The Sky Blues supporters were exposed to plenty of entertainment against Peterborough on Saturday and they witnessed a 7-goal thriller on Tuesday night too. It wasn’t the best performance by a long shot and the home side certainly made tough work of a game that they should have seen out more comfortably after putting themselves into a commanding position.
A loyal band of Barnsley fans that were situated in the away end would’ve felt deflated at the break, but their side came out fighting after the restart. Any hope was false lived, however, as some moments of magic saw Coventry edge themselves towards the summit of League One with another home win.
The confident mood within the Coventry City camp was clear to see immediately after the game got underway and the home side made the perfect start to spark euphoria. With merely 2 minutes on the clock, John Fleck headed a loose ball on to Ryan Kent and the loanee made no mistakes from that point. After receiving the ball out wide, the pace-merchant utilised his acceleration to glide in to a central position from which he then curled an exquisite effort into the far corner past Adam Davies.
Falling behind early on forced The Tykes to come out of the traps and searched for a way back in to the game. The ball was being played in to attacking positions but they failed to cause City’s defence any problems. Their first effort of the tie came about on 10 minutes from a distant free-kick, although Alfie Mawson only managed to blaze harmlessly over the bar.
The Sky Blues continued to settle in to the game and they were playing some aesthetically pleasing football. On 15 minutes Adam Armstrong forced the opposition keeper in to a smart low save after he was found by Joe Cole in the City midfield. Just a few minutes later Davies was left helpless in the away goal as the Ricoh crowd watched their side double their advantage. A seamless move started as Sam Ricketts played a pinpoint diagonal ball that found Aaron Phillips out wide. The right-back then drilled a low cross in to a dangerous area and Armstrong concluded the move with an emphatic finish in to the right corner.
After Coventry extended their lead, the intensity of proceedings dropped as possession was laboured from both sides. Barnsley began to grow in to the game, however, and they started to push the Sky Blues in to a more defensive stance. The home defence did stay rigid though, to restrict the space, and they subsequently nullified the away attack.
Coventry still looked to be the more threatening of the teams and Phillips sliced a half-volley wide from 18 yards in the 25th minute. Chances soon began to dry up and talking points were at a premium. Barnsley did waste a free-kick on 35 minutes and Fleck did fire on target for Coventry, but the biggest opportunity came from some Reice Charles-Cook complaceny. His poor pass put Fleck under pressure in his defensive third and he was disposessed by Ben Pearson, the attacker’s touch was heavy though and the City keeper pounced on the ball to spare his blushes.
With Barnsley being behind at the break, their supporters would have been looking for a response and on 46 minutes the away team were back in the game. A corner was won off a long throw-in and Josh Scowen whipped in the dead ball, Alfie Mawson then rose highest to plant a header in to the bottom corner.
The Tykes’ period of delight was short lived though as a relentless few minutes saw Coventry reinstate their wider margin on 51 minutes. A loose ball was won by the home side and it reached Jim O’Brien who then played a skilful flick towards Armstrong. The striker then beat the offside trap and he kept his cool when bearing down on goal by sliding the ball past Davies.
This whirlwind period carried on and Barnsley narrowed the deficit again on 54 minutes. A clipped ball in to the area forced Ricketts and Scowen to challenge for the ball, the lather then won the duel to free up room for a strike which he slotted past Charles-Cook. Emotions were thrown in to the air once more on 59 minutes, however, as Coventry scored their fourth goal of the night. A free-kick was won around 25 yards away from goal and home debutant Cole curled his set-piece in to the top corner of the net past the helpless goalkeeper.
From this point on the home defence sat deeper in hope of keeping their lead, but Barnsley started to be the side in control. On 63 minutes Charles-Cook was forced into an acrobatic save as a looping Mawson header was clawed off of the line by the stopper. Further chances were carved out but the City bodies managed to make some important blocks.
The game rapidly became a physical battle and Barnsley began to bombard the Coventry area with aerial balls. Mowbray’s men dealt with any danger well initially and this allowed them a platform to attack, Fleck firing wide on 78 minutes.
With the game petering out, both teams had chances late on and Murphy struck at the keeper’s chest from an angle. Barnsley were handed one final chance to add to their scoring charts, however, from the penalty spot after a Phillips handball. Scowen did step up to dispatch his effort but it was in vain as the referee signalled a Sky Blues victory.
As I said in my piece for the telegraph on Monday, it’s a rollercoaster ride supporting City and that game epitomised those feelings. Despite starting the game very strongly and looking like we were in the driving seat at 2-0 up, the following 70 minutes frustrated me as we lost control.
Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that we’ve picked up 3 points, but we allowed Barnsley to get back in to the game far too easily. Our defending was abysmal at times and I can’t look at any of their goals and say they weren’t preventable. They were all gifts and I’m sure we’ll work to put that right.
I was disappointed to see how we sat off Lee Johnson’s side once we’d scored our second and it invited the away team to attack. They were always going to chase the game in the hope of halting their catastrophic losing run, but we made a hash of thwarting them. Mowbray hinted at fatigue for a possible reason of City’s frailties at the back, but it’s not an excuse really for me.
The performance of Reice Charles-Cook was also surprisingly poor. He’s a young goalkeeper and you expect some inconsistencies from time to time, but he has to stop being so relaxed on the ball. It’s fine to play out from the back when there’s room to manoeuvre, however, he was attempting to pick out players in tight areas and he was nearly caught out on a few instances. There’s no doubting he has been exceptional thus far since ousting Lee Burge from the side, but he has to be more sensible.
Moving away from the goals we conceded, the ones we put away up the other end were absolutely sensational. I think this sums up our game at the moment perfectly. Defensively we look naive and susceptible without the powerhouse that is Reda Johnson in the centre, and this was emphasised by Barnsley’s effective use of aerial balls. Going forward we are unstoppable though, we ooze class and our combination of pace, guile and potency allows us to tear teams apart.
With that quality in the final third we can get away with the odd defensive howler as you can bank on Armstrong to put a chance away. It’s risky though, as if your goals dry up and you continue conceding, you’ll drop numerous points. If we can tighten up defensively and keep firing on all cylinders higher up the pitch, I’ve every confidence that we’ll only push higher up the league, however.
Overall, the performance was below expectations and we are capable of much, much more. However, there are still plenty of positives to take, let’s take scoring 4 goals for example. As I’ve already stated, they were all of extremely high quality and the threat we pose is remarkable. At the end of the day, every side has off days and it just so happens that we’ve grinded out a victory.
It’s games like these that could potentially prove key at the conclusion of the campaign. If we can maintain this unbeaten run at home and start scoring on the road again, we’ll be in for a solid season. This may not have been the polished performance we all wanted, but it’s a win nonetheless and we move on. We learn from our mistake and we take confidence from the 3 points. We can’t really complain at the moment can we?
Reice Charles-Cook – 5
Chris Stokes – 6
Aaron Martin – 6
Sam Ricketts – 6
Aaron Phillips – 6
John Fleck – 6
Romain Vincelot – 7
Ryan Kent – 6
Jim O’Brien – 6
Joe Cole – 7
Adam Armstrong – 8
Jacob Murphy – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 5
Marcus Tudgay – 6
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Phillips, Martin, Ricketts, Stokes, Kent (Tudgay 69), Vincelot, Fleck, O’Brien (Lamerias 59), Cole (Murphy 59), Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Haynes, C Thomas, Fortune.
Barnsley: Davies, Wabara, Smith, Mawson, Nyatanga, Roberts, Scowen, Isgrove, Pearson, Winnall (Jackson 84), Smith (Wilkinson 58).
Unused Substitutes: Townsend, Bree, Abbott, Maris, Templeton.