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Features

Coventry: Grounds for celebration or complaint?

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Programme contributor Mark Mitchener takes a historical look at Bournemouth’s previous visits to particular away venues. Have they been happy hunting grounds – or fortresses the Cherries have failed to conquer?

 HIGHFIELD ROAD & RICOH ARENA 

CHERRIES RECORD AT HIGHFIELD ROAD – Played 24, Won 7, Drawn 3, Lost 14, Goals for 31, Goals against 52. 

CHERRIES RECORD AT RICOH ARENA – Played 1, Won 0, Drawn 0, Lost 1, Goals for 0, Goals against 1. 

CHERRIES RECORD AT ST ANDREWS (Coventry matches only) – Played 1, Won 1, Drawn 0, Lost 0, Goals for 3, Goals against 1. 

Coventry belong to a select band of teams – along with Rotherham, Bristol Rovers and Brighton – who Bournemouth have played in away league fixtures on three different grounds. 

Founded in 1883 as Singers FC, named after a local bicycle manufacturer, Coventry City adopted their present name in 1898. Having played at Dowells Field and Stoke Road, they moved to Highfield Road in 1899 and it would remain their home for over a century. 

In the aftermath of World War One, Coventry joined the Second Division of the Football League in 1919 but languished in its doldrums in their early years. After relegation to the Third Division (North) in 1925, the Midlands side were switched to the Third (South) a year later to keep the divisions geographically balanced – and this meant a first meeting with Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic in 1926/27. 

The Cherries’ first visit to Highfield Road was not a happy one, losing 6-2 in September 1926, but despite losing there again a year later, the clubs were then paired almost immediately in the first round of the FA Cup. Tot Pike scored twice for Bournemouth as they battled to a 2-2 draw at Highfield Road, and netted again as they won the replay at Dean Court four days later. 

As the 1920s drew to a close, the Cherries collected back-to-back wins at Coventry before a high-scoring 3-3 draw on Christmas Day 1930. However, Coventry hit back with a 6-1 win there in October 1931, the first of five successive home league victories over Bournemouth as an upturn in results helped City win promotion in 1936. 

The sides next met in 1952/53 when Coventry had been relegated back to the Third (South) and they remained regular opponents for the next dozen years – though Cherries away wins, such as a 3-2 in 1953 and a 3-0 in 1957, were generally hard to come by. 

Two swift promotions in 1964 and 1967 then took Coventry into the top flight, and they would not meet Bournemouth in league football for nearly a quarter of a century. 

By 1988, Coventry were an established First Division side who had won the FA Cup a year earlier, so it was a difficult draw when Harry Redknapp’s Cherries were paired with the Sky Blues in the second round of the League Cup. And so it proved – with Coventry running out 4-0 winners in the first leg at Dean Court, before winning the second 3-1 at Highfield Road (see “Classic Matches” below). 

Despite relegation from the Premier League in 2001, Coventry pressed ahead with their move to a new ground, which had fallen behind schedule, and in 2005 they left Highfield Road after 106 years for the new Ricoh Arena, which went on to host matches at the 2012 Olympics (with a temporary name change to the “City of Coventry Stadium” as the International Olympic Committee does not allow venue sponsorship). 

Also in 2012, the Sky Blues were relegated to League One, and Bournemouth’s first (and so far only) visit to the Ricoh Arena came just after manager Paul Groves was sacked. Caretaker boss Dennis Rofe oversaw a 1-0 defeat in a brief spell in charge before Eddie Howe’s return from Burnley. 

A rent dispute with the Ricoh Arena’s owner meant Coventry left for a groundshare at Northampton Town’s Sixfields between 2013 and 2014, but soon after City’s return, the Ricoh was bought by rugby union side Wasps. Coventry remained as Wasps’ tenants until 2019, before leaving again for another groundshare, this time at Birmingham City’s St Andrews. 

While disappointing for Coventry fans, it meant Bournemouth faced an away game at a ground (St Andrews) where they have never lost – and triumphed 3-1 when the sides met last October. Thankfully for the Sky Blues faithful, it was announced last month that Coventry and Wasps had agreed a 10-year deal for the football club to return to the Ricoh Arena from 2021/22. 

A VISITING STAT 

As with many opponents, Bournemouth’s all-time leading goalscorer Ronnie Eyre is their leading scorer at Coventry, with four goals from six league and cup games there – just ahead of Charlie Crickmore, with three. 

While no Bournemouth player has yet scored at the Ricoh Arena, former Cherries favourite Claus Jorgensen marked his place in history by scoring the first goal at the stadium in 2005. 

GETTING SHIRTY 

Coventry had worn various combinations of blue and white until 1962 when manager Jimmy Hill introduced an all-sky blue strip, together with a new nickname – the “Sky Blues”, replacing the “Bantams” which had been their nickname since the early 1900s. 

Thankfully, the lack of a colour clash means Bournemouth have donned their home strip at Coventry with no complications. 

FIRSTS AND LASTS 

Frank Craig scored on his debut on Bournemouth’s first visit to Highfield Road in 1926, while Jack Bradford (1927), Sam Brown (1929), Johnny Crosland, Joe Brown, Alistair Gunn and Ian Allen (all on the opening day of 1954/55) all debuted there. 

Oddly, the Cherries were sent to Coventry for a second successive opening day game in 1955/56 – with Nelson Stiffle and Ollie Norris, later to be 1957 FA Cup quarter-finalists, debuting alongside Derek Leaver. 

More recently, Nnamdi Ofoborh made his Cherries league debut as a late substitute against Coventry at St Andrews last October. 

A notable player to make his final Bournemouth appearance at Highfield Road (in the FA Cup in 1962) was Dickie Dowsett, who not only became commercial manager, but whose head was used as the model for the club crest which was introduced in the 1970s and is still, in updated form, in use today. 

Tommy Moore (1935) also bowed out at Highfield Road, while Josh Carmichael made his fourth and last Cherries appearance at the Ricoh Arena in 2012. 

CLASSIC MATCH 

Tuesday 11 October 1988 – League Cup second round second leg 

Coventry City 3-1 Bournemouth 

Given their off-field woes in recent years, it may be difficult for younger fans to envisage – but there was a time when Coventry City were punching above their weight as one of England’s elite clubs, enjoying an unbroken spell in the top flight between 1967 and 2001. 

A highlight came in 1987 – when, 17 years after a Monty Python sketch had pointed out that Coventry had never won the FA Cup, the Sky Blues lifted the famous trophy at Wembley after beating Tottenham 3-2 in the final. 

A year later, Harry Redknapp’s Cherries had edged out Bristol Rovers in the first round of the League Cup, and their reward was to face Coventry – who had retained nearly all of their FA Cup-winning squad – in round two. 

By the time Coventry came to Dean Court for the first leg on 27 September, Redknapp’s side were unbeaten at home and had lost only one of their first eight games, while Coventry were sixth in the early First Division table with three wins from four games. 

But the Cherries were blown away by two goals in each half as Greg Downs and Micky Gynn put the Sky Blues in charge by the break with strikes from distance, before the home defence crumbled twice more as Gary Bannister made it 3-0 and Gynn added his second of the night. 

In the fortnight between the two legs, the goals kept flowing for Coventry as they lost 4-3 to Middlesbrough but won 3-0 at Newcastle to go third in the First Division, while Bournemouth took only one point from three Second Division games, and were under-strength for what turned out to be their last ever visit to Highfield Road. 

Captain Mark Newson’s injury meant a first start of the season for Sean O’Driscoll, filling in at right-back, while the absence of Trevor Aylott up front meant a more diminutive forward line of David Puckett (still struggling to regain his best form after a serious knee injury two years earlier) and Shaun Close, up against Coventry’s towering centre-backs Brian Kilcline and Trevor Peake. 

But Coventry showed the beleaguered Cherries no mercy. Steve Sedgley, who would later win a second FA Cup medal with Tottenham, gave the Sky Blues a first-half lead to go 5-0 up on aggregate. 

Scotland forward David Speedie netted after the break, before midfielder Gynn added his third personal goal of the two-legged tie (and Coventry’s 13th in four games) to stretch the advantage to 7-0. 

The phrase “consolation goal” is often used to describe a goal of little or no consolation (or consequence) for a team who has been well beaten. But it was in this context that substitute Richard Cooke – on for Ian Bishop, who was substituted for the one and only time in his Cherries career – pulled a goal back to at least get the visitors on the scoresheet. 

With nothing else to cheer about in nearly 180 minutes of football against the Sky Blues, the small band of Bournemouth supporters in the Highfield Road away end greatly exaggerated their celebrations of Cooke’s goal, singing “One-seven! One-seven!” 

Coventry’s League Cup run did not last long – bowing out 3-2 to eventual winners Nottingham Forest in the third round a month later – though they would come seventh in the top flight that season, their joint second best league finish. 

Meanwhile, Bournemouth shook off their League Cup nightmare, reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup and achieving their (then) best league finish – 12th in Division Two. 

Cherries: Peyton, O’Driscoll, Morrell, Bond, Williams, Pulis, Close, Brooks, Puckett (O’Connor), Bishop (Cooke), Coleman. 

VERDICT 

Highfield Road has to go down as a ground for complaint. It will be interesting to see if the Cherries fare any better when Coventry return to the Ricoh Arena. 

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