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BEING ‘sent to Coventry’ is one of those quirky British phrases that gets occasionally used to describe an individual to have been ostracised, acting as though they no longer exist.
Believed to have originated around the time of the English Civil War (1640-ish) there is great irony that this idiom could apply to the recent fate of Stoke City’s (now) former manager following his side’s recent defeat.
After a run of five losses in their last seven Premier League outings a third-round FA Cup exit (their first match in the competition) at the hands of lowly Coventry City was the final straw for the Coates family, owners of the Potteries side.
Hughes’ four-and-a-half year tenure as manager sees him become the seventh Premier league boss to lose his job this season although many Stoke fans will be surprised that he has lasted this long.
After a strong early showing this season there has been a significant downturn in performances, particularly after considering that historically Hughes’ guided Stoke to three successive ninth place finishes while they slipped to 13th last season.
Mid-table mediocrity has provided the Midlands club with stability while the former Manchester United player’s international profile have allowed the family-run club to attract players that previously would have been beyond their reach.
Bottom-tier Coventry City were able to exploit defensive frailties that have seen Stoke City concede 47 times in the league and send the Potteries side crashing out of the cup and Hughes out of his job.
The plight of Coventry provides stark warning to the likes of Stoke as to the perils of relegation. One of the original teams when the Premier League was formed in 1992 they were relegated in 2001 and have slowly continued their slide down the leagues to languish in the Second Division (fourth tier).
At their peak they actually lifted the FA Cup in 1987 when they defeated the heavily-fancied Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 after extra time.
This match was remarkable for the fact that the final had no bookings with 18 of the starting 22 players being English. The match was decided by a Gary Mabbutt own goal after he had previously put Spurs in the lead.
However, it was not long after securing this major trophy that Coventry became the highest-placed team to be beaten by a non-league side when they lost 2-1 to Sutton United at Gander Green Lane in 1989.
In 2014, now ensconced in the first division, Coventry repeated the disgrace when they were defeated 2-1 by Worcester City, also playing in the amateur flights of English football.
On this occasion Coventry will be relieved to finally be on the winning side of a shock although Stoke fans may also be relieved to see the back of a manager who, despite providing valiant service for many years (in managerial terms), appeared to have few ideas about how to stop the slide down the table.
The FA Cup is renowned throughout the world for the romantic shock results that it produces. While the Sutton defeat is still considered to be the greatest surprise, another historic ‘David versus Goliath’ victory was Wrexham’s 2-1 win over the 1992 reigning league champions, Arsenal, memorable for Mickey Thomas’s 25-yard screamer with 10 minutes to go.
While it doesn’t quite rank on the same scale of shocks, current holders of the FA Cup Arsenal were eliminated by Nottingham Forest last Sunday evening in the third round for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 17-year reign.
Southern league Hereford United once overcame the mighty Newcastle United, winning 2-1 at home in a replay after securing a 2-2 draw away at St James’s Park. Two goals for Nigel Jemson helped Shrewsbury Town overcome Everton in 2003 while Wimbledon first demonstrated their feisty attitude and ability to defeat supposedly superior opponents in 1975 when they won 1-0 away at Burnley.
Not that success in the FA Cup is demonstrative of a winning team. There have been a number of examples of sides that have been relegated from the top flight despite having a good run in English football’s premier knockout competition.
The most striking example has to be that of Wigan Athletic who claimed the trophy after shocking Manchester City 1-0 at Wembley back in 2013. Their celebrations were short-lived. Three days after securing the first major trophy in the club’s 81-year history, defeat at Arsenal saw them relegated.
While Wigan are the only club to have been relegated after winning the FA Cup, there are several examples of clubs to drop from the top flight having appeared in the final.
These include Portsmouth (2010 defeat to Chelsea), Middlesborough (1997, Chelsea) (relegated in controversial circumstances after being deducted three points for postponing a league match against Blackburn) and Brighton and Hove Albion (1982, Manchester United).
In the case of Brighton & Hove Albion, 1982 represented the last year that they were in the top flight of English football – until this current season.
Perhaps this victory over Stoke will therefore allow Coventry fans to dream of a future return to former glories? Meanwhile, the magic of the Cup continues.