Bomber: Coventry saw progress last season finishing 12th, up four places on their 1st season back in the Championship. How happy were fans with that achievement?
Steve Littlewood: For the vast majority, very satisfied. Considering we had a bottom three budget, a small squad containing players with us from our time in League Two. it was overall a brilliant campaign for us - especially having battled relegation the season before. Although we finished in 12th place, we were only six points from the playoffs, and that dream of securing a place there only really ended with a few games left at the end of the season.
Off the pitch, we finally returned “home” to the city of Coventry after playing at St Andrews for the previous two seasons, and that can’t go unnoticed as a contributor for the season we had.
Some notable games we had was the double over Fulham (4-1 and 3-1 wins) and beating Sheffield United at home 4-1, and without a management team due to Covid!
Bomber: So are you expecting more of the same in 2022-23 or should Coventry be aiming higher this season?
SL: To build on from last season and if possible, try and fight for a playoff spot. However, if we’re being realistic with the budget we have (rumoured to be bottom 5/6 clubs), another mid table finish to establish us as a Championship club would be seen as another successful season.
If at the start of last season someone would have told us that we would have had the season that we just had, we would have been delighted as the target from game one was to avoid relegation.
When Mark Robins and his staff joined just over five years ago we were on the cusp of relegation from League One. Since then we have won the Checkatrade Trophy, the League Two Playoffs, the League One title and become a playoff chasing Championship team. We have more than held our own in the division, but they would say that we’re ahead of schedule in terms of progress, so a mid-table finish must be seen as successful.
Bomber: So with a closer run at the playoffs the aspiration, how has Mark Robins strengthened in Pre-season to achieve this?
SL: Last season we created so many chances but struggled to find the net, especially with Godden missing for half the season. With Martyn Waghorn only scoring the 1 goal and Tyler Walker going out on loan to Pompey, Viktor Gyorkeres became our main man and our only real hope of scoring - huge pressure for someone playing in his first full season at this level.
Robins hasn’t strengthened in the forward line as such as such and seems to be keeping faith with what we already have. The biggest thing for us is keeping Matty Godden fit as he will feel like a new signing. In terms of incomings, we have made four so far, with three of them being defenders to bridge the gap left by losing loanees Jake Clarke-Salter and Ian Maatsen back to their parent clubs. The transfer that could have the biggest impact is the signing of Kasey Palmer from Bristol City. Callum O’Hare has been brilliant over the three seasons, but his goal conversion and assists are much lower than they should be. The introduction of Palmer, and with him being a similar type of player, O’Hare will have point to prove after his fall out with Nigel Pearson. I am hopeful having a healthy competition for the number 10 role will bring the best out of one-another, or maybe even complimenting each other with them both playing supporting a lone striker.
Aside from the playing staff, Mark Robins and his assistant Adi Viveash have both recently signed new deals, this is probably the biggest, and best news, that we could have had this summer.
Bomber: On the flip side of the market, are there any departures that have left holes in the squad for the season?
SL: No, not yet anyway!
We have three key players that are invaluable to us and have all been linked with a move away this summer. Only last week Burnley made several approaches for Callum O’Hare with the bid rumoured to be around £6m. According to close sources at the club, we’re not letting him go for anything less than £9m. With Dwight McNeil having left for Everton however, there is every chance Burney will come back with a higher bid.
Second is Gustavo Hamer. Apparently Leeds, Brighton and Fulham have all been keeping tabs on him and at one point, TalkSport had announced that Hamer was in Fulham undergoing a medical but thankfully, nothing came of that.
The third player linked with a big money move away is Viktor Gyorkeres with Middlesbrough and Fulham remaining interested. We have rumoured to value him at around £15m which has so far, kept the bids away.
As far as I’m concerned the transfer window for us can’t close quick enough!
Bomber: Sunderland fans desperately wanted to see Callum Doyle with us in the Championship this year, but Pep decided he should spend the 2022-23 season with Coventry. Has he featured at all in pre-season? Any first impressions?
SL: We lost out on Jake Clarke-Salter to QPR who was great for us on loan last season playing on the left side of our back 3, so we had gap there to fill as we were quite weak in terms of defensive numbers, so Doyle coming in is seen as a great signing.
Although we haven’t seen too much of him in a City shirt yet (played against Walsall and Portsmouth), he showed an early glimpse of quality with the way he can pick out players with a pinpoint 40-yard diagonal pass. He seems very calm and composed in possession and has also defended well when called upon, making a couple of crucial blocks against Walsall. From what I’ve have heard from yourself and the few bits we have already seen, I think he will be an important player for us as the season goes on.
As for whether he will he start against his former club on Sunday, that remains to be seen as I suspect now we have signed Jonathan Panzo from Nottingham Forest, he will take that position with Doyle on the bench.
Bomber: What can Sunderland expect in terms of a system and style from Coventry at the Stadium of Light on Sunday?
SL: I fully expect us to line up with a 5-3-2 formation with our two wingbacks having a big attacking presence. Fankaty Dabo will start on the right and the new boy from Crystal Palace, Tayo Adarmola, on the left. Both are very fast and athletic and will cause problems for any team in the league. Whilst we have come to love watching Coventry play over the past three seasons, frustratingly we don’t tend to have a Plan B. We try to play football the right way and have become a good possession-based team with exciting build up play.
Our biggest strength last season was never knowing when a game was over, scoring 9/10 goals after the 90th minute - the most across all top leagues in Europe I believe. Hopefully this is something we can take into this campaign,
The negative side to our game, in particular last season, is that typically we would dominate games but miss some clear cut chances to put the game to bed, and then before you know it, we’re a goal down and chasing the game.
Bomber: Where will the biggest threat come from?
SL: If last season is anything to go by, I would have to say Gyorkeres. 18 goals last season and a goal for Sweden during the summer, he should go into this campaign full of confidence. He’s tall, quick, powerful, very good with his feet and now has an eye for goal.
Bomber: And finally Steve, what is your prediction for the game Sunday?
SL: It’s a very difficult one to predict given the occasion. Sunderland’s first game back in the Championship with a big crowd behind them and being live on Sky, The needle between some some fans of the two clubs could make for a feisty affair.
However, I feel that Coventry will edge this one and come away with a 2-0 win.