Coventry City's kids have a date with destiny against Arsenal

Nigel Roddis

Coventry City travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal after several years of misery, but the club now have the foundation of a very good team indeed.

As fairytales go, it's not quite vintage Hans Christian Andersen. With Coventry playing their home games some 35 miles from their own town, and the game against Arsenal at the Emirates likely to take place among furious protests from the visitors, things have been more storybook than this in the past. Yet it is at least a good thing that the game is taking place at London -- with many of Coventry's hardcore boycotting the 'home' games, it's the away fans that have been the lifeblood of the club.

Coventry, nearly obliterated during the war and famous as one of England's most archetypal dead-end towns (and anyone who has ever travelled around the midlands will know this to be quite an accolade) ever since that song, may not traditionally a place for glamour. Yet with Jimmy Hill as their chairman, they launched much which might now be derided as the satanic works of modern football -- a kit change for marketing purposes, gaudy half-time entertainment, and more besides. Now, the fans are railing against playing almost as far away as MK Dons do from Wimbledon, although the move has been one out of desperation.

They might not be a gritty outfit as easily patronised as, say, Burnley were, with their many years of Premier League experience, but things can certainly be as grim. And they have been at the football club, which has endured the misery of administration and relegation after years of possessing a seemingly remarkable ability to finish 17th in the Championship whether they played brilliantly or terribly.

But in other ways, the fairytale is definitely there. Coventry have been playing their best stuff since entering real financial trouble (which, in fairness, was not difficult to achieve). Without their 10-point deduction, they would only be a goal away from the playoffs, and they've done it with a slapdash team largely consisting of local-born kids thrown into the first team for lack of alternatives. Cyrus Christie, Blair Adams, Conor Thomas, Billy Daniels, Aaron Phillips, Jordan Willis, Callum Wilson and Jordan Clarke have all seen plenty of first-team action this season and several will start against Arsenal.

Whether Coventry really have been lucky to have their best generation of youngsters come through in their hour of need (or unfortunate enough to have them at a time when they can't capitalise on their potential or convince them to stay for long), or whether the club are just seeing the benefits of trusting young players for a run of games, nobody's really sure. It's too early to tell for now, but the results look highly promising so far.

Any sort of result against Arsenal would be a remarkable victory and perhaps mark the start of an upward trajectory for the club. But protests are planned during the game demanding a return at the earliest possible time for the club to the city which it actually purports to represent. And in the event of a draw, it would create a bitter dilemma for many fans who choose to boycott their current home games against the prospect of a moment of true, undiluted glory.

Coventry's manager, Steven Pressley, may know a thing or two about upsets too, having been present in Scotland's side for their victory against France in Paris in 2006. Despite completing home and away wins over their more illustrious rivals, the results proved to be in vain -- Scotland never qualified, and that team went on to achieve little. If Coventry can snatch a victory at Arsenal, they will have a lot more cause for optimism for the future, on the football pitch at least. Wherever it may be located.

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