It was perhaps fitting that Coventry City lifted the Checkatrade Trophy. Both City and the Trophy have had a season of turbulence and embarrassment, but both undoubtedly had their finest hour at Wembley on Sunday.
The Sky Blues have suffered a season of woeful performances, resulting in the club finding themselves rock bottom of League One. Off the pitch the situation is no prettier, with no major assets to speak of having sold off their training ground, and the fans have been waging war for many seasons now on owners SISU. New manager Mark Robins appears to have steadied the ship somewhat, but the side that once resided in the Premier League looked doomed to League Two long before he took charge.
The Checkatrade Trophy has not fared much better. Its inaugural season has seen multitudes of fans boycott the competition in opposition to the controversial introduction of “B” Teams, and managers up and down the county have been very vocal in their disdain of the competition’s selection rules. Notably Bradford City withdrew their goalkeeper after three minutes in order to both rest him and comply with the competition’s regulations, and they were one of 12 Football League clubs issued fines for an infringement of these selection rules.
There is, though, perhaps something magical about Wembley. The romance of an English Cup final at the home of football – and the whole previous season is forgotten for ninety minutes. During this final, you could be forgiven for thinking this was the trouble-free Coventry of yesteryear, such was the optimism carried by the huge travelling support. Only thirty seconds of “We want SISU out” alluded to their true state, and the players rose magnificently to the occasion.
It was Appleton’s Oxford who stood in City’s way, with the U’s looking to cap a successful season so far with a Wembley win. United were after redemption having reached Wembley in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last season, only to lose to Barnsley.
City got off to the perfect start, with the ball falling kindly in the box to Gael Bigirimana, who capped off his fantastic weekend – his partner gave birth on Saturday – by calmly finding the bottom corner. The first half in general was quite cagey, with both sides looking solid but neither wanting to risk over-committing men forwards. Oxford were perhaps on top, but struggled to break down a well organised Coventry defence, as Bigirimana protected the back four extremely well.
Ten minutes into the second half and Coventry had their second, and there was no fortune this time. George Thomas struck a volley that was worthy of winning any Wembley final to send the 43,000 Coventry fans into raptures. The ball arrived from the left and the former Welsh youth international took one touch to control before he arrowed the half-volley past a helpless Eastwood in the Oxford goal.
The U’s responded with pressure of their own, and it eventually told when Liam Sercombe’s low shot found the net following a corner. Oxford continued to press late on, with Rob Hall forcing Coventry goalkeeper Lee Burge into a fine save from a one-on-one, before the shot-stopper also saved brilliantly from Josh Ruffels in the dying seconds.
Coventry held on to win their first piece of silverware in thirty years, and gave their long-suffering fans a day to remember. The Sky Blues may be going down, but they are going down with some silverware.
Jamie Stronach (English League One Analyst)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @FRfootballJS for all his latest thoughts and opinions on the third division of English football.
Think you can hack it? If you think you are up for the challenge of working at Football Radar, check our current listings and see if you’re ready for the team.