(Photo: Action Images)
By Chris Dunlavy
COVENTRY defender Jordan Willis has warned that new gaffer Mark Robins will pull no punches with slackers at the Ricoh Arena.
Robins, 42, rejoined the Sky Blues on Monday, four years after leaving the club to become manager of Huddersfield.
But while the team he left lay safely in mid-table, the one he inherits was 13 points adrift of safety at the foot of League One heading into the weekend, all but doomed to relegation.
Yet Robins – who replaces the sacked Russell Slade – has told his young side that they can achieve the impossible, especially with six of their next eight games at home.
And Willis, an 18-year-old scholar during Robins’ first stint, says that a squad recently described as “mentally weak” by Sky Blues legend Gary McSheffrey will get no sympathy from the former Man United striker.
“I was a first year pro last time Mark was here,” said Willis, Coventry’s club captain prior to the January arrival of veteran centre-half Nathan Clarke.
“In and around the team, on the bench most weeks, I’ve seen how he works. He’s stern. He’s firm. Those are the main words I’d use to describe him.
“He tells you what he expects and you know from his manner that anything less is totally unacceptable.
“That’s his way of getting the best out of players – and you can tell from where he’s been and what he did here last time that it works.
“He’s only been here a few days but he’s already laid down exactly what he wants. Basically, he said that there’s no reason we can’t go eight games unbeaten, rise up the table and get out of the bottom four.”
Considering Coventry have only won five times all season, Robins’ demands appear rather optimistic.
For his part, Willis is mystified at Coventry’s enduring inadequacy. “I can’t put my finger on what’s gone wrong,” he adds. “We’ve tried every formation. Different players.
“We’ve had three managers now, four if you include Mark Venus as caretaker. It’s just not clicked for one reason or another.
“But Mark’s a good manager. Our problem this season has been scoring goals and, as a former striker, hopefully he can pass some of that experience on. Also, a big part of his tactics as a manager is structure behind the ball which is something we need.”
In reality, Coventry continue to be sabotaged by the long-term underinvestment of absent owners Sisu, forcing fans to stay away – or protest – and young, inexperienced players to carry an unwinnable fight. Willis is one such victim, but tows the party line.
“We’re the ones playing the football,” he says. “We try to take no notice of stuff happening off the pitch. We know as much as anyone else does, so we can’t put any blame on that.”
Robins, too, has attempted to deflect attention from the “political” issues that have crippled the club.
“The political side of what’s happening makes this place different,” he said. “It’s a unique set of challenges but it can be done. I just want to steer clear of that and concentrate on the football.”
So does anybody genuinely believe that Robins won’t be managing a League Two club next season? “Yeah, I’d say so,” insists Willis. “Results haven’t gone our way. The league position is disappointing to say the least. But we know the players have got quality. We’ve got a good manager who knows how to get the best out of people. It’s not mathematically impossible and, until it is, we’ve got to keep believing and keep fighting.”