The Sky Blues travel to Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground on Good Friday – a stadium where they spent two years ground-sharing before an emotional return home this season
For two seasons Coventry City called St Andrew’s ‘home’ – even though in reality it was anything but.
The Sky Blues, not for the first time, found themselves exiled in another city between 2019 and 2021 as a row over rent at the Ricoh Arena escalated. A club that was once mainstays in the Premier League had begun to tumble down the divisions. An unhappy stint playing out of Northampton’s Sixfields during the 2013-14 season was enough to send Coventry fans into a cold sweat.
So when they were informed they would be relocating home games 22 miles away a few years later, to the home of Midlands’ rivals Birmingham City, many were understandably cynical about the situation. However, what would follow were two strange but successful seasons in the Second City.
Mark Robins’ side won the League One title in 2019-20 and then secured Championship safety last season. That first success was achieved via the points-per-game method after the third tier was curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
An impressive first season back in the Championship, their first for nine years, then followed. The irony was that their long-suffering supporters could not witness the team last term in their new surroundings, with all games played behind closed doors. Their last match at the stadium saw them sign off in style, with a thumping 6-1 win over Millwall on the final day of last season bringing down the curtain on a nomadic two-year period.
“While it’s not in Coventry, it’s not our home, it’s been the second best option for us and we’ve won some really important games here and played some really good football,” Robins said after that superb sign-off win. “It’s been a brilliant couple of seasons here and to sign off from St Andrew’s with a win and performance like that is just what we wanted to do, it gives everybody that feel-good factor.”
Thankfully for the club, the issue over their home ground was eventually resolved and last summer saw them return ‘home’ to the newly-named Coventry Building Society Arena. August’s league curtain-raiser against Nottingham Forest saw Coventry fans able to watch their team in the flesh in their own city for the first time since April 2019. And the crowd of more than 20,000 were given the perfect welcome back, with a stoppage time winner.
Robins reflected ahead of that game, saying: “Being back in Coventry was the missing piece really, I think you can look at it with confidence. A lot of people have worked very hard on the deal like Dave Boddy, Stephen Vaughan and the people at Wasps, and now we don’t have to be looking over our shoulders anymore. It was brilliant news that we were coming back. I think the supporters will be excited to see their team and rightly so.”
This season has seen Coventry ride high in the table before fading slightly in recent months, although their fans have soaked it up with average attendances at the CBS Arena nearing 19,000.
On Friday, Robins’ side make their first trip back to St Andrew’s, this time as genuine visitors rather than co-tenants. And it is the away side who go in as favourites. Last weekend’s shock win away at runaway leaders Fulham maintained their slim hopes of a play-off spot although they have only five games left in which to eat away at a six-point gap.
If they do fall short, it will still rank as a superb season and will continue the year-on-year improvement since Robins returned for a second stint in the dugout. But after years of uncertainty off the pitch, Robins is wise enough to not rule out anything on it.
He added: “Until it’s mathematically impossible, of course we have (to believe)”.