It is a favoured saying of Coventry sages that if the Titanic had been painted sky blue it would never have gone down. Never is a big promise, but the club from Highfield Road does seem to have acquired the happy knack of avoiding the drop — no matter how dire the plight appears to be.
It is as if Coventry players are inoculated against relegation, season 1996-97 being a prime example. Gordon Strachan’s side performed a final day escape act at White Hart Lane, winning 2-1 and avoiding the drop by a single point from Sunderland and Middlesbrough. They haven’t ridden their luck quite as close since, and have enjoyed an unbroken run in the top flight since 1967.
It has been a puzzler for football followers in recent years why a team that has contained players of the calibre of Dion Dublin, George Boateng, Darren Huckerby, Gary McAllister and Noel Whelan among others has failed to register a top ten finish. Season 1997-98 offered a break from the relegation threatened norm for Coventry followers when the team finished in 11<sup>th</sup> place.
The lynchpin of that team, Dion Dublin, jumped ship for Aston Villa in November 1998 and was followed in the summer of 1999 by Boateng, while Huckerby opted for fresh challenges at Leeds. By way of replacements, Strachan added a dash of the exotic and recruited Moroccan duo Youssef Chippo and Mustapha Hadji to the ranks. The additions were soon supplemented by exciting prospect Robbie Keane and later by the Belgian Cedric Roussel and one-time England player Carlton Palmer.
The old guard were soon forgotten as the new boys turned on the style at home, winning 12 out of 18, a record bettered only by the top three and Chelsea in fifth. The flip side of the coin was that the team failed to win a single away game. Coventry finished the campaign in a comfortable 14<sup>th</sup>.
Strachan must have been relishing the prospect of building on what was an exciting team last season, a side in which captain McAllister and Irish wonderboy Keane excelled. Not to be. The Scot upped sticks for Liverpool on a Bosman-free and neither Keane nor Coventry could resist overtures from Inter Milan when £13m cheques were being waved around. The departures did not end there, Whelan left for pastures new at Middlesbrough.
Manager Strachan was left with another rebuilding job on his hands and was quick to hand over £3m to Liverpool for the services of David Thompson and doubled the amount to Norwich to secure the signature of Welsh international Craig Bellamy (pictured).
The season did not get off to a great start; Coventry forgot their Highfield Road lines, suffered a 3-1 reverse to Middlesbrough and has yet to win at home this term. But last season’s acute travel sickness appears to have been cured and seven points have been accrued from four outings. Strachan jokingly put the swing of fortunes down to a change of coach driver, and George Graham will be hoping that the lucky charm driver does not start doing door-to-door house collections for home games.