Roker Report: Firstly, what a year it’s been for Coventry! Could you ever have imagined all this drama when we faced you on the opening day of the season?
Paul Wheeler: Honestly, not in my wildest dreams (or nightmares). But it’s been incredible watching this squad’s spirit and resilience in the way they’ve dealt with it. I’ve seen Championship-winning teams in other sports that haven’t got a tenth of the togetherness this group has built and I think the adversity has only strengthened that.
Manager Jay Bradford and captain Katie Wilkinson have pulled the team through but there are so many strong leaders and personalities in the camp and I’m sure weaker teams would have crumbled.
We saw their strength & togetherness in the FA Cup run and I think we’ll see it be vital in the next few weeks too. So in hindsight, everything might have happened for a reason.
But if nothing else, it’ll certainly be a season remembered for a long time...hopefully for the right reasons, and being around the team has been a privilege as they’ve come together and fought, watching the way their work is starting to finally be rewarded.
RR: The upturn in form has been pretty dramatic recently, looking at on-the-pitch factors, what have been the key reasons why the side have begun picking up so many good results?
PW: It seems weird, but this upturn in form is the team doing what they believed they could do all year in terms of performance as the practice and hard work in training has finally paid off in games. The whole team deserves huge credit for this but the arrival of Elisha N’Dow & Natalie Haigh along with a change in formation to a back three has seemed to just bring out the best in the defence and bring them to another level along with Mollie Green’s play there.
In front of them, Charlie Estcourt has been spectacular recently in midfield & the team now plays with absolutely no fear going forward-the belief in themselves and their teammates shines through every week and combined with Katie Wilkinson leading the charge scoring vital goals, that’s been one key.
Another big factor has been the form of Lucy Thomas in goal. She’s been commanding, made some incredible stops & always given the team a chance, & that has helped the confidence immeasurably too.
RR: So we know about Katie Wilkinson - she’s a leader, a goalscorer, one of the best players in the league. Who else should our fans look out for in the Coventry United side?
PW: I could run through the whole team here for different reasons but we’ve got limited space so I’ll try & pick a few likely starters-I’ve mentioned our back line & alongside the names above Grace Riglar has been a rock the past few games, Alanah Mann is a local young talent who has a very bright future at wing-back & Nat Johnson on the other side rarely if ever has a bad game, either.
Aside from those & the names I’ve picked out already Katy Morris is a dream for fans of tough-tackling midfielders, & up front Wilko takes the spotlight often but Liv Fergusson is MASSIVELY underrated alongside her-she runs non-stop & is always a danger on the left side.
RR: What do you make of Sunderland's first season back in the WSL structures?
PW: I’ve been very impressed. I looked at them coming up & thought “this’ll be interesting to see” and the Lasses have coped brilliantly with their first year-they came to Coventry well and truly ready, and they’ve only got better.
Neve Herron is a huge talent but the depth and the drive in the Lasses team means they can only go up from here, especially if the club backs Mel Reay with more investment next season.
They’ve got a really good model, passionate fans like yourselves and history in the women’s game, and I hope that they can take this season and the performances and really push up the table next season.
RR: Did you manage to get it sorted to come up for the game, and what do you think the score will be?
PW: It’s a long trip up from Coventry when you don’t drive and my radio responsibilities (I do a Saturday afternoon sports show) make logistics tricky sometimes, but I still hope to come up to Eppleton to cover the game live, though it might be a last-minute thing!
As for the score-I can see this being a very close game & a point would be a good result, though a win would be even better!
I hope with Sunderland having one eye on the derby and Coventry with more riding on it there might just be enough for Coventry to take a win. I’d be overjoyed with a 2-1 Coventry win or even a 1-1 draw...but if I was putting money down, I think it’ll be a hotly-contested game with one goal in it either way.
RR: If Coventry United do pull off the greatest escape, who would you like to play you in the movie version of the story?
I’d love to play myself, just for movie stardom! I’ve always admired Conor McNamara’s commentary so him, if he can do a Coventry accent!
I’ve been told I vaguely resemble Cillian Murphy though & he does a good job of playing a Midlander in Peaky Blinders, so probably him. He’d definitely need to leave the Brummie accent behind playing a proud Cov Kid, though.