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Singing the Sky Blues
By: Richard Lord
SATURDAY'S opponents Coventry City will perhaps provide Grimsby's toughest test yet as the Mariners look to cement their top-half tenure with points at Highfield Road.
Widely tipped for an immediate return to the Premiership, Coventry have struggled somewhat in their quest for top-flight football, and the withdrawal symptoms are beginning to take effect on the fans.
After a 34-year stay in the country's top league, the Sky Blues were relegated to Division One on the penultimate weekend of last season. Manager Gordon Strachan had led his team to safety on one previous occasion, when the Midlands club won 3-2 at Spurs on the last day of the 96/97 season but this feat could not be achieved once more - and so it saw a club with a grand tradition fall out of the top league for the first time since 1967.
Since their plummet into the Nationwide league, finances have been tight at Highfield Road. The big TV revenue and top sponsorship deals have all but evaporated and the club have lost millions of pounds through relegation from the Premiership. The TV money of Division One offers little compensation to such a large club.
Therefore the transfers of the club's top players were inevitable. Moustapha Hadji (Â£4m) and Craig Bellamy (Â£6m) departed the club for a return to Premiership football, much to the annoyance of loyal Sky Blues fans. Despite all this, Chairman Bryan Richardson remained positive and resolute that star players such as Hartson and Kirkland were to remain at the club as they were the 'backbone' of the team. Weeks on, and Hartson left for Celtic, whilst Kirkland has joined Liverpool, at a combined cost thought to be around Â£12.5m.
The purchase of Lee Hughes from West Brom for Â£5m, Julian Joachim at Â£1.5m and Keith O'Neill from Middlesborough for Â£750k seemed to signal the beginnings of a spending spree to help the Sky Blues bounce back at the first time of asking. But subsequently there has been no transfer activity, leaving a lot of fans disgruntled and exasperated at what they perceive as Richardson's false promises. The sale of popular goalkeeper Chris Kirkland to Liverpool was, for many, the final straw and has since provoked infuriated fans to call for the resignation of the board.
But the first day of the season promised so much. A 2-0 win at Stockport with a debut goal from Lee Hughes looked the harbinger of an exciting season ahead, but due to the tactical naivety of Gordon Strachan Coventry have not won since. A 1-0 home defeat to Wolves followed by a 2-1 defeat at Bradford began to ignite protests to remove the manager from his position. With the fans both against the manager and the board, a defeat to "lowly" Grimsby would surely indicate an end to the reign of both parties, and a beginning of a new one.
Ahead of this weekend's match, Player of the Year Gary Breen has been told to either sign a new contract or be sold, which leaves the defender's future at the club in much doubt. Lee Carsley has also wanted out, which has left Coventry in a desperate situation. Key players are departing the club for money less than they are worth, and none of the cash is being passed down to Strachan to strengthen the team.
A home defeat to Grimsby doesn't bear thinking about if you're a Sky Blue fan.
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