On Tuesday night we saw Crewe Alexandra return to the Ricoh Arena, a stadium which has been a happy hunting ground for the Railwaymen in recent years. Standing in their way however were a Coventry City side oozing with confidence, and under Tony Mowbray’s leadership, a side catching the eye of the footballing world. After getting off to a flying start, supporters and players alike were relishing the chance to get one over on our ‘bogey side’.
After a delay to kick off due to queues for tickets, it proved to be another promising performance from the Sky Blues but Crewe proved to be resilient opposition who made life difficult for the home side. With the same starting eleven starting for the third consecutive game, City managed to claim another three points to stay top of the tree and bring further joy to the increasingly upbeat fans.
On a mild night in Coventry, the game was anything but and it was certainly an intense start from the Sky Blues as with less than a minute on the clock supporters were off their seats, Adam Armstrong saw a penalty appeal waved away however after driving in to the Crewe area before being felled. A fairly scrappy few minutes followed but City soon settled down and began to look the more composed of the two sides.
With no wins to their name, Crewe looked to be short of confidence whereas the Sky Blues were quite the opposite. Possession was well kept by the home side and their first real opportunity came via a free-kick on 9 minutes after James Maddison was hacked down, the youngster then took the set piece but his effort curled narrowly over the crossbar. Just 2 minutes later and it was Adam Armstrong who saw a strike go close, Jim O’Brien showed great tenacity in the centre to knock the ball to the on-loan striker, he then showed superb feet to beat his man but his effort rolled wide of the far post.
Crewe were really under pressure at this point and with 13 minutes on the clock they did falter and City took a deserved lead. It was a Maddison corner that lead to the opening after it was cleared to the edge of the area, John Fleck then sprinted towards the loose ball and he lashed it powerfully in to the back of the net to heighten the excitement at the Ricoh.
Following opening the scoring, Tony Mowbray’s side were in full control and chances were being coming at a high rate. It was the Sky Blues’ inability to finish them however that let Crewe off the hook, O’Brien and Maddison did go the closest to widening the score line but to no avail. The away side then managed to equalise themselves with their first effort of the affair firmly against the run of play on 31 minutes. It was a good move which saw Bradden Inman receive the ball out on the left, he was then given too much freedom to cut inside and he curled expertly in to the far corner from the edge of the box past a helpless Lee Burge.
The pattern of the game resumed after the away side levelled the scores, it was the Sky Blues who continued to dominate possession and they were immediately on the front foot again. Maddison saw another penalty shout rightly turned down on 33 minutes before O’Brien forced Ben Garratt in to a wonderful save from a powerful effort from distance a minute later.
In attempt to go in to the interval without conceding again, Crewe defended deep with a bank of five to thwart the home side. Chances still fell for Chris Stokes, Ruben Lameiras and Maddison but neither could be dispatched and the referee shortly blew for half-time. City would’ve been very pleased with their commanding performance but the score line would’ve been equally disappointing as it failed to reflect the sheer dominance of the home side.
The second period began as the first had finished, with the Sky Blues in the driving seat. With 46 minutes played their lead was inches away from being doubled after good work from Stokes won City a corner, Reda Johnson couldn’t quite connect with Maddison’s tempting delivery however from close range.
With 50 minutes on the clock, the home side went close again through O’Brien. Good build-up eventually found Armstrong and he unselfishly rolled the ball to the Scottish midfielder but his low drive from the edge of the box fizzed just wide. The positive opening was rewarded on the next attack however as the Sky Blues did make it 2-1 on 52 minutes. As throughout the game, Maddison displayed delicate feet to roll the ball through to Armstrong, the striker then cut inside deep in to the area before curling a left-footed strike in to the far corner to take his personal goal tally to five.
What happened next was truly unexpected however and the home crowd were silenced as Crewe scored almost immediately to pull the game back level. The away side managed to play the ball out to the right and David Fox subsequently chipped in a pinpoint cross, Marcus Haber then controlled the ball impeccably before confidently slotting past Burge who was left exposed.
Despite Coventry still looking seamless in possession of the ball, the game started to open up a little from this point as both sides searched for a third goal. With confidence high after scoring, Crewe nearly took the lead on 55 minutes but Burge made a fantastic high save to deny Ryan Colclough who elected to shoot from 20 yards after turning well. Despite the scare, it proved to be a wave of Sky Blue again soon after as chances fell to the home side in anundence as an air of composure resulted in fluent, fast-paced football.
Another tidy piece of interchange in the final third saw Armstrong fire over before O’Brien miscued a great chance in to the side-netting from inside the area on 62 minutes. Just 4 minutes later and another opportunity somehow wasn’t converted as Jacob Murphy made an impact off the bench, it was his low driven cross that found Stokes but his sliding effort was miraculously saved from Garratt at point blank range to the Railwaymen’s relief.
Chances started to become harder to come by now as the game turned in to a real battle. The away side began to look more threatening going forward but Sam Ricketts and Reda Johnson were comfortable in dealing with any potential problems through the centre. Romain Vincelot and Fleck were winning the battle of the midfields and this allowed Coventry to attack more freely along with restricting Crewe. The away defence retreated deeper however and it made the task difficult for the home side who found it hard breaking them down.
The next real chance was carved out on 81 minutes but Garratt held well from an Armstrong effort before Crewe failed to connect with a low cross up the other end. After a number of missed attempts, it looked as if the game would drag out to a draw. With 83 minutes on the clock a moment of magic clinched the victory for City however – step up Jim O’Brien! An initial cross from the left wing was headed out of danger but the midfielder was first to the loose ball and he ferociously fired it in to the bottom corner past a sprawling Garratt after an expert first-touch.
The Railwaymen looked to throw the kitchen sink at Mowbray’s men in the dying embers but an organised defence denied them any clear-cut opportunities to break City hearts. Substitutes, Marcus Tudgay and Jacob Murphy both went close in stoppage time but the full-time whistle was sounded to spark the euphoria and make it three wins from three for the Sky Blues.
After the best display I’ve seen from a City side for years at the weekend against Millwall, I was fully expecting us to beat a struggling Crewe side. Thankfully, we did manage to get past the Railwaymen but fair play to them, they made it hard work for us at times.
We didn’t help ourselves in parts as chance after chance was passed by, but we did what was needed and got the result in the end. It was disappointing to concede two easily preventable goals, but one thought sprung to mind when I was leaving the stadium – we wouldn’t have won that game last season.
If you feast your eyes upon the stats from the game you’ll be inclined to think it was one-way traffic, it was for large parts but it wasn’t all plain-sailing. At times when things weren’t going our way, we didn’t panic and we kept to our principles and it thoroughly paid off. We didn’t let conceding or missing chances faze us, we kept plugging away and we got our just rewards.
We seem to have a real togetherness within the squad at the moment and this probably comes from the fact it’s a small, young group of players. The optimism is palpable at the moment and this improves the relationship between the players and supporters – we seem to be really bouncing off of each other. It’s good time to be a Coventry supporter at the moment. We have a team who are playing attractive football, we have a team who are fighting for each other, we have a team to be proud of.
It was another great performance and probably the best midweek display since the Ricoh Arena opened in 2005. The score line would suggest that the game was closely fought but it wasn’t, City were in full control but Crewe being Crewe scored a couple of goals from their only real attacks. All in all, it was another commanding showing and to register 27 shots in a game is extraordinary – on another day we would have won the game by 5! I can’t fault a single player again, they all put a shift in and it’s just a shame we switched off for the goals – Jordan Willis should’ve done better but he’s a work in progress. It’s the three points that count though, and they were fully merited!
Lee Burge – 7
Chris Stokes – 7
Reda Johnson – 8
Sam Ricketts – 7
Jordan Willis – 6
John Fleck – 9
Romain Vincelot – 8
Ruben Lameiras – 7
James Maddison – 8
Jim O’Brien – 8
Adam Armstrong – 8
Jacob Murphy – 7
Marcus Tudgay – N/A
Bryn Morris – N/A
Coventry City: Burge, Willis, Ricketts, Johnson, Stokes, O’Brien (Morris 90), Vincelot, Fleck, Lameiras (Murphy 59), Maddison (Tudgay 83), Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Phillips, Martin, G.Thomas.
Crewe: Garratt, Turton, Guthrie, Ray, Nugent, Haber (Cooper 78), Inman, Fox, King, Bingham, Colclough (Dalla Valle 75).
Unused Substitutes: Richards, Atkinson, Saunders, Baillie, Wintle.