Coventry City at the FA Cup semi finals – finding victory in defeat

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Throughout my life, I have had the (mis)fortune of being raised as a Coventry City fan, which has taught me nothing if not that football is a cruel, cruel game. In my twenty years of living, the Sky Blues have fought through two relegations in the space of six years from the Championship to League Two, numerous seasons without their own grounds, and of course narrowly missing out on promotion to the Premier League on penalties against Luton at Wembley last May. Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the emotional heptathlon that was the FA Cup Semi Final match against Manchester United on the 21st April.

After an exhilarating 3-2 win against Premier League side Wolves in the quarter finals, where two of City’s goals were scored in stoppage time, I approached the semis with a sense of renewed, albeit cautious, optimism. Ahead of their first game against the Premier League giant since 2007, the team was in good shape. The fans likewise rose to the occasion, much like I’d see them do time and time again at every game I’d attended previously.

An interesting contrast between the two sides has been the popularity of their managers. Ten Haag’s name has become almost synonymous with questions surrounding his future with United, whilst Coventry’s Mark Robins, who had previously won the FA Cup playing for the Red Devils in 1990, has been championed for saving a club in desperate need of a leader. Since becoming manager in 2017, Robins has seen the club climb two divisions as well as taking home an EFL trophy, a much-needed boost of confidence.

The fans likewise rose to the occasion, much like I’d see them do time and time again at every game I’d attended previously

Despite the amount of faith the Sky Blue Army had placed in Robins, we knew full well that we were the underdogs going into the match, and it was no surprise that my head was in my hands as we went 2-0 down by half time thanks to goals from McTominay and Maguire. 58 minutes in, and United’s third goal, put past keeper Bradley Collins by Fernandes, felt like the final nail in the coffin. Yet, Coventry persevered; it seemed that years of uncertainty surrounding the club’s direction had prepared them for moments like this.

So as what would become the second hour of the game begun, Coventry changed tack. Slowly, the game started to change and, with eighteen minutes of normal time to go, FA Cup starlet Ellis Simms fired a shot past Onana, making it 3-1. The Coventry crowd erupted. As much as half of me felt as though this single goal at Wembley would serve as a shiny souvenir of a grand day out, the other less cynical half of me still held out hope.

And so, when Callum O’Hare scored a second for the Sky Blues eight minutes later, I started to feel as though maybe it wasn’t over entirely. Yet the clock continued to tick, and nothing. United fans have been criticised for leaving the game early, but by the 94th minute, I felt the same. However, just as I thought it was well and truly over, Coventry was awarded a penalty for a handball in the box by Wan-Bissaka. And, as if it was nothing, Haji Wright made it 3-3. Paralysed by shock, I waited in anticipation as the match went into extra time.

Paralysed by shock, I waited in anticipation as the match went into extra time

And so ensued a relentless war of attrition. By 120 minutes, it remained a draw. But, drinking in every possible second of the occasion, Victor Torp received the ball from penalty scorer Wright in the third minute of stoppage time, and made it four. I could not believe what had unfolded before me. Had we actually done it?

The fairy-tale of an all-blue final lasted approximately 90 seconds before calls were made to check whether Wright was offside. Still dizzy with emotion from the last two hours of football I had witnessed, I couldn’t believe it. As a Championship side, Coventry City is not used to the trials and tribulations of VAR. But, as close as it was, the decision had been made: we were going to penalties.

And so, history repeated itself. Traumatised by our last trip to Wembley, I had a sinking feeling the dream was over. Despite a fantastic first save by Collins, Coventry’s time was up. Once again, it would be a Manchester derby at the final.

Football is a fickle friend. It will make you feel on top of the world then immediately bring you crashing down. However, I feel less dejected than expected. I am still most definitely emotionally wounded, but Coventry have shown us just how much can change in under a decade. Maybe my cynicism is fading after all.

Image: Carlos yo via Wikimedia Commons

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