Coventry City's relegation-threatened team are just ninety minutes from Wembley after a successful penalty shoot-out at Swansea's Liberty Stadium on Tuesday evening. After a stuttering ninety minutes the young Sky Blues team made their experience count from the penalty spot with George Thomas, Gael Bigirimana, Kyel Reid and Ruben Lameiras all netting and Reice Charles-Cook saving two of the four Swansea efforts.
The penalty shoot-out success ended a run of three losses from similar sudden death endings. Last season they lost shoot-outs at Rochdale and Yeovil and in 2013 they lost at Leyton Orient, managed at the time by Russell Slade. The last victory from a penalty competition before Tuesday was a Football League Trophy game against Sheffield United in 2012 when a Joe Murphy master-class helped the Sky Blues to a 4-1 victory. City's record in all shoot-outs since their first at Reading in the Simod (Full Members) Cup in 1988, is now played nine, won four and lost five.
Saturday's league defeat to Fleetwood was manager Russell Slade's fifth league game in charge and he has still to record a victory. Several people asked me whether this is a record for a new Coventry manager. I've looked back at previous incoming managers (excluding caretakers) and Russell has some way to go to break the record, set in 1967 by Noel Cantwell. The Irishman, in his first management post, took over from Jimmy Hill before the Tottenham home game on October 14th and did not record his first victory until December 16th when a Bobby Gould hat-trick helped secure a 5-1 victory over Burnley. In his first nine league games in charge the team drew four and lost five.
Other incoming managers who had poor starts are Joe Mercer in 1972 – his team failed to win any of their first six games, and Terry Butcher who despite a thrilling 5-4 League Cup win over Nottingham Forest, similarly failed to win six league games after succeeding John Sillett in 1990.
On the flip side, the best incoming manager has to be Roland Nilsson who was unbeaten in his first 11 league games after replacing Gordon Strachan in September 2001. The great Harry Storer won his first five games at the start of his second stint as manager in 1948 – pulling the team away from the Second Division basement. In 1961 Jimmy Hill won four of his first five games in charge after replacing Billy Frith.
Chatting to former City chairman Joe Elliott recently he mentioned that his first ever City game was a friendly against Preston North End in 1956 and could I provide some details. The game took place on 28 January 1956, the day of the FA Cup Fourth Round. Both sides were out of the Cup so organised a friendly game at Highfield Road. First Division North End fielded 10 of the players who had beaten league leaders Manchester United 3-1 seven days previously, including one of the country's top stars Tom Finney.
City, fifth in Division Three South, had recently lost their manager, Jesse Carver, who had returned to Italy just months after arriving with a fanfare. His number two George Raynor was in charge and named the following team:
Reg Matthews: Frank Austin, Charlie Timmins: Iain Jamieson, Roy Kirk, Noel Simpson: Eric Johnson, Denis Uphill, Ken McPherson, Peter Hill, Ray Sambrook.
The weather was dismal with driving rain turning the pitch into a muddy quagmire and keeping the crowd down to 13,700. Many of the crowd came to see Finney – in those days before television was saturated with football, top stars had to be seen in the flesh and Finney had never played before at Highfield Road. They weren't disappointed as the England international right-winger turned on a magical display and Nemo wrote in the Coventry Telegraph: 'try as they might, neither Charlie Timmins nor Frank Austin, who swopped with his full-back partner in the second half, could do a thing with the Preston wizard'.
McPherson gave City a second minute lead following a 'gigantic goal-kick by Matthews' but Finney equalised from the penalty spot soon afterwards. Evans made it 2-1 for the visitors just before the break but in the second half North End were the superior side described by Nemo 'playing some of the best precision passing I have seen on a heavy pitch'.
Finney and Foster scored further goals with 'unstoppable shots' as Preston ran out 4-1 victors. Poor old Timmins failed to stop Finney once, 'I had not enough energy left to even shake hands with Finney afterwards', laughed Charlie after the game.
Two days later City hosted another top side in a friendly, San Lorenzo of Argentina. That, however, is a story for another day.