The Sky Blues travelled to Havant and Waterloovile on Tuesday night to face League Two promotion favourites Portsmouth in their second fixture of the pre-season schedule.
After last week’s drab affair at Nuneaton, I was hoping for a more entertaining tie because let’s face it, nobody wants a 0-0 draw in a friendly that’s being played a few hours away from home. With Mowbray stating on Monday that Ruben Lamieras would be the only trialist featuring, it was a case of familiar faces being in the lineup.
With the starting eleven looking fairly strong on paper, City would be looking to put in a solid performance but it was rather lacklustre to tell the truth. The lack of quality and experience in the attacking department was evident again and it had a bearing on the game, with naivety costing the Sky Blues on numerous occasions.
Defensively we looked relatively solid throughout the game as Portsmouth didn’t perhaps capitalise on their dominant possession as well as they should have. Despite that, both of the goals conceded were easily avoidable and it was those two first half strikes that downed the Sky Blues, although George Thomas did conjure up a piece of magic early in to the second half.
The game got underway in front of a healthy crowd and it was the ‘home’ side who looked to get forward almost immediately. After causing the City defence problems in the first minute, Pompey took the lead with their next attack on 3 minutes. An initial effort was saved excellently by Lee Burge but it fell in to the danger area and Conor Chaplin was on hand to tap home in to an unguarded net to make it 1-0.
After scoring the seaside team looked to inflict further damage as they knocked the ball round with ease, spreading the City defence. The back four dealt with any danger well though and it was this platform that allowed George Thomas to be at the heart of our fisrt venture forward. The Welsh youth international picked up the ball deep before rolling to Jim O’Brien, he then played a delightful ball in to the channel and Thomas was there to drill a low cross which was cleared well.
City started to look a bit more settled on the ball following this point but a strong, organised Portsmouth side restricted us to very little chances. Half-chances were starting to open up on the odd occasion and Thomas went close on 11 minutes as he volleyed a loose ball on target with superb technique, Jones held well to thwart him though in the ‘home’ goal.
The affair started to become a bit of a dogfight in the centre of the park but it was Portsmouth who still looked the brighter of the two sides. Coventry did enjoy some good patterns of play but a lack of options in the final third was making it simple for Pompey to defend, especially with their superior height thwarting City’s long ball attempts as nothing was sticking.
A few mistakes were made also early on and a misplaced Reda Johnson pass that went out for a corner on 18 minutes summed up the sluggish start. City did create the next opportunity though as Romain Vincelot showed good feet before playing a tidy one-two with Marcus Tudgay, the Frenchman then saw his powerful effort deflected over off a defender’s head. Possession was kept quite well for the next few minutes but the shape was very rigid and we failed to open up and test the opposition enough.
Chances were really starting to come few and far between now as both teams looked to be content with keeping the ball. The next chance was carved out with over half an hour on the clock, it came about after Portsmouth drove forward and Conor Chaplin went close to doubling his side’s advantage as he curled an effort narrowly over the bar on 34 minutes.
Coventry were a few inches away from equalising up the other end just a minute later as a swift counter allowed George Thomas room to cross, Marcus Tudgay then knocked the ball down but Jones beat the advancing Vincelot to deny the Sky Blues the chance.
The latter stages of the half remained fairly even and no real chances were created by either side, this was however until the 45th minute. It was Portsmouth who took advantage as a simple through ball from Conor Chaplin split the Sky Blue defence, trialist Gareth Evans then raced clear before finishing with aplomb past Lee Burge and in to the far corner to hand Pompey a 2-0 half-time lead.
As the teams came back out for the second period the Sky Blues were without Marcus Tudgay as he was replaced after an ineffective display by on trial Ruben Lameiras who was looking to earn a contract. The former Tottenham midfielder made an immediate impact as his pinpoint pass released George Thomas, he then skipped around his marker before firing straight at the ‘keeper.
This turned out to be a warning sign for Portsmouth as George Thomas created another chance on 53 minutes and he found the net this time around. He picked up the ball outside the area after controlling a long ball from Reda Johnson exquisitely, he then flicked the ball over the oncoming defender before audaciously lobbing the goalkeeper from 20 yards with a finish of real quality to give City a lifeline.
The pattern of the game became fairly even again from this moment onwards as tired legs resulted in substitutions which subsequently altered the rhythm of the match. Danny Swanson, one of the Coventry substitutes, let fly from 30 yards immediately after being brought in to the fold and his effort dipped in front of the keeper who held well. Just a few minutes later Pompey went close themselves as Gareth Evans, who was impressive all game, caused havoc again as his cross was well defended by Jordan Willis under pressure as Naismith was poised to tap in at the back post.
Portsmouth started to look more lively again after this chance as their vocal backing began to increase the volume. The next chance fell to Evans again as he found himself unmarked in the area, it was a driven effort across goal that looked certain to beat Burge but the City goalkeeper sprung across to his right to beat the ball away from danger brilliantly. It was a fairly quiet ten minutes that proceeded this chance though as both teams started to make substitutions thick and fast, causing a bit of a stalemate.
The ‘home’ side were controlling possession better than the Sky Blues but the next real chance came about on 77 minutes as Lameiras saw a fierce effort deflected behind. Swanson swung the resulting corner in and the tempting delivery allowed substitute Aaron Martin to leap above his marker and power a header on target, substitute keeper Poke reacted miraculously to tip the ball on to the bar to Martin’s disbelief.
As far as clear-cut chances were concerned, that was the last one of the affair as the Sky Blues slipped to a narrow defeat. Both teams looked to get forward in the last few minutes but neither goalkeeper was tested and the referee put his lips to the whistle to end proceedings at 2-1.
If you compare the match to the Nuneaton game it was certainly a much more exciting affair as I hoped for. You could still tell that it was a match in the early stages of pre-season as the intensity wasn’t anywhere near that of a competitive fixture, but at least there were a few more things to talk about.
City couldn’t have got off to a worser start as we fell behind with just a few minutes on the clock. As we’ve become accustomed to following Coventry City, it was a set-piece that exposed the defence and led to the opposition goal. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good delivery but we concede from dead ball situations far too often and it needs to be rectified before the first league game against Wigan.
We get outmuscled in our own area far too easily at times and if it wasn’t for a tremendous save by Lee Burge the initial header would’ve handed Portsmouth the lead. Instead, a quite unfortunate rebound was tapped home but even there I question the defenders, we’ve got to win those loose balls, we’ve got to want it more.
The second goal was very dissapointing also as it came at a time when City looked as if they’d found another gear. It was a simple ball through the middle from deep that split the back line and it allowed the striker far too much space and time to pick a spot. A positive is that it’s still pre-season, that’s why we have these games – to learn. We can’t expect as fans that our team will be performing at a maximum level this early as match fitness is still taking shape and tactics are still being tinkered with. I’d rather us make mistakes now and learn from them than be punished in a competitive fixture.
Other than the goals we conceded, there wasn’t too much that worried me although I think Portsmouth were allowed possession of the ball too much and this allowed them to feel comfortable and control the game in parts. Clearly the lack of strikers still rings alarm bells as goals don’t seem as if they’ll be easy to come by at the moment – Mowbray has to get a couple of frontmen in as soon as possible. George Thomas did put in a good shift though and he fully deserved his goal, he could come in handy off the bench this season.
Despite the loss I thought there was plenty of positive signs again as the defence looked strong apart from a couple of lapses of concentration which unfortunately were punished. The midfield looked very capable as Romain Vincelot caught my eye with a battling display along with Jim O’Brien, although captain for the day, John Fleck, was fairly oblivious throughout as he struggled to get a grip on the tie.
Lee Burge proved that he could be a very good goalkeeper at this level with another fine display despite his inexperience. He commanded his area well and took control when crosses were lumped in to the box, add this to his shot stopping abilities and he seems to have masses of potential. Another player who pleased me when he came on was Aaron Martin as the defender performed admirably to contribute to the second half display in which the Sky Blues looked improved.
Although you can’t read too much from friendly games, trialist Ruben Lameiras looks as if he could be a handful as his introduction at the break had a very positive impact on the performance as he was at the heart of most chances. Mowbray looks as if he will offer the attacker a deal, and if he accepts, he could well be an astute acquisition. And finally, does the fact that John Fleck wore the armband give any indication as to who will be captain this season? We’ll soon see…
Lee Burge – 8
Jordan Willis – 7
Reda Johnson – 6
Sam Ricketts – 8
Dion Kelly-Evans – 6
Romain Vincelot – 8
Jim O’Brien – 7
John Fleck – 5
James Maddison – 6
Marcus Tudgay – 5
George Thomas – 7
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Danny Swanson – 6
Devon Kelly-Evans – 6
Ivor Lawton – 6
Ben Stevenson – 6
Jack Finck – N/A (minimum time)
Cian Harries – N/A (minimum time)