Saturday marked the end of a pre-season schedule that hasn’t managed to get too many fans feeling optimistic about the upcoming season. Oxford United were our final opponents as we took on the League Two outfit at Nuneaton Town’s Liberty Way.
With no wins to our name in four friendly fixtures thus far, the Sky Blues would be looking to sign off their preparations with a victory. Mowbray stated that all of our opponents would provide stern competition, but not many would have expected the League Two counterparts to dominate in the way in which they did.
As Adam Armstrong joined the squad and made his debut up front, supporters were hoping for a more productive display on the attacking front. However, the team as a whole put in a below-par performance and we subsequently couldn’t force our way in to the game. In truth, the score line wouldn’t have been unfair if it was 3-0 to Oxford.
The game got off to a fairly even start as both sides were looking to settle in to the game. With possession hard to come by in the opening stages it was a bit of a scrappy affair, but the first half-chance was created on 4 minutes. On-loan, Adam Armstrong received the ball down the left and he made a lively start as he skipped past an opponent before pulling back to James Maddison, the midfielder was thwarted by a block tackle however as his touch was a little too heavy.
Another chance was fashioned for the Sky Blues with 8 minutes played as Maddison played a long ball forward, Armstrong then raced on to it but he was denied as a defender steamed in with a solid block. It was a relatively bright opening from City but that is really as good as it got for Tony Mowbray’s side. From this moment on the League Two side began to grow in to the game and they looked determined to put on a show for their supporters.
United saw their first opportunity open up on 9 minutes after good work won them a throw-in. This was then taken quickly by Joe Skarz and it found Liam Sercombe, the midfielder then tried his luck from the edge of the area but Lee Burge got down well to save. Confidence seemed to be oozing within the U’s squad and they began to play some very neat football and apply pressure, the Sky Blues’ defence looked comfortable in soaking it up however.
With Oxford’s spell of possession failing to cause too many problems, City managed to break with speed on 17 minutes. Danny Swanson picked up the ball within midfield and he played a forward ball to release Maddison, Sam Slocombe was alert to the danger though as he raced off of his line to gather the ball at the feet of the midfielder.
The next 10 minutes or so didn’t provide too much action as the game evened out with both teams struggling to keep the ball. When Coventry did see possession, it was mainly across the defence and deep in midfield as they caused Oxford no real problems whatsoever. Armstrong was making some good movements in the final third but he received very little service as the Sky Blues’ passing looked very lacklustre.
It was the Yellows that looked more efficient going forward as they knocked the ball around with real purpose, causing City all sorts of problems. With 29 minutes on the clock they had the ball in the back of the net but to our relief the assistant’s flag was up on the far side. It all stemmed from a very neat interchange in the Oxford midfield, Danny Rose then let fly from range but he saw his effort canon back off the bar via a deflection, Danny Hylton then nodded in the loose ball but he was adjudged to be in an offside position.
Just a few minutes later and Oxford were attacking again as they looked to find a breakthrough. It was another swift break that saw them venture forward as Rose embarked on a probing run, he then squared the ball to Sercombe but he hesitated with his effort and Romain Vincelot was on hand to challenge heroically to deny the U’s a very good chance.
Coventry were really struggling to get a grip on the game now as Oxford really turned up the heat. They couldn’t make their pressure count though as they failed to convert their final chance of the half on 40 minutes. A long pass forward from Rose was well controlled by Hylton, he then played the ball back to Skarz and his pinpoint cross found Patrick Hoban but the forward couldn’t direct his header.
It didn’t get any easier for the Sky Blues in the second half as the Yellows came out of the traps looking to find a way through. Neat build-up within the midfield on 46 minutes allowed Hoban to pick up the ball on the edge of the box, he then shifted the ball well before firing a low effort at Lee Burge who somehow managed to tip the ball on to the post before gathering the rebound gratefully. It was a tremendous save from the rookie stopper but it was far too easy as the defence stood off and allowed Oxford room to manoeuvre.
With the Sky Blues under the cosh Oxford broke forward again through Hylton who skipped past a couple of City defenders before being stopped in his tracks by a committed Chris Stokes challenge. Both players required medical attention following the incident but Stokes was forced to leave the field and Ryan Haynes was brought on in his place. It proved to be a nightmare introduction for the left-back however as just 2 minutes later he slid in unnecessarily in the area to bring down Kemar Roofe, forcing the referee to point to the spot. Once again though, City got away with it as Hylton’s spot-kick was poor and way off target.
Following United’s missed opportunity from 12 yards, the Sky Blues created their only real chances of the half around the hour mark in a rare surge forward. Substitute, Devon Kelly-Evans progressed down the right before rolling to Maddison but his effort was well held by Slocombe. Just a few seconds later and the ‘keeper was required once more as a superb Romain Vincelot ball found Armstrong whose low effort was smartly saved.
The final 30 minutes of the game was certainly one-way traffic as it was all Oxford. With 66 minutes on the clock they were inches away from opening the scoring again as it was becoming increasingly desperate for City. Alex MacDonald took aim from 25 yards after a well-worked move but his effort was parried by Burge, former City youth player Josh Ruffels then picked up the loose ball and he rattled the post with a pile driver from the edge of the area.
Just a couple of minutes later and Jordan Willis was this time at fault as he was barged off the ball far too easily, United then broke but Hoban sliced his strike harmlessly wide following a sly MacDonald pass. The Sky Blues then had an attempt on goal themselves on 70 minutes but with options limited, substitute Marcus Tudgay was forced to let fly from 30 yards and his effort was simply dealt with by Slocombe.
The pattern of the game soon returned to normal following Tudgay’s effort and the U’s forced Burge in to another wonderful save on 73 minutes. MacDonald was at the centre of things again as he released Roofe, the midfielder then smashed the ball low from an angle but the ‘keeper sprung across to divert the ball away from goal. A few minutes later and some great work between Maddison and Armstrong for Coventry saw the latter receive the ball in a very promising position, it was a case of no options for the forward though and the danger was cleared.
It would turn out to be a dull conclusion to the game with the numerous substitutions from both sides breaking up the rhythm of play. Apart from a few long balls to Marcus Tudgay, the Sky Blues didn’t really look too dangerous as Oxford continued to prove more threatening going forward. City’s defence managed to hang on though and the referee soon blew his whistle to bring an end to a 0-0 stalemate – although in truth, a draw would certainly flatter Coventry.
With the 0-0 score line suggesting that the performance wasn’t too bad, I could imagine that if you weren’t at the game you wouldn’t feel too dejected – although it’s still not much to shout about. There was more than meets the eye however and it was a dismal display that probably sums up our pre-season fortunes.
Apart from an opening ten minutes that was fairly average, we were extremely poor. With pretty much our strongest eleven taking to the field I expected much more, especially with only a week to go until the real stuff starts. I just couldn’t believe how bad we were…but at least it is more to learn from.
Despite signing Adam Armstrong we still look very light in the striking department, and although he put in a shift he was left isolated throughout and we desperately need a physical presence up there. He was feeding on scraps for the entirety of the match as our passing was atrocious and way off the mark, bar a couple of Vincelot’s decent forward balls.
That was our main flaw in the game – the inability to keep the ball and use it effectively in the right areas. Going forward we were unable to find feet and we started looking long but it was more out of desperation. After seeing some superb interchange within the midfield away at Luton we would have expected them to build on that, but the last two matches haven’t come anywhere near to that standard. There was some neat passages of play between Maddison and Armstrong but not frequently enough, although this can be worked on.
Despite looking relatively solid defensively during the other friendly fixtures we were exploited far too easily this time around. Chance after chance came for Oxford and only an offside flag, missed penalty and the left-hand post (twice) saved the Sky Blues from a defeat. Lee Burge was left too exposed as the midfield provided no cover for the defence, the back four didn’t cover themselves in glory either though with some weak performances.
We’ve got a lot of work to do, we are a way off yet! Always believe though, I do believe we could have a relatively decent season but we have a lot of work to do. We have to remember that pre-season results don’t mean too much though and it’s a completely different ball game when it becomes competitive. Lets get behind the lads next week at the Ricoh and see what happens…
Lee Burge – 7
Chris Stokes – 6
Sam Ricketts – 5
Reda Johnson – 5
Jordan Willis – 5
John Fleck – 5
Romain Vincelot – 6
Danny Swanson – 5
James Maddison – 5
Ruben Lameiras – 5
Adam Armstrong – 6
Devon Kelly-Evans – 6
Ryan Haynes – 5
Marcus Tudgay – 5
Aaron Phillips – N/A
Ivor Lawton – N/A
Ben Stevenson – N/A
Jack Finch – N/A
Dion Kelly-Evans – N/A
*N/A = not enough game time.
Coventry City: Burge, Willis (Di. Kelly-Evans 86), Ricketts, Johnson, Stokes (Haynes 51), Lameiras (Tudgay 61), Vincelot (Phillips 75), Fleck (Finch 86), Swanson (Kelly-Evans 42), Maddison (Lawton 81), Armstrong (Stevenson 81).
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Martin, Harries.
Oxford United: Slocombe, Baldock (Long 76), Skarz, Roofe (Ashby 76), Mullins, Wright, Rose (Baldock 76), Secombe (Ruffels 51), Taylor (Hoban 18), Hylton (O’Dowda 61), McDonald.
Unused Substitutes: Dunckley, Crocombe, Roberts.