Dubliner Michael Doyle helps Coventry to playoff glory
There were 35,000 sky blue fans in Wembley to witness club’s first promotion in 51 years
Coventry City’s Michael Doyle celebrates with the trophy after the Sky Bet League Two Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Coventry City 3 Exeter City 1
Coventry City sealed an immediate return to League One after a convincing League Two play-off final victory over Exeter City. For the 35,000 baying Coventry supporters who made Wembley appear lopsided, the victory not only reversed an alarming slide down the divisions but brought a first promotion for 51 years in arguably their biggest game since the 1987 FA Cup final. The roar at full-time was nothing short of deafening.
Fine goals by Jordan Willis, Jordan Shipley and Jack Grimmer, were enough for Coventry’s unpopular owner, Joy Seppala, the chief executive of the hedge fund Sisu, to nudge her sunglasses on to her forehead so she could witness the sea of sky blue – enhanced by smoke bombs – below.
In the end, it was a disappointing bank holiday weekend for Exeter, with the city’s rugby union team defeated at Twickenham on Saturday. For Paul Tisdale, the country’s longest-serving manager at 11 years and 336 days, this could prove his final game in charge. For Steve Perryman, the retiring director of football, there was to be no happy ending, with Kyle Edwards’s strike two minutes from time merely a consolation.
This was not a glorious match but it was a fine occasion attended by 50,196 fans and including a warming ovation on nine minutes for Cyrille Regis and Adam Stansfield, formerly of Coventry and Exeter respectively, to draw the league season to a close.
Not for the first time, with so much at stake, the first half was a cagey affair, though Coventry enjoyed the brighter of beginnings. Marc McNulty proved a livewire from the off, twice neatly dovetailing with Michael Doyle. That particular combination was unsurprising given the pair are good friends, with Doyle influential in ensuring they ran out as team-mates this season. Doyle “battered” McNulty’s phone, rang him 20-30 times in one week, sent him pictures of Coventry’s stadium and even met him at the airport after flying down from Scotland. McNulty’s movement and Doyle’s guile was too hot for Exeter’s young, primarily homegrown defence to handle.
Robins’s message at the interval was presumably to ask for more of the same from the team he took over in March 2017. Within four minutes, an unlikely source had delivered. After staying upfield from a corner Willis made the most of a slick Doyle pass, stepping inside before wrapping his right boot around the ball, sending a thumping effort into the far corner beyond Christy Pym, the hapless Exeter goalkeeper.
With one half of Wembley still reverberating, McNulty surged forward once more, bouncing off a couple of red-and-white shirts before spraying the ball wide to Shipley, whose shot deflected in off Pierce Sweeney. They quickly had victory sewn-up.
As Coventry had shown in the 4-1 thrashing of Notts County to get here: once their tails are up, they are a difficult beast to contain, with Shipley driving just past Pym’s post in search of a third. Coventry sensed blood, with Exeter wounded. And when Grimmer, the Coventry right-back, cut into space and on to his left foot, he sent a sweet effort arrowing into the top corner. – Guardian service