Saturday’s clash between Coventry City and Gillingham was poised to be a tight affair prior to kick-off, but on the day there was only one side in it. Both sets of supporters would have been hoping their formidable attacks would fire on all cylinders, however, the Sky Blues completely outshone their counterparts.
Over 15,000 spectators piled in to the Ricoh Arena and they were treated to some tantalising football. Although the Gillingham contingent would have been understandably infuriated, I’ve no doubt they would admit that The Sky Blues were simply unplayable in the first 45 minutes.
With the atmosphere inside the stadium expectedly loud, the game got off to a bright start as both sides looked to get on the front foot. No chances were created until the 10th minute, however, as neither side got the ball into high areas due to a contest unfolding in the central areas of the pitch.
It was The Sky Blues who carved out the first opening of the game as some neat build-up found its way to Jim O’Brien. The Scottish midfielder then played a pass into Jacob Murphy who occupied a central position, he was then allowed room to take aim and his strike flew narrowly wide of Stuart Nelson’s far post.
From this point on though, Coventry began to take the impetus and they started to drive at their opponents. John Fleck struck straight at the keeper on 12 minutes before Aaron Martin was handed a golden opportunity with 16 minutes played. It was a curling Fleck delivery from a free-kick that picked out the defender but his free header wasn’t powerful enough to cause Nelson any trouble.
The central defender continued to impress though and just 2 minutes later he had a part to play in the next meaningful move. After intercepting a pass inside his own area, Martin sprinted the length of the pitch to pick out O’Brien. With the away defence stretched, Fleck then received the ball and he struck an effort inches wide from 25 yards.
As City continued to control proceedings, Gillingham had to wait until 24 minutes for their first chance but Emmanuel Osadebe could only slice harmlessly wide. It was back to normal soon after and both O’Brien and Murphy went close following some superb interchange from their team mates.
In the 34th minute the game really sprung into life as Gillingham firstly went close. A corner was shipped in and John Egan was only denied by O’Brien who headed his effort off the line. City then broke with remarkable speed and a mistake from Adedeji Oshilaja was punished by Murphy who stole the ball to leave only the keeper in his way. After sprinting towards goal the winger then expertly rounded the oncoming keeper before slotting the ball into an empty net to spark euphoria.
Just 3 minutes later and things got better for the home supporters as Mowbray’s men doubled their advantage. A rapid counter-attack again caused The Gills some issues and Coventry were rewarded with a corner. Ryan Kent swung the ball into the box and Ben Turner’s aerial prowess proved beneficial as he headed the ball into the ground. The power on the effort then meant it bounced up before nestling in the top corner with a despairing Gillingham defence helpless.
Taking advantage of a magnificent period, the home side then stretched their lead even further as they widened the margin again. On 41 minutes O’Brien played a perfectly weighted through ball to Murphy who peeled away off the last man’s shoulders. He then made no mistakes with the finish as his quick feet saw him skip past the bamboozled goalkeeper again before rolling the ball home.
Remarkably, The Sky Blues weren’t finished there. With 44 minutes played they scored their fourth of the afternoon to rub salt in the wounds of the Gillingham supporters who’d watched their side collapse. Chris Stokes attacked down the left wing this time and he beat his marker with real ease. The defender’s low inside pass then found Murphy in space and he rocketed a strike into the corner from 12 yards to ensure he’d be taking home the match ball.
With a deflated away side returning to the field, Coventry began the second half in a positive manner. Gillingham knew they had a mammoth task on their hands if they were going to threaten a comeback. On 48 minutes they did have a chance after an aerial ball was flicked on to Dominic Samuel, but his goal bound drive was diverted over the bar via a Martin block.
The quality that was on show in the first half was definitely lacking in the second as a few scrappy exchanges ensued. On 54 minutes, however, Adam Armstrong was only a few inches away from connecting with a low Kent cross that evaded the Gillingham back four. Just 5 minutes later the striker went close again, this time striking the woodwork after receiving another pass from Kent.
Just past the hour mark, the away section of supporters were given some fairly limp hope as their side narrowed the scoreline. Osadebe used smart feet to skip past O’Brien before squaring the ball to the edge of the area, Bradley Dack then stroked the ball into the bottom corner with a composed finish.
The rest of the half petered out really as both teams knew the result was set in stone. Samuel did have a weak effort saved by Reice Charles-Cook on 74 minutes but that was Gillingham’s final chance. Substitute Gael Bigirimana then saw a deflected strike saved by Nelson on 83 minutes before Armstrong smashed one wide from a tight angle with little time remaining. The referee soon sounded his whistle afterwards to put an end to The Gills’ misery and the home supporters rapturously celebrated their side’s victory.
I can’t believe what I’ve witnessed. That first half display was without question, the best 45 minutes of football I’ve seen from a Coventry City side for a few seasons. Considering Gillingham were sitting at the summit of the division, we blew them away with real ease to leapfrog them in the league standings.
The attendance was higher than usual and the City fans who turned out were treated to some sensational football. In my opinion, that 15,000 mark should be met every week at the very least. Tony Mowbray is working wonders and this young, exciting team needs and deserves our backing.
In terms of the second period, that wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing but it didn’t need to be. The remarkable position we managed to get ourselves into at the break meant we didn’t have to do much to see the game out, apart from staying switched on. Conceding is obviously dissapointing after we restricted their forwards so comfortably, but it was a professional final 45 minutes.
When looking at individual performances Jacob Murphy will of course take the plaudits after hitting a first half hat-trick. He and Ryan Kent were constant threats out wide whilst Adam Armstong pulled defenders away expertly to leave them space to exploit. Gillingham simply couldn’t contain the speed within our side, and we showed that on our day we’re capable of beating anyone.
However, for me the midfield were absolutely outstanding. I said in my preview that if we won the midfield battle we’d go on to win the game, boy did we do that! Romain Vincelot and Jim O’Brien characteristally paraded around the centre of the park winning challenges and playing the ball off, whilst John Fleck metronomically sprayed passes that were incisive.
With that trio sitting behind the bundles of pace in the final third, it was a frightening force. The naivety of the away side to allow our midfield so much time on the ball certainly came back to haunt them. I can only imagine that The Gills’ supporters who made the trip are confused as to why the likes of Fleck were given acres of grass to maraude into.
It was an all round top quality display. The positivity within the club at the minute is very welcome and the fans and players are bouncing off each other. It’s now 9 games unbeaten in the league and our record of no home losses still stands. The signs are certainly promising.
However, it’s still early days. We are only in November. Don’t get me wrong, I’m over the moon to be top of the pile at this point, but I’ll consider the table fully at the end of January. If we manage to keep hold of certain loan players and add some more quality in the transfer window, it should be a good season. We still have 28 jobs to do though.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Chris Stokes – 7
Aaron Martin – 7
Ben Turner – 8
Sam Ricketts – 7
John Fleck – 9.5
Romain Vincelot – 9
Jim O’Brien – 9
Jacob Murphy – 9
Adam Armstrong – 7
Ryan Kent – 8
Aaron Phillips – 7
Gael Bigirimana – 6
Ryan Haynes – N/A
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Ricketts, Martin, Turner (Phillips 55), Stokes, Vincelot, Fleck, Murphy (Bigirimana 62), O’Brien (Haynes 80), Kent, Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Lameiras, Fortune, Tudgay.
Attendance: 15,604 (857 away fans)