Can Coventry keep epic FA Cup run going and beat Man United?

Coventry's Wright warns Man United: Anything can happen (0:51)

USMNT forward Haji Wright looks forward to Coventry City's FA Cup semifinal clash with Manchester United. (0:51)

The FA Cup has an uncanny ability of creating lifelong memories, like the moment Coventry City and U.S. men's international striker Haji Wright conjured on March 16 at Molineux.

It was the 10th minute of injury time in Coventry City's FA Cup quarterfinal against Wolves, and the Sky Blues had one final opportunity to fashion a match-winning chance before extra time beckoned. Ellis Simms had scored their equalizer three minutes previous, in the 97th minute. The game was poised at 2-2, and the Coventry City away end was already a scene of sheer pandemonium as they sought one final chance.

- Stream LIVE on ESPN+: Manchester United vs.Coventry City, Sunday, 10:30 a.m. ET (U.S.)

"The game had been a whirlwind, back and forth," Wright tells ESPN. "Every FA Cup game is like that. I hadn't realized how much time had been given on top, so I was looking towards extra time, but I had a feeling there would be one more chance."

Wright knew where he had to be -- to the left of Wolves' goal, about 15 yards out, like they'd practiced. "We'd been training all week on it, but it wasn't working well for me in training, I wasn't striking the ball how I wanted to," Wright says. Jake Bidwell took the throw-in, Callum O'Hare managed to hold off the Wolves defender and found Simms with his back to goal. He cushioned the ball neatly to the waiting Wright.

"It was muscle memory," he says. "As soon as I [took the] shot, I could tell it was going in."

As the ball flew past Wolves goalkeeper José Sá, Wright's first fleeting feeling was relief. Then the place went berserk.

"I was just looking to go celebrate with the fans," Wright says. The second-division Championship side had just knocked out the Premier League mainstays.

In the stands, Coventry City supporters hugged anybody and everybody near them. Dave Boddy, the club's outgoing CEO who joined the club in 2017 and departed earlier this year, felt his emotions bubble over. "When we won the game, I shed a tear," Boddy tells ESPN. "I was there in the away end, around some of my former staff, those who had been on the journey with me since I joined."

Steve Ogrizovic, Coventry's record appearance holder, was on site to cover the game for a local BBC radio station. "I had to be as reserved as possible," Ogrizovic tells ESPN. "Look, it's a cliché, but it was what dreams are made of."

Collectively, every Coventry City fan has tried to bottle the feeling while it lasts. "Supporters have told me since how much it meant to them," Wright says.

Coventry City's past 20 years have been wild. They've been on the brink of disappearing through bankruptcy, come perilously close to being without a home stadium, and just when they thought everything was getting back to normal, the Commonwealth Games destroyed their pitch.

Through it all, trips to Wembley have provided respite, and on Sunday, they're heading to the famous stadium looking for another lifelong memory when they face Manchester United in the semifinal of the FA Cup. Manager Mark Robins and his squad are confident they have another famous afternoon in them.

This week in the Coventry City club shop, they've been partying like it's 1987. Replica shirts from the FA Cup-winning team were on sale; supporters of a certain vintage will still have the original version, a physical memory of the club's finest day when they defeated Tottenham 3-2 at the old Wembley.

"This run brings it all back," Ogrizovic says, who was Coventry's goalkeeper that day. "People realize we have a proud history. It wasn't just '87 though: there was us in the top flight for 35 years after we got promoted in 1967, and how we survived. But I suppose the fact we won a major trophy is what people remember most fondly."

Ogrizovic is a Coventry City legend. His playing career spanned four decades and he had 16 years at Coventry, serving as their mainstay between the posts through their Premier League years. He then joined the club's coaching staff post-football and kept that role through to his retirement in 2019.

"I had amazing years there as a player, and another 19 as a coach. It has been my life, it's a wonderful place," he says. But for all the highs of their Premier League run, the FA Cup win back in 1987, the club went through a tough period. They were relegated to the second tier of English football in 2001 and haven't yet managed to get back to the Premier League. "The problems the club encountered in the last 20 years have been immense, but the fans have stayed with them," he adds.

In 2007, the club was bought by Sisu Capital, except they ended up being controversial owners. "I need to be careful what words I use here," Ogrizovic says. "What can I say about Sisu? Well, put it like this: they weren't the right owners for the football club. I think they thought they could make money quite easily and run a respectable football club, but that didn't prove to be the case.

"You've got to have a lot more football nous than they brought. Every year you think you're going to get better, but money was tight, we slipped down the league and we had a different manager every year. We had some great managers at the club, but through no fault of their own, they didn't achieve much for a few years. It felt like everything was knee-jerk. You could just feel it wasn't right."

Coventry score 2 goals in stoppage time to stun Wolves in FA Cup

Coventry scored twice in stoppage time to win 3-2 at Wolves in an incredible FA Cup quarter-final at Molineux.

The club has experienced a two-decade turbulent relationship with their on-off home at the 32,600-capacity Coventry Arena (now known as the Coventry Building Society Arena, or CBS).

The club moved there in 2005 after 106 years at Highfield Road, but it's been an unstable experience. Since that 2005 move, they have had three different spells at temporary homes. In 2012, with the club newly relegated to League 1, Sisu Capital had a rent dispute with the stadium's management company. The club moved out and ground-shared with Northampton Town across the 2013-14 season. In the process, they were hit with two 10-point deductions once they went into liquidation -- one at the end of the 2012-13 season, and another at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

"Those were dark days," Ogrizovic says. "You never really knew where the club was going."

Having been saved from extinction, the club moved back to the Arena in 2014 through to 2019, but another dispute with then-owners Wasps Rugby -- who had purchased the ground from previous owners Coventry City Council and the Alan Edward Higgs Charity in late 2014 -- saw them sharing St. Andrew's with Birmingham City from 2019 to 2021. "Had Birmingham City not allowed us there, we could have possibly folded," Boddy says. "There were no alternatives. The Blues were great to us, but that was a real low point, a real near-the-wire moment for us."

They were back at the Arena in 2021, but by 2022-23, Coventry were looking for a short-term home once again. The Commonwealth Games had been hosted in Birmingham that summer, with rugby played at the Arena. The studs had destroyed the pitch, the surface unplayable. Further muddying the waters was the Arena's owners Wasps going into administration in late 2022, with Coventry having only signed a 10-year lease.

"For me, that was the real lowest point," Boddy says. "Wasps were on the verge of going bust and wouldn't talk to us because they didn't have the answers. They couldn't do anything. The pitch was just horrific."

They were forced to postpone their first three home matches and were handed a suspended deduction of five points by the EFL.

"Ultimately we paid what we had to, but that was a real low point for me. I was at the sharp end of it and I had to make it happen," Boddy says.

When Wasps went bankrupt in 2022, the stadium fell into the hands of administrators and again, Coventry risked being without a home. After a spell of tough negotiations, Coventry City agreed a deal with their new landlords (Mike Ashley's Fraser Group) through to 2028.

Through all the strife, the fans still turned out to watch their team despite their anger at the way the club was being run. "[When I arrived in 2017, the situation] was toxic," Boddy says. "There were protests against the owners. It was a nightmare situation."

At the end of the 2016-17 season, the club were relegated to League Two, but amid the gloom, there was a rare moment of relief. Talking to Ogrizovic, Boddy and fans, they all point to a trip to Wembley in April 2017 as the turning point in the club's fortunes. Mark Robins, the former Man United striker who famously scored "the goal that saved Sir Alex Ferguson," had returned to the club that March for a second spell in charge. A month later, they were in the 2017 EFL Trophy final, where they'd beat Oxford United 2-1.

"It felt like a reset. That was the moment we got some pride back in the club," Ogrizovic says. "We were going down, but still we had 45,000 fans there. I don't think the players or owners had seen that prior, that pride in the club, but you could see the club was still burning bright even though we'd had all those problems."

"It was just an amazing occasion," Boddy says. "You could feel the supporters had been starved of success, you could hear it in their voices, and they were incredible."

After relegation to League Two, the club were promoted back to League One via the playoffs at the first time of asking in the 2017-18 season. They secured a return to the Championship in 2020 while playing in Birmingham.

"We slowly won the supporters back round, but it was the COVID year, and despite having a budget which was at best mid-table, we defied the odds to go up," Boddy says. Behind the scenes, the club was bought by Doug King in Jan. 2023 and last season they reached the playoff final, only to fall to Luton in a penalty shootout.

"We've always beaten the budget in terms of our league finish, and us and Luton were in the bottom six wage budgets in the Championship. That was one of Mark's strengths, he always wanted to drive us forward, but he knew what we were capable of financially and would only work within those confines."

Through all the uncertainty and turbulence, Robins has managed to keep the club moving up through the leagues. "He had a good relationship with the previous owner, and managed to get things done the way he wanted them done," Ogrizovic said. "It's been an upward trajectory under Mark and a massive part of the praise has to go to him for the way he's reshaped the club. He's managed to sail the ship into calmer waters."

Robins already had etched himself into FA Cup history before this run with Coventry. He was part of the Manchester United team that won the FA Cup in 1990 -- Robins scored a famous goal in their 1-0 third round win over Nottingham Forest, a winner widely remembered as the goal that saved then under fire manager Alex Ferguson from the sack.

"He told me about his playing days when I joined the club and how much of a great striker he was," Wright says, laughing along.

They adore Robins at Coventry. "The club is in his DNA," Boddy says. "He's a good manager who sets us up in the right way," Wright says. "He always tries to give us words of encouragement before, and during games. He tries to get us in the right headspace every week and prepares us well. He knows when the right time is to speak to players, and finds the right words to encourage them, or to keep going and also knows exactly when to tell us if we're doing something right, or wrong."

One source told ESPN that Robins has learnt the art of successful delegation from Ferguson, giving responsibility to those around him and ensuring they deliver what's needed.

"[Robins] never gets flustered, he takes things in his stride," Ogrizovic says. "As a player, he was nippy and a top striker. And as a manager, he knows what battles he can win and what battles to leave for another day."

Boddy adds: "He's an old-school manager in some ways, as he's in charge, and that's what I believe a manager should be. I think he's got the same steely characteristics Alex Ferguson had."

The club's recruitment arm has also worked well. One of the most sought-after strikers in Europe is Sporting's Viktor Gyökeres, who spent 2021-23 at the club. Coventry had snapped him up for £1m from Brighton and 43 goals later, Sporting spent £20m to acquire him last summer. Then there's Gustavo Hamer, whom Coventry signed for £1.5m in 2020 and who is now at Sheffield United after a £15m move in Aug. 2023.

"Chris Badlan was head of recruitment for that point, working very closely with myself and Mark to get the players in," Boddy says. "They weren't the finished article -- someone like Vik was nowhere near the player he is today when we signed him. But Mark and [Adi Viveash, Coventry's assistant coach] worked wonders to improve these players."

That influx of money saw the club spend big. USMNT striker Wright arrived for a club-record transfer fee in the region of £7.65m from Antalyaspor, scoring 17 goals so far this term. Simms was also brought in from Everton for a fee reported to be as low as £3.5m; other key signings included right-back Milan van Ewijk and center-backs Bobby Thomas and Liam Kitching. They've settled alongside homegrown Josh Eccles in the heart of their midfield, outstanding youngster Ben Sheaf and brilliant attacking midfielder O'Hare to lead the club to within touching distance of the playoffs this season, in addition to their incredible FA Cup run.

Their FA Cup campaign started with a 6-2 win over Oxford United. They needed a replay to get past Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round, and in the fifth round, they brought an abrupt end to Maidstone United's fairy-tale run with a 5-0 win. Then came the memorable afternoon in Wolverhampton, and it's all eyes on Manchester United on Sunday at Wembley.

"There were so many highlights, but the playoff win against Exeter to get promoted from League 2 was amazing, as was the [EFL] Trophy final," Boddy says. "But getting the club back to Coventry and stabilized in the top half of the Championship has been a real highlight. There were dark days, but there were also good days. We were in it together."

There will also be three generations of Ogrizovic's family in the stands; looking after his grandchildren helps fill retirement alongside helping Gordon Strachan with his foundation at Warwick University and performing radio duties. Memories will drift back to 1987, but Ogrizovic will be loving watching the latest Coventry City crop try and reach another FA Cup final.

"I'll be nervous, and proud," Ogrizovic says. "We all know it's going to be a great occasion, and I'll tell you the way the team are playing, the confidence they're showing, they have every chance of doing something special if Manchester United are not spot on."

"It's one game, it can go in either direction," Wright says. "They're a big club, have a lot of great players but I think we are going to get opportunities. Hopefully, we can make them feel the pressure a little bit. Anything can happen in one game."