We have to start with your recent Wembley trip! Although it wasn’t the result you wanted losing in the cruellest way, but I imagine the experience of being there was incredible?
I’m only just getting over the way it ended if I’m honest! It was a great journey to get there, losing just once in 20 games in the run up, and we showed what a great side we were in several games along the way. The two-legged win against Middlesbrough was a standout – no one gave us a chance and we proved that we have what it takes to grind out results. It’s just a shame that Luton were able to grind out results too!
We drew twice against Luton during the season, and 120 minutes couldn’t separate us either. Their fans, in credit to them, were brilliant on the day – I think both sets of fans were just in shock to have got to that stage! Seeing the highlights of their first game against Brighton helped to remind me that the Premier League may not have been great fun.
Going so close showcased perfectly just how brilliant of a job Mark Robins has done to take the club from League Two to a penalty away from the Premier League - do you think he’s destined to manage at that level?
I think he is capable of managing at that level but I don’t see him doing it with anyone other than us. He is finally being backed by the owner, he seems to love the club, the fans love him, so I can’t see him going elsewhere unless it’s a top half side in the PL.
Teams like Bournemouth, Wolves and Sheffield United may be a short-term step up, but there’s no guarantee he’d be in the job after a difficult year. He could lose every game here this season and would still be in a job come the new season – that’s how safe his job is.
In terms of expectation on the back of that, are Coventry fans expecting an automatic promotion charge, or is playoffs where you’re accepting is realistic again?
I think the league is a lot better in terms of quality this season compared to last, so it will be difficult to replicate what we did last time out. The three teams that have come down are comfortably better than the ones who replaced them in the Premier League, the three teams from League One are three of the best squads to come up from that level – already we are seeing the quality that Plymouth and Ipswich possess (although Wednesday have been significantly weakened since promotion in May).
I would take anywhere in the top eight this year. We’ve spent quite heavily, so there will be expectations for us to push on. Last season, we finished on 70 points – the lowest total a team who finished 5th in the Championship has ever finished on – if we had finished on 70 points the season before, we’d have been 5 points adrift of the Play Offs. I think top eight is realistic, but expecting Play Offs as a minimum could leave some fans disappointed.
Following one win, one draw and one loss, how would you summarise your start so far?
We are performing well enough, but we definitely have more to give. The Leicester City game was a really tough one to start with, but if we’d have finished our chances, we could have been 4-0 up before they scored.
Middlesbrough was an odd one – we played well but didn’t necessarily create too much. They missed two sitters and on another day, it could have been a completely different result. Swansea was dull – we were okay and deserved something, they were really poor, and the game felt like a pre-season match.
If you had offered us 4 points from our first 3 games on paper, we’d have probably taken it. On reflection of the games we’ve seen, we could have had more!
Moving onto the players, I think every Championship will be happy to the back of Victor Gyokeres and Gustavo Hamer! Were you pleased with the fees the club sold for?
It was hard to see them both leave (especially Hamer) but the fees we managed to get for two players in the last 12 months of their contracts cannot be ignored. We’ve brought in a total of around £35m for them and have managed to reinvest in some exciting players who we may one day be able to sell on for similar profits.
Viktor Gyokeres was destined to move on even if we made it to the Premier League in my opinion, so that one was easier to take. He pushed for a move pretty much from the Play Off Final and most fans will wish him all the best in Portugal. Gus Hamer was a tough one to take. You won’t find many Coventry fans who think Sheffield United is a good move – not only could he be back in the Championship next season, but he is just far too good for a Premier League relegation scrap. I can’t believe that teams like Brentford, Palace or Aston Villa haven’t taken a punt on him. He will be a difficult one to replace, but Brighton fans have given us some good reviews on Yasin Ayari who seems to be the direct replacement.
The man to replace the Swedish forward is a man Sunderland fans know all too well in Ellis Simms - what were your thoughts on the fee and also how he played so far?
The fee has been banded about at around £8m, but if you take a look into the deal it seems like £3m of this is a promotion bonus - £3.5m seems to be the initial fee, with £1.5m in bonuses based on performances.
He missed a couple of chances against Leicester which has put him in the bad books with fans immediately, but his performances have been promising! He likes to drop deep and get involved with build-up play, similarly to how Harry Kane was operating for Spurs last season, which I quite like – it allows the striker he’s playing alongside to make runs and drift into space.
He is definitely a player we need to change our playing style to suit; Gyokeres was able to just play his own game regardless of the team performance/style, whereas Simms definitely needs the system to suit him to operate. I like him personally, but I don’t think it’s reciprocated across the fans just yet. I’d also add that I think Mark Robins sees Haji Wright as the direct replacement for Viktor!
Aside from Simms, how would you assess your other signings as it seems the club have been very busy?
On the whole, it’s been a promising start! At the start of the summer, we knew we needed a Gyokeres replacement, we needed an entirely new defence (including wing backs) and also needed to recruit some depth in central midfield (this was before we knew Gus was leaving). A mammoth task, but it looks like we’ve done a good job so far!
The pick of the new players so far is Bobby Thomas, our new centre back from Burnley. We had Luke McNally last season on loan, who was an upgrade on what we had at the time but was a bit of a traditional ‘head it and kick it’ centre back who never looked massively comfortable on the ball. There were rumours of him returning on a permanent basis, but I think we were priced out of a deal. Thomas came in instead, and he has been fantastic – brave, not afraid of a tackle, but also so comfortable on the ball. Fans are already highlighting him as a future captain, and I can’t say I disagree.
As well as Thomas, we’ve bought in a number of defenders; Joel Latibeaudiere, Louis Binks, Jay DaSilva and Milan Van Ewijk have come into the club. Binks hasn’t featured too heavily, but Lati, DaSilva and Van Ewijk look right at home after just four games. Van Ewijk is probably the pick of the bunch – he’s come in from Holland for a rumoured fee of £4.5m, and reportedly rejected Leeds, PSV, Bournemouth and Sporting Lisbon to come here. He seems to be finding his feet very quickly and is seriously quick and skilful.
Further up the pitch, we have just signed Yasin Ayari on loan from Brighton, who seems to be a decent acquisition. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the physicality of the league – I see him as a similar type of player to Edouard Michut who was with you last season. We are linked heavily with Alex Mowatt who would be a great addition – he knows the level and is more than capable of slotting in beside Ben Sheaf. Tatsuhiro Sakamoto was one that came out of nowhere; he was in the Belgian second tier last year, and prior to that was playing in his native Japan. He seems seriously skilful (and caused Swansea problems last weekend), but again is quite lightweight and teams will target this. He is also a natural right-sided midfielder, a position we haven’t played for about four years, so at the minute it does feel like he’s a square peg in a round hole.
Up front, Ellis Simms and Haji Wright will attempt to fill the void left by Viktor Gyokeres. They both seem already to have a specific set of skills, and I think as the season goes on they will complement each other perfectly. Simms, as mentioned earlier, looks to have a lot more to his game than just scoring goals – dropping deep, getting the ball down and playing neat passes have been the strengths of his performances so far. Wright’s pace is scary, and his goalscoring record in Turkey is nothing to be sniffed at. He’s already off the mark and I think he will be the goal scorer out of the duo, as he is already looking to stay on the last man and make runs in behind. Played together, they could bag a hatful of goals and assists.
In terms of play style, what can we expect from Robins’ side?
We will be set up to dominate the ball from the off. Robins likes us having the ball, playing it across the pitch and trying to find gaps patiently. Last week, a lot of our attacks came down the flanks – these were led by Sakamoto, who drifted off out wide frequently to attack and pop crosses into our front pairing of Haji Wright and Matty Godden. This is where our goal came from on the day.
Ben Sheaf has been instrumental to how we’ve played so far this season and is potentially our key player. He has showed so far he is a top player for the level – keeping Matt Grimes quiet last time out. Sunderland will win or lose the game depending on how they deal with him.
Which eleven players do you think he will select?
We will play a 5-2-1-2 formation I reckon – I would like to see our famous box midfield return, but considering we’ve spent £10m+ on two strikers I can’t see this being the case. Ben Wilson, the Championship’s Golden Glove winner for 22/23, has fought off competition from summer signing Brad Collins so far, and I expect will retain his place in goal. The defence is gelling well, and from right to left will be Van Ewijk, Thomas, McFadzean, Latibeaudiere, Dasilva. Josh Eccles and Ben Sheaf have performed well in the last two games and I would expect them to feature from the start, but can see new signing Yasin Ayari making his debut from the bench at some stage. Back after missing last week’s game with a family issue, Kasey Palmer will be looking to continue his strong start to the season and will come in in place of Tatsu Sakamoto. Up top, Robins will probably stick with Wright and top scorer so far Godden, but Simms will get at least 20 minutes at the end to try and bag a goal against his former club.
Wilson, Thomas, Fadz, Lati, MVE, Eccles, Sheaf, DaSilva, Palmer, Godden, Wright.
Sunderland’s last win against Coventry away from home came back in 1985! What is your prediction for the score this time around?
I think you may be searching for that win a little while longer – I reckon we will win 3-1, Godden, Eccles and Simms with the goals.