thought; maybe this was the start of the
Sky Blues very own TV channel. Then reality dawned.
“They’re playing Arsenal Reserves, and Tony Adams, Lee
Dixon, Francis Jeffers and Richard Wright will all be making
comebacks after injury lay-off’s.”
So it was the prospects for the injured Gunners players, with
their side very much involved in the battle for the Premiership
title, that interested the top man at Sky, rather than Jay Boythroyd,
Jairo Martinez, Ivan Guerrero or Robert Betts pushing for places in
Roland Nilsson’s team at Wolves.
The visiting stars didn’t let me down. Adams provided me with a
story by limping off after only 21 minutes as the injury to his
right foot quickly proved it had not healed, and, when I interviewed
him after the match, Lee Dixon went even better. The former England
full-back told me that he was relieved to have come through his
first competitive 90 minutes of the season after fearing just before
Christmas that he would not recover from his knee injury and that
his career was over.
Add to that, a goal from Jeffers and keeper Wright conceding
three and the Arsenal story that Sky was looking for was soon put to
But it was the Sky Blues second string who stole the show, and I
was delighted to be able to include in my report the story of a 3-2
Coventry victory, including a brilliant point-blank save by Andy
Goram and well taken goals by Betts and Bothroyd. City’s first
goal of the night, from Gary McSheffrey, wasn’t shown simply
because the cameraman was concentrating at that moment on Adams who
was already indicating that he was in discomfort.
Every man who took the pitch in a Sky Blue shirt played his part
and it was good to note the continuing development of Calum
Davenport’s career, a workmanlike display from Runar Normann and
the skill and industry of Barry Quinn. Richard Spong gave further
evidence of his promise and, when Spong was injured, Sean Cooney
played his part as second half substitute to the full.
Another sub, David Pipe, came on for the final few minutes and,
at right back, Brian Ford did more than enough to suggest that his
name could find its way into the manager’s thoughts before too
For the handful of City diehards, who braved not only freezing
temperatures but also driving sleet and rain through the
second-half, it was great entertainment. Reassuring, too, to know
that the club’s reserve side could put on such an impressive
display against a team packed with Premiership and international
Grimandi, Edu and Stepanovs were also in the Arsenal line-up and
the importance of the night for their players was underlined by the
presence in the City director’s box of their manager Arsene
Wenger. Sitting alongside the Sky Blues new management partnership
of Nilsson and Jim Smith, the studious Frenchman made what all the
Arsenal contingent admitted was a very rare trip out of London to
see his second eleven.
Whether any of them did enough to impress him remains to be seen,
but Lee Dixon was quick to assert how tough the City side had made
it for them.
That said, there is little doubt that Coventry took advantage of
a lack-lustre first half Arsenal performance to take an invaluable
two-goal lead and that, after the break, it was very different with
the visitors stepping up several gears in pace and commitment.
It also true, however, that City matched them in every
department, proving Sir Alex Ferguson’s maxim true once again that
you can have the most talented team in the world, but it counts for
nothing if they don’t work hard.
That, in fact, is also the watchword for Jim Smith. Interviewing
the Sky Blues new Assistant Manager at the press conference that
confirmed his appointment I asked him what was the secret of winning
If anyone knows the answer, it is surely Jim Smith having won
five promotions with four of the team’s he’s managed –
Colchester, Birmingham, Oxford and Derby.
His answer was immediate and very, very simple: “good players
and hard work”.
So, the next question is whether Coventry’s players are good
“Yes”, said Smith, “but there are one or two things they
can improve on, like getting into the box more often, and I am
looking forward to helping them do that.”
While the City Reserves were beating Arsenal, Smith laughed and
joked with Roland Nilsson and, occasionally with Monsieur Wenger,
though the famous French brow furrowed more and more as the evening
wore on as it became clear that his players were not going to win.
I can think of few men better equipped to guide a fledgling
manager and a side of unfulfilled promise towards their destiny. Jim
Smith’s arrival at Coventry City could turn out to be one of the
best signings the club has ever made.
Judging by the golden display laid on by Trevor Peake’s reserve
team against Arsenal, the future looks bright – and it could turn
out to be Sky Blue after all!
THE GAME WAS PLAYED ON WEDNESDAY 9 JANUARY