Steven Pressley came out after the game and made a point that I think is crucial we all acknowledge:
“We’ve got to be coming to places like this and winning”.
The immediate temptation of the football fan is to view that statement as some sort of disrespectful remark about the opposition. I know if I was a Rochdale fan it’d probably wind me up, especially after my team had just won the match.
“You weren’t good enough – deal with it you cardigan prat.” That’s what a pretend-Rochdale Neil would be saying, no doubt.
It’s a valid point though. This isn’t about Rochdale and hurting their feelings, this is about us and where we see ourselves right now, and importantly about asserting our intentions for the season.
After a rotten period of disruption, deductions and god-awful isolation from the fans, our club appears to have a fair shot at being a normal football team for once. To this end, I want us to aim for promotion. That’s my hope now all that Ricoh nonsense has gone away (sort of). That’s my target for this team.
I know to many City fans that will read as a barmy notion, seeing as it’s a feat we haven’t managed in almost fifty years. But it’s the disparaging nature of our football club, the relentless deferral of ambition, which could actually be the fundamental stumbling block in our route to progression. I’m aware this is a point I’ve made on multiple occasions, but let’s look at the facts: this is League One. Sure, it’s a gritty league, an unpredictable division, but having witnessed two years of it in far greater detail than I would care for – it’s certainly not a good league.
It’s time we shook off the inferiority complex and put ourselves out there as a confident, assertive club, with genuine calibre at this level. Why should we settle for another year of nothingness? Because we’ve had a difficult time of it off-the-field? Because we’re Coventry City?
Every year we look at the table and see teams full of players we’ve let go or never rated, with no real higher-level aspirations, with lesser funds than us – who still manage to position themselves as top six contenders. The pieces are in place for us to compete, but we – and I mean “we” in a truly broad sense – seem far too easily sucked into a cautious mental state. This doesn’t have to be the case.
OK, so we’re never going to win every game. That’s normal. Even the best teams lose back-to-back. It’s a kick in the teeth, it’s a nuisance to momentum, but in a league full of players who are incapable of the same consistency as higher league players, it can happen. This really isn’t about being perfect though; this isn’t even about winning every game against teams which we feel are smaller than us. However, we need to begin to recognise our own importance – our own strengths – and for once understand the value of being positive and aiming high.
There have been plenty of signs so far that we have some extremely capable players, who when they combine, have the makings of a team that can outplay anyone in the division. Following this Rochdale defeat, my concern is that we are about to enter panic mode without any genuine reason. It seems that ever since the moment Reda was sent off against Scunthorpe, there’s been a sense that things have to start going wrong – that a drop in performance was almost expected. That mindset in itself is going to breed a lack of confidence, one which spans the entire club. Reda is a big player and he’s a loss, but there are ways around it, and we need to avoid seeing his absence as a ready-made excuse for poor results to follow.
It’s been a bad week, but my intrigue remains around the mindset and just how prepared we are to tackle setbacks like this head-on with a more bullish attitude. There will always be technical and tactical contentions, but what I’m more concerned about are our intentions for the season, and just how strongly we fancy ourselves as contenders come May. Do we accept a defeat to Rochdale as something that should have been expected, or are we brave enough to suggest that actually we should have won the game, maybe not because of how we played, but because we have the players to be a better team?
I know what I want. I want a team with arrogance, with cockiness, with the confidence to be truly pissed off that they’ve been beaten by Rochdale, and to have the subsequent drive and belief that they’re going to do something about it in the next game.
“Hold on a minute Neil, we’ve got Preston in the next game, that’s going to be really hard…”
Of course it’ll be tough. But this isn’t the Champions League. There has to come a time when we embrace the fact that we are Coventry City, with many strong facets, and like it or not, we are a club with as much chance of promotion this season as anyone else.
I don’t want this semi-rant to be misconstrued as simplifying the complex non-achievement that’s spanned most our lifetimes. Clearly we as fans don’t have direct control over what goes on during games when the players are making mistakes. But for a long time I’ve worried that we’d rather prepare ourselves for failure/mediocrity early, just so we can say we were right when the success doesn’t come off. Personally, I don’t care if I’m right or wrong. I’d much rather make the right noises which give the team the best possible push towards our goals. Much like Mr Pressley did post-match on Saturday when he sent a clear message about his expectations.
OK, if it doesn’t come off, we might feel stupid – but at the very least we’re doing all we can to help mould the mindset of the club into one which has finally got the belief and the balls to succeed at the level it’s currently competing.
In short – we’ve had a shitty few days, but we’ve got a home game coming up this weekend so let’s not be scared of putting it right and jumping straight back into that top six. That’s exactly where we need to be.