COVENTRY City manager Mark Robins said today that new faces from the January transfer window and players returning to fitness have injected healthy competition for the promotion push, starting with struggling Forest Green Rovers away tomorrow.
The window closed on Wednesday night with one of two loan targets that day, Jonson Clarke-Harris, joining the club, in addition to the earlier loan recruits, young midfielders Jordan Maguire-Drew and Josh Barrett.
The Sky Blues’ 3-1 win on Tuesday at home to Cambridge put them fourth in the league, a point behind the automatic promotion places, while the mood is also buoyant following last week’s fourth-round FA Cup win at MK Dons and a trip to Brighton to come in the fifth round.
Asked about the frustrations of the January transfer window, Robins said: “It isn’t pleasant. Yes I’m glad to see it finally close. I’m pleased with the business we’ve managed to do.
“I’m disappointed with losing Ben (Stevenson). I think he’s a good player. I can see his reasons for wanting to go. He’s a quality young player and it’s disappointing, but you have to contend with those things in football.
“Without going into the detail, it was forced through. He’s a young player that needs guidance and advice. The whole thing was difficult for him.”
Asked if other players could have been departing before the close of the window, Robins said: “We were nowhere near selling other players.”
On returning striker Jonson Clarke-Harris, on loan until the end of the season from Rotherham United with a view to a permanent arrangement, the boss said: “We were looking for a number nine.
“He’s 23 so he’s got a lot of time to improve. He was the record signing at Rotherham. It hasn’t worked out for him. He’s had an injury. The academy staff here know him. He’s a player that’s capable, powerful, has pace and is hungry. He wants to make up for lost time and feels he has unfinished business.
“He’s got ability and I’m looking forward to working with him. He’ll give us a different option during the run-in.”
Of midfielder and erstwhile misfit Kyel Reid, who has returned from a loan spell at Colchester United and unexpectedly stayed at the club after the transfer window, Robins said: “He comes back in and wants to work and try hard and get back into the team.
“If his head is on, he can be an asset. It’s down to the players now. They have to work hard and get into this team.
“The likes of Tom Bayliss and Jordan Shipley have got into the team and are doing very well. (Liam) Kelly’s got himself fit, so that’s a big plus.
“Jodi (Jones) and Tony (Andreu) are better, Tony’s done 15 minutes on the grass and Jodi’s progressing with his knee.”
Robins added both are still not expected to return this season.
Asked if the returning fitness of defensive central midfielder Liam Kelly (who started alongside Michael Doyle at MK Dons after injury but did not play on Tuesday) presented a difficult conundrum with the option of moving the more attacking Tom Bayliss to the right again, Robins said: “You look at what chances there are to win the game and personnel comes into it. There are times for changes. It’s that old saying, ‘horses for courses’. There are different styles of play.
“The players are all really focused on their jobs, which is great. There’s now an influx of new blood and faces coming into the dressing room. It gives people a lift and increases competition, and that can only be good.”
Asked about the fitness of defender Jordan Willis who did not play in Tuesday’s 3-1 home victory against Cambridge, he said: “We’re in good health… he’s ok.
“We’re in a good healthy place. There will be twists and turns before the end of the season.”
Asked whether the likes of Jordan Ponticelli and Stuart Beavon remained attacking options in addition to the new recruit, and the in-form incumbents, free-scoring Marc McNulty and his industrious target-man partner Max Biamou, Robins said: “Everybody’s got a chance. I wouldn’t rule anybody out. Everybody’s in a position where they are fighting to be in the team. Stuart Beavon is a capable footballer.”
Of tomorrow’s opponents Forest Green Rovers and fans’ expectations of victory, the manager said: “There is expectation there at Coventry City. We’ve been handling that quite well. We’ve looked at what we have to do away from home. This is an opportunity to round off what has been a really good week with another win.
“The performance against MK Dons was really high level. Forest Green Rovers beat us at home. We had large parts of the game and didn’t break them down.
“They are down where they don’t want to be (in the relegation zone) and they have built a new team over the last month or so.
“It’s a challenge we’re looking forward to. It’s a good place to play. It’s a good pitch and they have some good players.”
Asked if he expected them to by a physical side, he said: “Yes they can be. They like to play and pass. That’s what Mark Cooper is renowned for. He did it first at Swindon and he’s been doing it for Forest Green.”