The Sky Blues travelled to Kenilworth Road on Saturday to take on another League Two side in Luton Town. After Tuesday’s defeat to Portsmouth, Mowbray and his men would be looking for a better performance and result this time around.
With a strong following from the sky blue army behind the goal, City did look much more organised and treated the supporters to a much better display. Despite not creating too many clear-cut chances we knocked the ball around with confidence and looked a much better outfit, showing signs of progress.
Tony Mowbray named another fairly strong lineup but the omission of Marcus Tudgay meant it was an eleven consisting of no recognised strikers. This didn’t stop the Sky Blues looking sharp going forward but for the large parts Luton dealt with the pressure. I could only pick out one real negative and that was the goal we conceded to allow the Hatters to equalise. All in all, it was a good test for Coventry City though.
The referee’s whistle sounded to begin proceedings and the game got off to a relatively fast-paced start. Craig Mackail-Smith, who is on trial at Luton, looked very energetic early on as he put pressure on the City defence. It was the seasoned striker that had the first opportunity of the affair on 3 minutes as he rolled Sam Ricketts easily, he then fired an effort towards goal but Aaron Phillips put in a solid block to deny him.
It wasn’t as intense for the next few minutes or so as both sides began to settle down and look to keep possession of the ball. The home side probably shaded the stats in terms of time on the ball but most of their touches were in the defensive third as the Sky Blues pressed high. This pressure from City allowed for the next chance on 7 minutes as Danny Swanson regained possession in the centre, he then played a delightful chipped ball to Jim O’Brien who could only manage to fire over from a tight angle.
After some tight opening exchanges Coventry began to look the better of the two sides as they looked controlled. Some neat interchange within the midfield saw the Sky Blues rip open the Luton defence with the next move on 13 minutes, Phillips’ drilled cross couldn’t be diverted on target however.
Despite City looking strong, it was Luton who enjoyed a five-minute spell of real threat but they were unable to take advantage. One chance was nearly handed to them as John Fleck gave the ball away in the defensive third, the incisive through ball towards Mackail-Smith was thwarted brilliantly though by Romain Vincelot to deny him a one-on-one opportunity. A few minutes later and some neat play by the Hatters split the City defence but Doyle could only blaze over from 20 yards.
As the match started to even out again Luton wasted another opportunity on 26 minutes as O’Brien’s poor headed clearance landed at Alex Lawless’ feet, the midfielder couldn’t keep his shot down though. The next chance to be fashioned came with 36 minutes on the clock as City tested the opposition ‘keeper for the first time. A superb James Maddison pass started the move as he found O’Brien down the right flank, his cross then reached Ryan Haynes via a Luton body but the defender was denied by the fingertips of Elliott Justham.
The remainder of the half petered out a little as both teams looked to see out the half. Only a couple of chances were carved out as former Coventry man, Josh McQuoid struck a daisy-cutter straight at Riece Charles-Cook after coming off the bench. The final chance of the half also fell to the home side as the City defence didn’t close down quick enough, this allowed Danny Green room to shoot but his effort was easily dealt with by Charles-Cook.
A relentless opening to the second half saw City turn on the gas as they looked to find a breakthrough. Mowbray’s men came out with all guns blazing and they were inches away from taking the lead just 50 seconds after the restart. Some swift passing saw O’Brien receive the ball in the area, he then showed quick feet before curling an effort towards the far corner but Justham acrobatically sprung across to deny the Scottish midfielder.
The early pressure was capitalised on with 47 minutes played though as Coventry did take the lead through James Maddison. Tidy work down the left from Ruben Lameiras allowed Swanson to strike an effort on goal, the goalkeeper then spilled his powerful effort and academy graduate, Maddison was on hand to tap the loose ball in to the net with Luton bodies sprawling.
Following on from taking the lead, the away side looked to be brimming with confidence as they effortlessly shifted the ball around the pitch. The trio of Swanson, Lameiras and O’Brien looked very dangerous together as they were at the heart of some superb passing moves. Despite the intricate passing and attacking intentions, City struggled to create any meaningful chances and the home side dealt with any potential danger well.
Luton did have some spells of possession themselves but it was mainly in their own half as City’s shape made it hard for them to forge an attack. Despite this, they did manage to venture further forward on 54 minutes as they went close to equalising following a quick counter-attack. Mackail-Smith raced down the left wing before lashing a dangerous ball across the face of area, McQuoid failed to divert his sliding effort on target though to let the Sky Blues off the hook.
The away side settled down again soon afterwards however as they made Luton work hard to gain the ball. Following a controlled spell of possession City looked to go forward again just after the hour mark as Phillips released O’Brien down the right, his pinpoint delivery then picked out substitute, George Thomas who slipped at the vital moment after controlling impeccably. The Welsh striker had another opportunity to double the lead on 70 minutes following a sly Maddison through ball, he could only fire straight at the goalkeeper this time around.
As for the final 20 minutes of the game, they were tightly contested but the Sky Blues still looked seemingly in control of proceedings. Devon Kelly-Evans made his mark off the bench as he looked to contribute to attacks, and with 72 minutes gone he delivered an enticing cross but Scott Cuthbert managed to deal with it under pressure. Luton then had half a chance up the other end themselves just a minute later as a free-kick was headed over at the back post.
Luton started to push a bit higher for an equaliser in the latter stages of the tie and a warning sign was given on 83 minutes. Dion Kelly-Evans gifted the ball to Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu and he went on a dinking run before firing across goal, Ricketts got his positioning spot on though as he slid in to clear the danger.
The Sky Blues looked to be on their way to seeing out the game but with 86 minutes played an equaliser did come. After good work from Jonathan Smith in midfield, Ruddock Mpanzu managed to head the ball on to Jack Marriott and the striker made no mistakes as he slid the ball past Riece Charles-Cook. The final passage of play in the game saw the home side go close to taking the lead as Marriott tested Charles-Cook but the ‘keeper responded well before the referee brought an end to a good game of football.
In comparison to the other pre-season games so far, the performance was of a much higher standard this time around. You may look at the score line and at first glance it doesn’t look too impressive, but results aren’t the ‘be all and end all’ at this stage and it’s the performances that bear more weight.
Defensively we looked superb as the home side, who possessed a fairly strong forward line, created very little chances as we stood strong. The way in which we conceded was disappointing again and it was very similar to Portsmouth’s second on Tuesday, a lapse in concentration allowed the striker through on goal and he made no mistakes. It was a little frustrating really as we deserved to win the game in all honesty but that’s football…I’d rather give away sloppy goals now and learn from them.
One thing that thoroughly pleased me during the game was the way in which we knocked the ball round so effortlessly. Mowbray said when he came in he likes his side playing football that’s ‘easy on the eye’, and today’s display certainly was. The midfield had a huge influence on this and the addition of Romain Vincelot could well prove to be a brilliant piece of business. When the Frenchman and John Fleck provide the anchors in midfield defensively, this allows the more attacking players extra freedom to roam and have more influence on the game.
New boy Ruben Lameiras was thoroughly a joy to watch before being replaced just before the hour. Some of his link up play with James Maddison was sensational, and with Jim O’Brien and Danny Swanson putting in strong displays too, this gives me great confidence. In regards to Lameiras, his willingness to receive the ball in tight areas is refreshing and he adds flair and pace to the side which will prove to be vital during the season.
We know that a few more players are needed to complete the jigsaw but I believe that defensively and in midfield, we aren’t that far off being competitive. If we manage to get a couple of quality strikers in we could well be in for a good season, all we lack at the moment is a bit of sharpness up top and a clinical edge. We still have a lot to work on but the signs of progression are there…
Riece Charles-Cook – 7
Aaron Phillips – 7
Sam Ricketts – 8
Reda Johnson – 7
Ryan Haynes – 7
John Fleck – 7
Romain Vincelot – 8
Jim O’Brien – 7
Danny Swanson – 7
Ruben Lameiras – 8
James Maddison – 7
George Thomas – 6
Devon Kelly-Evans – 7
Dion Kelly-Evans – 6