Mark Robins is the latest in a long line of Sky Blue Supremos, the men who have tried to bring success to City. In this series first published in matchday programme PUSB, writer Rob Mason reflects on the highs and lows on those who have occupied the hot-seat.
In this edition, Rob Mason profiles Andy Thorn...
Andy Thorn managed the Sky Blues in the early part of the last decade following a distinguished playing career that began with the old Wimbledon and included a second spell with the Dons.
Now 53, Thorn’s time as Sky Blue Supremo represents almost his entire managerial career. Having commenced with Coventry, since in August 2012 there has just been a two-month spell in charge of Kidderminster Harriers. While far from impossible, it would be a surprise to see him occupy a hot-seat again, other than perhaps in a caretaker-position at some point.
Initially Andy arrived at Coventry in a scouting capacity and it is in that role that he seems happiest since hanging up his boots. Currently in his fifth season as a full-time scout for West Bromwich Albion, Thorn came to Coventry in June 2007 as a scout appointed by Ray Ranson.
Having become an integral part of the club it was Thorn that City turned to as caretaker-boss alongside first team coach and former Watford boss Steve Harrison. Their appointment followed the sacking of Aidy Boothroyd, who got the bullet following a 0-1 home defeat by Hull in March 2011. Although on the surface the Sky Blues looked safe, being seven points away from relegation from the Championship with 10 games to play, the side were plummeting towards League One.
Having been in the thick of the promotion race in early December when they were fifth after three successive wins, only eight points from 16 games had seen the Sky Blues slide to 19th.
Asked to start with an away trip to Eddie Howe’s Burnley, Coventry faced a team looking for a reaction following a heavy home defeat to Millwall after a run of taking 16 points out of 18. A battling display saw Thorn’s team take a point in a see-saw game.
A point at Turf Moor seemed encouraging but gloom descended when in Thorn’s second match a 90th minute goal brought defeat at bottom of the table Preston. Dropping a place to 20th left the caretaker needing a result as City welcomed Sean Dyche’s play-off chasing Watford for his first home fixture.
With Marlon King back from suspension City took the game to the Hornets, taking a first half lead through Gary McSheffrey with Lukas Jutkiewicz completing the victory mid-way through the second half. At this point City sat 17th, 10 points ahead of third bottom Sheffield United.
A draw at struggling Derby followed by back to back wins at Portsmouth and at home to Millwall saw King score five times in those three games and though he added another next time out, a home draw with struggling Scunthorpe showed there was still plenty of work to do. Two further points from the remaining three fixtures gave Thorn a record of three wins, three draws and two defeats. It was a more than creditable return given the form when he took over. City finished 18th with a 13-point gap to the drop zone.
Having seen Thorn salvage the season there was no need for Coventry to look to bring someone else in and so Andy accepted a one year rolling contract. With his former Crystal Palace coach Harrison as assistant, Thorn looked to develop an attacking passing game.
Naming Sammy Clingan as captain and appointing former skipper Lee Carsley as youth team coach, Thorn found that most of his activity in the transfer market was in seeing players leave. A dozen players departed, fees coming in for Gunnarsson and Ben Turner, who went to Cardiff. Other departures included Marlon King and goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, the latter being replaced by Joe Murphy. He was one of a trio of newcomers along with Chris Dunn and £500,000 buy Cody McDonald.
The season had every chance of a good start as opening day visitors Leicester were reduced to 10 men after just 11 minutes, but with Carl Baker also given an early bath just before half time the Sky Blues went down 1-0.
Starting with three defeats followed by a couple of draws the Sky Blues gave everyone else a head start before a 2-0 home win over Derby lifted them to 19th. In a tough campaign it would be the highest position of the season.
There would be just one more victory before Christmas meaning that inevitably Thorn’s men propped up the table at a time of turmoil, chairman and then Head of Football Operations Ken Dulieu having departed at the start of the month. It was at least a happy Christmas as between the big day and New Year’s Day wishes to Santa were granted as the number of wins was doubled.
At this point hopes hinged on striker Lukas Jutkiewicz, who had scored nine of the team’s 19 goals. Those goals were a double-edged sword as goals from a striker in a struggling side brought attention. First in the queue were Tony Mowbray’s Middlesbrough who ended the calendar year in an automatic promotion place. Jutkiewicz brought in big money from the Teessiders but the only arrivals were loanees Alex Nimely and Oliver Norwood from the Manchester clubs and veteran Hermann Hreidarsson.
Nimely scored one and made two on his debut as Jutkiewicz had to watch his new club (who had two men sent off) beaten 3-1 by his old one. The striker would score just twice in the second half of the season for Teessiders, who fell away to not even make the Play-offs, but come the end of the campaign he actually remained top scorer for Coventry.
Although the triumph over Middlesbrough was actually Coventry’s third win in five league games, victories were in short supply. In the final analysis, only bottom of the table Doncaster won fewer games than the Sky Blues who saw the team with the third lowest number of victories (Bristol City) still win 25% more than Coventry who were the league’s lowest scorers.
Under Thorn, City’s short-comings were on the road rather than at home. At the Ricoh Arena, Coventry won as many games as Middlesbrough and more than a quarter of the teams in the division. Away from the Ricoh it was a different story. Coventry had the poorest away record of the 92 clubs in the Football and Premier League. Fans who travelled to all 23 away games cheered a goal a mere 13 times while seeing three times as many conceded. The solitary away victory proved to be the final three-point haul of the campaign, inflicting a fourth consecutive defeat on demoralised Hull.
That taming of the Tigers took the Sky Blues out of the bottom three for the first time since October but it was to be the final win of a woeful season that saw City drop out of the Championship which they have yet to return to. Just two points were gleaned from the last six games, the final three being lost without a goal scored – the seal being set on a sad season by losing the final home game to Doncaster, the one team below City in the table. The final analysis showed the Sky Blues eight points shy of safety and relegated in 23rd place.
The summer of 2012 was a tough one for all at the club. Steve Harrison became the highest profile departure but Thorn was determined to lead an immediate push for promotion, with Richard Shaw now brought in as his number two.
Hopes were raised with the lifting of a temporary transfer embargo. Seven signings were made including experienced Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane, his international colleague Stephen ‘Sleeves’ Elliott and talented midfielder John Fleck from Rangers. A dozen departed including defensive king-pin Richard Keogh and exciting prospect Gael Bigirimana to Premier League Newcastle United.
Determined to get the team off to a good start, Thorn brought the squad back earlier than expected and embarked on an extensive nine game pre-season programme. Solid away victories in the last three of these kindled traditional pre-season optimism which was added to when a last minute debut penalty from Kilbane brought League Cup victory at Dagenham & Redbridge on the eve of the league campaign.
Almost 2000 loyal members of the Sky Blue Army made the long journey to Yeovil for the league opener which procured a point. Elliott then endeared himself to his new fans with a goal on his home debut against Sheffield United only for the Blades to grab a late leveller. Frustrations blew up four days later when a two-goal lead was tossed away at home to Bury – a side who had conceded more on the road than anyone outside the relegation zone the previous season.
The axe fell on Thorn the following day with Shaw and Carsley handed the reins on a temporary basis until the appointment of Mark Robins three weeks later. Being sacked from a first post as manager is often a brutal blow in one of the most precarious of professions. Thorn proved to be a case in point. In January 2014 Andy re-surfaced as boss of Kidderminster Harriers but by the end of the first week of March he was gone.
He actually had a splendid start with Kiddy. Taking over just after they held Peterborough at home in the FA Cup, Thorn oversaw a sensational victory in the replay at London Road. This set up a fourth round meeting at Premier League strugglers Sunderland but while they gave a good account of themselves on Wearside Kidderminster were beaten in what was the second of a six game run without a win. A second league victory under Thorn (against Woking) proved to be a false dawn as a 5-1 thrashing at Cambridge next time out signalled the sacking of a manager hamstrung by the sale of star striker Joe Lolley (Now of Nottingham Forest).
Thorn’s time as a manager did not work out for him. Andy remains one of those players who did not transfer their organisational skills from the defence to the dug-out.
Dave Bassett was in charge of Wimbledon’s famed Crazy Gang when 18-year old Andy made his league debut at home to Shrewsbury in March 1985 when the Dons were playing at what is now Championship level. Drastic measures were called for as Wimbledon had let in 10 goals in their previous two games. A dominating and determined defender, Thorn was ready, keeping his place until the end of the season, learning from playing alongside the likes of Nigel Winterburn, Dave Beasant and Lawrie Sanchez, while a young Dennis Wise came into the side for his league debut a few weeks after Andy.
In his first full season Thorn missed just one game to the turn of the year as Wimbledon won promotion to the top flight. The leading lights of the game didn’t know how to handle the newcomers who finished sixth in their first season – four places above the Sky Blues. Andy actually scored the Dons first ever goal in the top flight, the opening strike of his career coming on the opening day at Manchester City.
It was the following season (1987-88) when, with Terry Gibson as well as Wise amongst his team mates - in a side by now managed by Bobby Gould – Thorn was part of an incredible FA Cup final win over Liverpool. That same season he missed only five league games as the Dons managed to finish a very creditable seventh in their second season.
Goodness knows what Europe would have made of the Crazy Gang but Vinnie Jones and co never made it onto the continent due to the ongoing ban on English clubs at the time. Had they been allowed into Europe the Dons would have had to do so without Thorn who as a 21- year old became Newcastle United’s joint record signing when they paid £850,000 for him in the close season.
Although Andy did well on a personal level on Tyneside he couldn’t stop his new club being relegated, after which he was sold to Crystal Palace for whom he played 168 times, a tally that included the 1990 FA Cup final, lost to Manchester United after a replay. Thorn played in both games alongside Richard Shaw. Mark Robins was on the bench for United in both games.
In 1994 there was a sentimental return to Wimbledon where he made a further 37 league games prior to a brief stint in Scotland with Hearts. A final playing move took Thorn to Tranmere where he played for his 1988 cup final opponent John Aldridge only for his time with the club to be restricted as he was stretchered off in an FA Cup tie with Hereford, duly retiring at the age of 32 due to a knee problem.
Coaching roles followed with Nottingham Forest and Everton where he became Europe and England scout for the Toffees between May 2001 and August 2005 when he left to take a scouting role with Fulham, staying in London until coming to Coventry.