Question of the WeekWho will win the National League?
Sky Blue Thinking
By: Andrew Doherty
IT seems strange to be playing Coventry, who for the first thirty something years of my footballing life were in the top division. Perennial Premiership strugglers, the chocolate brown away kit, the Willie Carr goal, F.A. Cup winners - these are my memories of Coventry City.
My memories of matches between us extend to a 1-0 away defeat after a controversial penalty in the 1972/3 F.A. Cup, and another defeat, this time 2 - 1, at Highfield Road in the League Cup in 1983. But with ownership problems, they now find ourselves in the same league as us, and we should be grateful that we at least have had the stability which today's opponents in their traditional sky blue have not recently enjoyed.
From Town's point of view, the squad was assembled in good time for the new season, but as always, it's hard to know whether the group, as squads are referred to in modern parlance, will gel. It's a clear blow not to have Jamey Osborne out through injury, but Town have every reason to be confident after an excellent win at Chesterfield last week with goals from Clarke and Jones, and a Davies penalty. Coventry too enjoyed victory last week, with their Jones scoring a hat-trick.
A healthy crowd of 6,767 spectators turned out today. Town's team, affected by the absence of Mills through suspension, was: McKeown - Davies, Clarke, Collins, Dixon - M Rose - Dembele, Summerfield, Berrett, Sam Jones - Cardwell.
The first ten minutes suggested this wasn't going to be a good game. Both sides engaged in long ball tactics with no success. Cardwell showed physicality, while the only glimpses of skill came from Dembele and Rose. But this was vertical football as both Town and Coventry took to the skies. "It's like watching two bottom of the league sides", commented the spectator behind me. The first positive action was foiled when Dembele was adjudged offside after a Cardwell header. But it was Dembele who lit up the game with a mazy run through the middle on 16 minutes, but Cardwell scuffed his shot from the lay-off. Dembele inevitably won Town's first corner soon afterwards. But skill was a rarity as the physical battle continued. Coventry's 1,357 fans were undeterred by the vertical warfare and sang enthusiastically. Coventry's first chance came on 19 minutes when McNulty was tripped on the edge of the box. Jones's free kick was terrible, rebounding off the wall. McNulty's volley from the rebound was better but wide. More Dembele trickery set up Berrett who marked the occasion with a total miskick. The game continued to be scrappy and was dominated by high balls aimed at the lofty Cardwell and the vertically challenged Dembele.
On 30 minutes Clarke pushed Beavon on the edge of Town's box. In a replica of an earlier Town corner, the subsequent cross resulted in everyone falling over. Another boot up field resulted in a Town throw-in deep into the Coventry half. Dembele continued to be the only source of excitement. Cardwell looked predatory and Summerfield added a couple of touches but this was ugly. Sam Jones, who was playing in midfield today, was especially disappointing, making a poor choice of ball and spending too long trying to show off his skill. Coventry had a chance on 39 minutes after a free-kick was taken from the wrong place in their half, resulting in a move and an accurate left footed shot from Jodi Jones, which McKeown palmed away. The danger was averted but Coventry pressed. Jodi Jones became the pantomime villain, first holding his face after a non-existent challenge, then falling over and winning a free-kick on the corner of Town's penalty box. He and Dixon were booked for the altercation after the award of the, as it turned out, poorly delivered free-kick. Sam Jones was then guilty of more poor distribution, in contrast to Dembele who raced back and saved a corner. Two minutes before half-time, a nice lay-off from Cardwell was wasted by Summerfield who was too slow to react. The half ended goalless.
This was a feisty game, dominated by long passes and high balls. Dembele shone for Town when he wasn't being supplied with high balls. Town's defence looked organised. There were odd bright moments from Summerfield, the languid-looking Rose and the battling target man Cardwell. Otherwise it had been a lot of effort and little control. It was hard to believe that both sides scored three goals last week.
Twenty seconds into the second half, Town's Berrett was booked for a foul. Coventry's Jones won a corner, then on the left Dembele, who had switched sides with Jones, broke clear and supplied Davies who was tripped. The best interplay so far from Town took place six minutes into the half when a Sam Jones flick to Rose led to a cross but the Coventry defence beat the approaching Cardwell and Summerfield to the low cross. Coventry's Jones found space on 54 minutes and fired an accurate left-footed shot on 54 minutes, which McKeown tipped over. A good corner met Vincenti whose header was just wide. Town were lucky on 57 minutes when first Collins handled a shot, then Vincenti appeared to be tripped but the referee waved play on. Good play from Rose and Berrett led to Sam Jones having a chance but his fierce shot went over the bar. Town won a free-kick in their own half on 62 minutes. Clarke shoved the ball back to McKeown to take. Coventry's McNulty, realising the ball was in play, pounced and rounded McKeown before tapping in to score. Town protested that the free-kick hadn't been taken. The referee explained that the ball was in play, and after consultation with the linesman, confirmed that the goal stood. Town 0, Coventry 1.
Shortly afterwards, a failed Sam Jones overhead kick caught Coventry's Grimmer in the face. The game stopped for the injury. Town's players continued to argue about the goal. What Town needed to do now was to re-group and concentrate. Hooper came for Cardwell. Coventry dominated play now as Town struggled to find any co-ordination. Jaiyesimi came on for Summerfield on 71 minutes. Clarke and McKeown were still visibly discussing Coventry's goal. The team seemed distracted, as on 74 minutes Coventry's Jones found McNulty who won a corner. Kelly's corner was met by the advancing Grimmer whose bullet header flew into the net. Town 0, Coventry 2. It was all Coventry now. Town showed no signs of recovery. At least the army of Coventry fans enjoyed it. "We're just too good for you", they sang accurately. Jaiyesimi showed skill, and crossed to Hooper whose flick was from too tight an angle to have impact. Dembele battled on before being replaced by Bolarinwa after 82 minutes. The wind had been taken out of Town's sails. Coventry were superior. Town had too many underperforming and now deflated players. Town had a chance on 86 minutes when Sam Jones received the ball on the edge of the box, but Jones leant back and fired his shot wildly into the Pontoon stand. To cap off a miserable day for Town, Berrett was then booked for a foul on Kelly, and was sent off for a second yellow card. Seven minutes were added on account of injuries and the debate surrounding Coventry's first goal, but it was torture as Coventry looked the more likely to score, and Town seemed to want to help them by giving the ball away at will. The final whistle was a relief: Town 0, Coventry 2.
Leaving aside the controversial goal, Coventry stepped up their performance in the second half and won the tactical battle. Assuming the referee had whistled for the resumption of play, I don't think Town had any grounds to argue about Coventry's first goal. It was a misunderstanding, but what concerned me more was the fact that Town were so distracted by it and still discussing it fifteen minutes after it happened. Town fell to pieces and were outplayed in the end, so I don't think we can argue about the result against a superior side, but we need to strengthen mentally. In this respect we can take inspiration from our opponents in sky blue, who showed professionalism and I suspect will do well in this league. From Town's point of view, there's a lot of work to do.
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