In the fourth and penultimate friendly fixture of the pre-season schedule, the Sky Blues travelled to the Abbey Stadium on Tuesday night to face another League Two side in Cambridge United. Without a win In the previous three encounters, City would be looking to pick up a victory in front of a loyal following who were perched behind the goal.
Despite signs of progress on Saturday in a much better performance, tonight’s showing was very much a step backwards – or maybe more for that matter. It was a complete contrast as we struggled to get a foothold on the affair as opposed to Saturday, where we controlled the game for large parts. We did have some prolonged spells of possession but it was in areas where we were unable to hurt the opposition.
The fact that we named a fairly strong side but seriously struggled worried me, but we can’t read too much in to pre-season games I guess…lets just hope that this was just a ‘blip’ and we perform much more professionally and effectively come the Wigan game at the Ricoh in just over a weeks time.
With the referee starting proceedings, the Sky Blues looked to get on the front foot early on and they drove forward within the first couple of minutes. Some very neat interchange saw us pass our way around the Cambridge defence, the ball was then brought inside by Ruben Lameiras and the Portuguese midfielder gave Sam Beasant his first test of the game but he responded well down low to his left.
The home side fashioned a chance of their own soon after on 4 minutes as Jordan Slew did well to win a corner. Luke Berry swung in a delivery and Leon Legge headed powerfully in to the ground before seeing his effort deflected over – a warning sign for City. These early opportunities didn’t set the tone for the game as both sides began to find chances harder to come by. It was a fairly even opening ten minutes with very little action apart from a James Maddison penalty appeal that was rightly turned down on 7 minutes as the youngster fell down theatrically.
Soon after, Coventry began to enjoy some more possession of the ball in their own half but Cambridge pressed high in attempt to force mistakes, and that’s exactly what they did on 16 minutes. A wayward pass allowed former City man, Robbie Simpson to pick up the ball on the edge of the area but he could only manage to fire his effort way wide of the post.
With the game quietening down there wasn’t really too much happening of any note. On 20 minutes Maddison was set free via a sly Lameiras pass but Josh Coulsen slid in heroically to deny his effort. With just a further few seconds on the clock the Sky Blues did manage to bundle the ball in to the net following a Maddison corner, the assistant’s flag was raised though and this was as good as it got for City.
Cambridge began to really look the better side from this point however as they started to have the lions share of possession. It was another mistake from City that gifted the home side their next chance on 24 minutes however, Lee Burge miscued a kick straight to Luke Berry but he recovered with a smart save after good feet from the Cambridge man. Just one minute later and it was Aaron Martin who inexcusably lost position this time around, Barry Corr failed to make the Sky Blues pay though with a very tame effort.
United continued to press for an opener and they began to really drive forward with intent. Jordan Slew flashed a great delivery across goal with 26 minutes played but nobody was there to connect, and just a couple of minutes later Cambridge did tap home. Maddison’s misplaced pass allowed Conor Newton to play a piercing ball towards Corr, the frontman finished calmly but the home fan’s celebrations were short-lived as it was ruled out for offside.
With 34 minutes on the clock, the U’s had the ball in the back of the net again but it was allowed to stand this time around as their pressure was rewarded. Some strong play out wide again ensured the home side won a corner, Luke Berry then delivered another peach of a cross but City’s defending was poor. Leon Legge was allowed to run and attack the ball unmarked and his bullet of a header flew past the helpless Burge to put the Sky Blues 1-0 down.
The remainder of the half was tightly contested and City were looking for a route back in to the game. Lameiras was a shining light going forward again and he won a corner on 39 minutes. The resulting delivery was drilled in to a dangerous area courtesy of Maddison but nobody attacked the ball to the supporter’s frustration, leaving me to question why players weren’t committing. One last chance was fashioned just before the break as Maddison rolled in Romain Vincelot, the midfielder then struck an effort that rose marginally over the bar and it was the home side in the lead at half-time.
With new loan signing Adam Armstrong in the stands watching, Mowbray opted to take off Marcus Tudgay and Danny Swanson at the interval to replace them with George Thomas and Jim O’Brien respectively in hope for an impact. The Sky Blues started the second period relatively well as they knocked the ball around well, this resulted in a Lameiras chance on 50 minutes as the attacking midfielder showed great flair to feint a pass and beat his man before seeing his powerful strike blocked.
Following this promising early spell we seemed to drop off a little again and this allowed Cambridge to regain control of proceedings. The next chance didn’t come about until an hour had been played but it was Jordan Slew who reaped havoc again. Pace and power allowed the striker to skip past four City defenders far too easily before shooting weakly at Burge, it was all too simple though.
Despite not being able to get in to rythym, the Sky Blues did create the next chance of the affair but it was the lack of striking instincts that proved costly once more. Possession was recycled and Vincelot found himself in space deep inside the opposition half, he then played an exquisite clipped ball to George Thomas who controlled elegantly before squaring across goal. As earlier in the game, no bodies were put on the line and the ball ended up trickling away from goal before being cleared to safety…all it needed was a touch.
City weren’t on top by any means but they began to create more half-chances in a more positive spell soon after. With 65 minutes played, a very controlled build-up reached John Fleck who drilled a shot from range that veered wide of the near corner. Just 5 minutes later and the best chance of the game for City was carved out as Vincelot played a picturesque chipped through ball to Jim O’Brien who beat the offside trap, the Scotsman then controlled well before attempting to lob the oncoming goalkeeper to no avail as he held on.
The final 20 minutes were fairly even again but mistakes were still present for both sides which lead to a dull conclusion. City had a few chances as Chris Stokes rose to head an O’Brien cross but saw his marker do enough to deny him on 76 minutes, Jordan Willis then stung the palms of Beasant with 79 minutes played. A Maddison corner on 82 minutes then saw City have their third chance in relatively quick succession but Aaron Martin didn’t generate enough power on his header to trouble the ‘keeper who clutched the ball gratefully.
Just a couple of minutes later and United nearly doubled their lead through Jordan Chiedoze but Burge did just enough to keep the substitute out. The young goalkeeper was then called in to action during the next move as he denied Jordan Slew with safe hands. Two final chances came about before full-time and they both fell in the way of the Sky Blues, both weren’t taken however. George Thomas dragged an effort wide of the far post on 88 minutes following another clever Lameiras pass before the latter of the two blazed an effort over in stoppage time. The game was brought to an end almost immediately after to signal the Sky Blues’ second defeat of pre-season.
There is no doubt in my mind that the performance has to be the worst of pre-season so far as we really found ourselves against it. At times we kept the ball for lengthy periods of time but we didn’t seem to advance in to dangerous positions with it, seeming like we were ‘passing for sake of it’ at times. Clearly having a lack of strikers doesn’t help with this but we saw some great interchange on Saturday, why not tonight?
I felt that physically we were dominated as well at times and this is worrying as a lot of teams in our league boast powerful, strong athletes in whom we must compete with. As I said we kept the ball comfortably in period but when it game to the nitty-gritty parts we were lacklustre. Despite this, I thought Romain Vincelot put in a competent display again as he won back possession and started attacks on numerous occasions, along with the defence who did restrict the home side to little clear-cut chances again.
When United did have any chances Burge was on hand to deny them, apart from the corner which left him stranded again, similar to the goal at Portsmouth as his defence didn’t fulfil their roles as set-pieces continue to be a problem. However, the ‘keeper didn’t have the best of games himself and his distribution was way below par which resulted in Cambridge being gifted possession on far too many occasions – he was let off the hook a little bit but he’ll learn.
My main observation from the game though was how much we miss a physical presence up front who can cause problems. Marcus Tudgay was forced to come deep to receive the ball and we were left with no outlet up top because lets face it, George Thomas isn’t going to win aerial duels too often. We are crying out for an experienced ‘big man’ who can provide us with an option when we need it, someone who can bring people like Maddison and Lameiras in to play, a James Hanson or Kevin Davies brand of player.
Without that, I believe we will possibly struggle. Hopefully we’ll see Adam Armstrong in action on Saturday versus Oxford, but we are a few players away still. Too many mistakes were creeping in during the game too, I just pray that we’ve rectified these prior to the opening weekend. Let’s see if Mowbray can work some magic in regards to finding a couple more players and hopefully we may see an improvement on Saturday – we can’t forget the Luton game though, there is plenty of encouraging signs.
Lee Burge – 6
Jordan Willis – 6
Sam Ricketts – 7
Aaron Martin – 6
Chris Stokes – 6
John Fleck – 6.5
Romain Vincelot – 7
James Maddison – 6.5
Danny Swanson – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Marcus Tudgay – 5
George Thomas – 6
Jim O’Brien – 6.5
Dion Kelly-Evans – N/A (insufficient minutes)
Coventry City: Burge, Willis (Di. Kelly-Evans 81), Ricketts, Martin, Stokes, Vincelot, Fleck, Lameiras, Swanson (O’Brien 45), Maddison, Tudgay (G.Thomas 45).
Unused Subs: Charles-Cook, Phillips, Harries, Finch, Stevenson, Lawton, Haynes, Dev. Kelly-Evans.
Cambridge United: Beasant (GK), Legge, Coulson, Roberts (C), Omozusi (Chiedoze 73), Newton, Keane (Hughes 45), Berry, Simpson (Taylor 57), Corr (Lowe 81), Slew (Horne 85).
Unused Subs: Brown, Williams, Burns, McDermid.