The Sky Blues’ difficulties at Spotland continued on Tuesday as a tight affair ended in a goalless stalemate. A healthy contingent of City supporters made the journey north as Joe Cole made his debut for the club, something many people were looking forward to.
It didn’t quite to be the dream start for the ex-England international as Rochdale were organised to thwart a Coventry side who are finding it difficult to score away from home. A few decent chances were spurned by both sides during the tie and it turned out to be that inefficient finishing that kept the scores level.
The match got underway and Rochdale looked confident from the outset. They sprayed the ball around the field well early on and the first chance was created on 5 minutes as a result. It was a neat move that resulted in Scott Tanser picking up the ball out wide, he then cut inside past Aaron Phillips before firing an effort towards goal. Handball appeals from the home section of support were in vein, however, as the ball hit Aaron Martin’s midriff and bounced to safety.
Coventry began to see a little more of the ball soon after though and they had a couple of chances in the 11th minute. A perfectly weighted Jim O’Brien pass set Adam Armstrong free in the area but Josh Lillis was out quickly to deny him, the striker then went close again with his side’s next move but his curled effort dropped over the bar.
As Dale’s physicality started to come to the forefront, disgruntled shouts from the away end greeted the referee’s decisions not to book some feisty challenges. Despite this, the Sky Blues continued to plug away and on 16 minutes they had another chance after a route one move. Reice Charles-Cook kicked long after claiming a cross and it was his rapid distribution that caused problems, Marc-Antione Fortune then managed to head on to Joe Cole but he couldn’t hit the target after shifting the ball to make room for a shot.
It continued to be a tight affair but a fast pace meant both teams were getting in to attacking positions. With 21 minutes on the clock Charles-Cook was forced to get in the way of a powerful Matty Lund strike, the keeper held on to the shot well though with bodies closing in. Up the other end, Mowbray’s men were getting in to promising positions but a combination of poor final balls and good Rochdale defending denied them any real opportunities.
As the home side continued to press forward, a few chances were squandered including a gilt-edged one on 34 minutes. An aerial ball was pumped forward and it was flicked on in to Ian Henderson’s path, the attacking midfielder then skipped through with only the keeper to beat but he miscued his half-volley wide of the far post.
This seemed to be a wake up call for the Sky Blues and they subsequently put themselves in the driving seat. Just 2 minutes after Henderson’s miss, a tidy one-two between O’Brien and Cole lead to the latter playing a ball across goal which was well cut out by a defender with Fortune ready for a tap-in.
A couple of final openings were carved out before the half-time whistle via Coventry and they were unlucky not to go in 1-0 up. It was Charles-Cook’s quick distribution that found Aaron Phillips on the right, he played the ball to Armstrong who neatly switched the play to Cole on the far side, the loanee then chopped his way inside before shaping an effort narrowly wide from 20 yards. The biggest chance then fell on 43 minutes as a clever Bryn Morris pass found Fortune onside in the box, the striker couldn’t beat Lillis who stood upright, however.
With the scores still level, the second period got off to a flying start as the two teams looked to gain an early advantage. An end to end first few minutes provided no chances but Rochdale missed another clear-cut chance on 50 minutes, Tanser sending a fierce effort just wide of the post from the centre of the box. Almost immediately up the other end, Coventry were thwarted by a superb Lillis save as Armstrong attempted to slot the on-one-one chance under the goalkeeper after he raced on top sublime Cole pass.
Both sets of supporters were on the edge of their seats at this point and Rochdale were through on goal again themselves on 55 minutes. A sly ball over the City defence from Callum Camps fell to substitute Joe Bunney but he dragged his shot wide. Just a minute later Bunney found himself with another golden opportunity but Charles-Cook denied him this time around with an exceptional save after rushing off his goal line.
The manic passage of play didn’t end there and Ryan Kent was introduced as a substitute for the Sky Blues on 58 minutes and he had a huge chance to make an instantaneous impact. A swift move came to fruition after some strong Chris Stokes defending and the ball was shifted across to Kent who skipped in to area, he then let fly but the keeper saved smartly down low.
Things started to settle down soon after and a lot of the play was contested in the midfield areas. As both managers altered their sides with substitutions, the rhythm of the tie was also effected to dampen the excitement levels. It wasn’t until 74 minutes that the next chance was created, Jacob Murphy firing straight at Lillis from 30 yards.
As the game of chess pursued, no more opportunities were manufactured until the final minutes of the match. The home supporters should have been celebrating on 90 minutes as Jamie Allen somehow put a massive chance wide from inside the area with only Charles-Cook in his way. Marcus Tudgay was then denied by a flying Lillis save up the other end and the ball was tipped on the bar, the linesman’s flag was raised anyway though. This proved to be final move and the referee blew his whistle to signal full-time.
With injuries and suspensions enforcing Tony Mowbray to make a number of changes, this game always looked like a ticky task. Rochdale are an organised side and during our last encounter at Spotland they restricted us exceptionally well – they did it again this time around.
One thing that was immediately noticeable from the stands was the home side’s advantage in the height department. Surprisingly, going forward they didn’t cause too many problems with that asset but defensively they won every ball in the air. Fortune had a hard time out there and he had no bearing on affairs, although he was left isolated at times.
I felt as if we were going long too often and we weren’t using the ball to our best capabilities on the floor. This frustrated me during the game but we have to give credit to Rochdale who pressed in the right areas. Keith Hill had clearly done his homework and they didn’t allow us to settle on the ball and dictate processing, forcing us to clear our lines on numerous occasions.
Although we were undoubtedly sloppy at times, we did string together a few neat moves to open up their defence and create chances for ourselves. Armstrong probably had the best of the lot but he struck it too tamely, I’m not taking anything away from the keeper who saved it well, but if he put his foot through it we would have been 1-0 up.
Despite our inability to put away opportunities, there were plenty of positives to take from what I think is a solid point. The performance of the defence was admirable, particularly without Reda Johnson at the heart of it. A central pairing of Martin and Ricketts dealt with most threats well whilst Stokes was impeccable at left-back. Phillips didn’t have his best game but he contributed to a clean sheet.
That’s five matches on the spin where we’ve managed to shut out the opposition and that’s a huge positive. Naivety cost us a lot of points last season but this term we’ve been solid at the back. We have a good balance now and Reice Charles-Cook has made a brilliant impression, he’s yet to concede a goal since claiming the number one spot. He made a few superb stops tonight and he deserves huge credit, the lad breeds confidence.
Saturday’s game against Swindon will provide a fresh challenge but I’m confident we can get a result. I have no worries defensively but we need to find a way to score on the road again, we’ve only scored 2 goals in our last 5 away fixtures. If we can reignite our scoring touch we should be fine. We’ve gained another point and moved up to 4th, that’s good enough for me, let’s push on further at the weekend.
Reice Charles-Cook – 8
Chris Stokes – 8
Aaron Martin – 7.5
Sam Ricketts – 7.5
Aaron Phillips – 6.5
Romain Vincelot – 7
Bryn Morris – 5
Jim O’Brien – 7.5
Joe Cole – 7
Adam Armstrong – 6
Marc-Antione Fortune – 5
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Stokes, Ricketts (C), Martin, Phillips, Morris, Vincelot, O’Brien, Cole (Kent 57), Armstrong (Murphy 72), Fortune (Tudgay 53).
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Harries, C. Thomas, Lameiras.
Rochdale: Lillis, McNulty, Lancashire, Lund, Andrew (Alessandra 63), McDermott (Bunney 53), Tanser, Allen (C), Cannon, Camps (Mendez-Laing 75), Henderson.
Unused Substitutes: Eastham, Barry-Murphy, Kennedy, Castro Pereira.