Coventry City are going to be a problem.

The weekend’s statement 3-1 win over league leaders Leicester City proved what the teams around them also hoping to make the Championship play-offs this season should have known all along — Mark Robins’ side will sneak up on you, pick your pocket and take three points unless you pay attention.

This is good news for Coventry fans, of course, but a point of concern for Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland and Hull City, who occupy places fourth to eighth in the league table with 19 games of the regular season remaining.

Robins’ side are heating up at exactly the right time with one defeat in 12 league games rocketing them up the table after a relatively slow start to the season. Just one win from their first eight games left them as low as 20th at the end of November, which feels like a distant memory after their hard-fought victory over local rivals Leicester took them sixth.

Coventry are a happy contradiction, unchanging in their ability to ride out and rise above change with Robins’ calm hand at the tiller. Last season started in chaos, once again unable to play at home at the CBS Arena due to the pitch not being ready after the Commonwealth Games in nearby Birmingham before they hit their stride and entered the play-off places for the final three games of the season.

Defeat in the play-off final at Wembley on penalties to Luton Town, followed by the blows of losing star men Viktor Gyokeres and Gustavo Hamer (to Sporting Lisbon and Sheffield United) in the summer transfer window would have been enough to rock most sides but ‘down and out’ is not a phrase in Coventry’s repertoire. The reported fees of €20million (£17.2m; $21.9m) with a potential further €4million in add-ons for Gyokeres and £15million for Hamer will have eased the pain somewhat but hefty fees do not replace a combined 33 goals in all competitions overnight.


Haji Wright, the U.S. international, is finding his feet after summer arrival (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Time and patience have been crucial in allowing new signings to hit their stride, along with the good fortune of several key players returning from injury at the right time. Jamie Allen, Milan van Ewijk, Ben Sheaf, Kasey Palmer and Liam Kelly have all been sidelined with injuries while Callum O’Hare’s return to the side after a 10-month lay-off due to an anterior cruciate ligament rupture has been triumphant, with six goals and an assist in 15 games.

That Coventry reached the post-season play-offs without him playing a role from December last season is all the more remarkable after his standout displays in the FA Cup against Oxford United and in the win over Leicester where he pulled the strings.

But this is not a one-man show, however much fun O’Hare, 25, looks to be having now that he is back to his best. Palmer’s all-action performance and stunning strike against Oxford is another success story for the recruitment department, well-versed in picking up cut-price bargains and giving them the platform to shine.

Former Bristol City midfielder Palmer arrived in June 2022 and is the latest former Chelsea academy product to feature for the club, maintaining the links between Robins’ assistant manager Adi Viveash and his nine-year spell working with the youth teams at Stamford Bridge.

Matty Godden, now in his fifth year as a Coventry player after signing from Peterborough United in 2019, is another example of canny business and was the less-lauded half of last season’s strike partnership who leads the scoring charts this season with nine goals.

Close behind is U.S. international Haji Wright, with eight goals and five assists already proving his value as the club’s record signing after joining from Turkish side Antalyaspor in the summer. Coventry have not suffered too greatly in his absence since suffering a groin injury in the 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day, especially with fellow summer arrival Tatsuhiro Sakamoto’s six goals and two assists. In all, Coventry’s cosmopolitan squad has 10 different nationalities.

Coventry City summer signings

Player Signed from Fee (reported) Position

Haji Wright

Antalyaspor

£7.7m (club record)

Forward

Ellis Simms

Everton

£3.5m plus add-ons

Striker

Liam Kitching

Barnsley

£4m

Centre-back

Milan van Ewijk

Heerenveen

£3.4m

Right-back

Tatsuhiro Sakamoto

Oostende

£1.2m

Winger

Bobby Thomas

Burnley

£2m

Centre-back

Jay Dasilva

Bristol City

Free

Left-back

Joel Latibeaudiere

Swansea City

Free

Centre-back

The large share of arrivals were defensive recruits, bolstering an already strong unit that saw goalkeeper Ben Wilson win last season’s Golden Glove. Coventry now have the fourth-best record for goals conceded in the league behind Leicester, West Brom and Leeds. This month’s January window could be decisive in Coventry’s ability to continue their form following the arrival of Danish midfielder Victor Torp as they chase a top-six spot among teams with considerable budgets.

Any financial gap between Coventry and Leicester counted for little in the final result, despite Enzo Maresca’s side taking the lead through Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall before Abdul Fatawu was sent off and O’Hare scored the equaliser. A Van Ewijk goal then came before O’Hare put the cherry on top with a volleyed third goal, laying down a marker for what Coventry stand for and what they will have to offer as the campaign enters its crucial final stages.

Confidence is running high in a team built in Robins’ image — low-key but intense, determined and possessing a level of quality that makes them equal parts entertaining and dangerous in their quest for a top-six finish.

(Top photo: O’Hare’s return has been key to Coventry’s upturn. Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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