Mark Robins: Can Coventry City’s underrated gem be crowned Manager of the Year?

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 10 March 2020, 12:58

A Coventry City manager has been unable to carve out a top-five finish in any division since Jimmy Hill led the Sky Blues to the second-tier title back in 1966/67.

But if the club’s current incumbent, Mark Robins, is able to continue on his upward curve then that unwanted 53-year statistic will come to an end in a matter of months.

Robins, who led the Sky Blues up to League One in 2018 then finished 8th last term, is enjoying a somewhat spectacular season at the helm with his high-flying troops five points clear at the summit of the table with a game in hand. 

At the time of writing Coventry remain 2020’s only unbeaten club in the Football League. They’ve been defeated only three times all season, have accumulated 33 points from their last 14 matches, and boast the joint-second meanest defence in the Football League.

We take a look at Robins’ magic managerial touch, Coventry’s chances of winning their first league title in 53 years, and whether the boss can pip the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Chris Wilder to win the coveted ‘LMA Manager of the Year’ award...

Eye for a player

Robins’ eye for a loan signing has proved fruitful this season with Liam Walsh - snapped from Bristol City on a season-long loan - the club’s stand-out performer this season.

"Liam loves getting on the ball and is comfortable with both feet,” said Robins upon sealing the deal. “He adds another option to our midfield and depth in an important position."

Robins has proved to be correct as Walsh has since gone on play a pivotal part in Coventry’s rise to the top of the table, with defender Kyle McFadzean even labelling his teammate ‘Messi’.

Callum O'Hare, on-loan from Aston Villa, has also shone in his new surroundings while permanent summer signing Fankaty Dabo, who was on the books at Chelsea, has proven to be an invaluable addition.

Credit must also go to Michael Rose who was plucked from Ayr United for free - in a pre-contract in January 2019 before joining in the summer - and Marko Marosi from Doncaster. 

It’s testament to Robins’ ability to mould together a team that the majority of the regular starting-11 weren’t even at the club last season.

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Mark Robins is gunning for his second promotion in three seasons

Formation change-up

Robins began the season with a 4-3-3 formation before making the decision to switch things up in October when he changed to three at the back which has evolved into a 3-4-2-1 set-up, complete with a box midfield.

“Three at the back, Hyam, McFadzean and Rose have been sensational since he [Robins] switched to that formation about 14 or 15 games into the season,” EFL expert Ali Maxwell stated on Quest a couple of weeks ago. “He’s got so many good midfield players. He’s managed to get four into each team, in that box midfield, and it’s going so well.” 

Fine Margins

Remarkably, 14 of Coventry’s 18 league wins this season have been by a one-goal margin.

It’s no doubt been nervy for their fans, who would prefer a bit of a cushion in games to ease the tension, yet it’s a reflection of the mental strength Robins has installed in his squad.

When Coventry take the lead they tend to take the spoils, as has been the case the last seven times they’ve opened the scoring. While they’ve only lost once this season after scoring the first goal of the game.

Home away from Home

It's incredible to think that Coventry have achieved all they have so far this season without so much as stepping foot inside their own stadium.

Instead, the Sky Blues have been forced to play over at Birmingham City’s St Andrews, where they’ve surprisingly thrived.

Of the 17 league games they’ve played at the stadium, Coventry have lost just once., and they’re currently unbeaten in 10 games dating back to that sole defeat to Tranmere in October.

Yet, it’s not as if their away form has taken a dip, with Coventry taking 29 points from 17 games to date on the road - only Rotherham have more.

History in their sights

Coventry, a 33/1 long shot to win the title in August, are now the odds-on favourites to win the third-tier trophy, while they are now priced at just 1/7 to secure promotion.

Two seasons ago Coventry accumulated 75 points en route to winning promotion out of League Two. In the process they set a club points record however, this tally will surely be topped this season considering that they currently have 67 points cemented on the board.

So, Robins’ men need just nine points from a possible 30 to make history, and if they triumph in seven of those 10 games they will also break their win record (24).

LMA Manager of the Year

While Robins is in pole position to win the League One edition of the LMA Manager of the Year, his quest to win the overall gong will be more challenging considering the achievements of more high-profile managers further up the league ladder e.g. Jurgen Klopp and Chris Wilder.

History is against Robins. 22 of the last 27 LMA Manager of the Year accolades have been awarded to managers in the Premier League, while the other five have been handed to gaffers in the Championship, including last year’s victor Wilder. A manager from League One or Two has never bagged the overall prize.

Klopp is the red-hot 1/12 frontrunner but Robins can be backed at 12/1 with Bet Victor to finish top of the pile.

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