New season, new found optimism. It turned out to be a dream opening day as the Sky Blues secured a victory against promotion favourites, Wigan Athletic. With 13,000 supporters looking on, Mowbray’s side put in a professional performance to see off their opponents.
After a poor pre-season however, I doubt that many City supporters would have been anticipating such a positive result. With Sam Ricketts, Roman Vincelot, Ruben Lameiras and Adam Armstrong all making their competitive debuts for the Sky Blues, they would have been hoping to have a positive impact on the affair.
The season got off to a relentless start as both sides looked to force their way forward early on. It was the Sky Blues who looked to pose more of a threat as with just 3 minutes on the clock Romain Vincelot found Adam Armstrong with a superb ball, the striker then controlled exquisitely before firing a cross across the face of goal but nobody was in their to meet it.
After a fairly shaky start, the away side began to settle on the ball a little more but City’s high line made it difficult for them to get forward. It was this pressure that saw Coventry enjoy relative control of the game despite not seeing too much of the ball, Wigan continued to play the ball around but in harmless areas as Mowbray’s side were content to let them have it.
With no real attempts to note from either team so far, Michael Jacobs blazed way over the bar before the Sky Blues created the first real chance of the affair. Jim O’Brien stole the ball tenaciously in midfield, the Scotsman then probed forward before sliding a pinpoint pass through to Armstrong who timed his run perfectly, the on-loan striker then slid the ball past the goalkeeper on 15 minutes to open his account and mark a dream debut – sending the home crowd in to euphoria.
Wigan looked for a way back in to the game after conceding and they broke away almost immediately from the restart. A sly ball from midfield allowed Will Grigg to drive in to the area, he then struck low but Lee Burge was on hand to save well with his feet. As the game began to open up, the Sky Blues went close again up the other end just 2 minutes later after a perfectly weighted O’Brien pass found Ruben Lameiras who won a free-kick. James Maddison whipped the dead ball in and Reda Johnson rose above his marker, the header dropped over the bar though.
Following a very bright opening 20 minutes for Coventry, the Latics began to grow in to the game and they started to dominate possession. Despite forcing their way in to dangerous areas the City back line was thwarting them admirably and their next chance came about on 29 minutes. Francisco Junior and JonJoe Kenny combined well down the right wing before a cross was delivered, Grigg was unable to get the direction on his header however as Burge watched it past his post.
Gary Caldwell’s side continued to venture forward but inspired defending kept them at bay. Meanwhile, City’s forwards were causing mayhem with their pace and Wigan’s defence showed huge contrast as they struggled to contain Armstrong, Maddison and Lameiras. After an offside flag denied Armstrong, the striker beat the trap on 36 minutes as Maddison released him, he then cut inside before smashing an effort which was held at the second attempt by Richard O’Donnell.
The final portion of the half carried on in a similar vein as Wigan controlled possession as they looked for a breakthrough, defensively the Sky Blues continued to stand strong however to limit the away side’s attacking options. With Mowbray stating pre-match that the affair could be similar to a ‘game of chess’, he seemed to be correct as the sides battled it out – it was the home side who had the advantage at the halfway stage.
With Wigan shooting towards the 2000 travelling fans in the second half, they started on the front foot as they went close to equalising just a minute in. A cross was drilled in from the left hand side and with Grigg lurking with intent inside the six-yard box, Sam Ricketts got his body across excellently to divert the ball behind and deny a clear-cut chance.
With 50 minutes played the Sky Blues notched the performance up a gear and from this point onwards they were in full control. The next chance came about in miraculous fashion as O’Donnell received the ball inside his area via a throw-in, before he had time to react Armstrong was lively again in closing him down and it nearly paid dividends as the attempted clearance bounced off the striker and agonisingly over the bar.
Some breathtaking build-up play saw the Sky Blues go close to doubling their advantage on 58 minutes as Wigan were unable to deal with the intensity. Incisive interchange within the midfield allowed the ball to eventually reach Chris Stokes in advanced position, he then shifted to his right and lashed a fierce effort just an inch wide of the far post from 30 yards.
As the atmosphere grew around the Ricoh Arena and City fans smelt another goal coming, it looked as if Lameiras would score following a Maddison through ball on the hour mark but O’Donnell was down quickly to deny the Portuguese midfielder. Just a minute later however and the Sky Blues did manage to find the net again. A fifty-fifty challenge was won with determination from John Fleck and he skipped away down the left flank, he then drilled in a tempting low cross which found Armstrong who finished deftly as the ball struck the far post before crossing the line.
Due to Wigan subsequently having to embark on more forward runs in attempt to get back in to the game, it started to open up to City’s advantage. With 68 minutes elapsed, Vincelot played a splitting ball to Armstrong and only the width of a post denied him a hat-trick as his long range strike had the goalkeeper well beaten.
Up the other end of the field the Sky Blues still placed emphasis on their shape and Wigan simply couldn’t carve open Mowbray’s side. A half-chance was had on 71 minutes but Ricketts put in another block to take the sting off the effort and Burge held comfortably. There’s no doubt that the away side began to feel frustrated and they were left trying to force things, the final ball was lacklustre however.
The final 10 minutes of the tie petered out really but there was still time for a few more efforts on goal. Max Power tested Burge on 80 minutes but the keeper responded well to handle the strike, Craig Davies then saw a long range effort fly wide during the next attack. As City persisted with their resolute defending, this allowed Maddison to break in stoppage time and he saw a curling effort cannon off the woodwork which saved Wigan for a second time. This proved to be the final chance of the game and the referee put his lips to his whistle soon after to hand City a deserved three points.
Football is certainly back. I’d been waiting for this day for what seemed an eternity and I was honestly like a kid at Christmas when I woke up knowing it was matchday. I was optimistic going in to the game but even I didn’t envision such a promising display and most importantly, a victory.
As Mowbray keeps reiterating, we are a few players short at the moment but Saturday’s game gave me plenty of encouragement. In all fairness to Wigan, they did see more of the ball and they made us work hard for a win but our defensive work was absolutely outstanding. Chris Stokes and Sam Ricketts were the two who stood out for me, the aforementioned covered superbly and the latter took real control of the game. This gave us a real foundation to build from and it enabled us to break forward and score two very good goals – it could’ve been more.
I thought the shape and discipline of the side deserves a lot of credit as we restricted a much fancied side to very little little. The addition of Vincelot has made a huge difference to our midfield as he shields our back four to good effect, if he continues like that he could be a standout for us. Fleck was also allowed more time on the ball due to this and he was able to dictate play with more effect, providing the link between defence and attack.
In terms of attacking we also looked threatening and some great interchange was on display between Maddison, Lameiras, O’Brien and Armstrong. With the amount of technical ability we possess, this 4-2-3-1 system could prove to be effective as the pace could open teams up. It was a very upbeat performance and a brilliant result, the atmospher was top-notch also – we’ve got to keep grounded though, after all, there’s 45 more hills to climb.
Lee Burge – 7
Chris Stokes – 8
Reda Johnson – 7.5
Sam Ricketts – 9
Jordan Willis – 7.5
John Fleck – 7
Romain Vincelot – 8
James Maddison – 8
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Jim O’Brien – 8
Adam Armstrong 8.5
Aaron Phillips – 7
Bryn Morris – 7
George Thomas – N/A
Coventry City: Burge, Willis (Phillips 45), Ricketts, Johnson, Stokes, O’Brien (G.Thomas 79), Vincelot, Fleck, Lameiras (Morris 75), Maddison, Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Haynes, Martin
Wigan Athletic: O’Donnell, McCann, Morgan, Daniels (Murray 73), Power, James, Jacobs, Kenny (McNaughton 54), Grigg, Junior (Davies 54), Perkins.
Unused Substitues: Nicholls, Barnett, Odelusi, Jennings.