Tony Mowbray’s Coventry City hosted The Valiants of Port Vale at a very windy Ricoh Arena on Boxing Day. With the Christmas dinners going down a treat the day previous, supporters of both sides would be hoping that the extra few pounds gained didn’t affect their team’s performance too much.
It turned out to be a game of two halves really as The Sky Blues transformed a lacklustre first period into a much improved second. The away side proved to be tough opponents as they were notoriously difficult to break down, but City’s persistence paid off as they signed off their last fixture of 2015 at the Ricoh Arena with a win.
The game got underway with over 17,000 supporters watching on from the stands, but the travelling Vale contingent would have been pleasantly surprised early on. Coventry made a very shaky start as they failed to settle with the away side pressing relentlessly. A poor attempted pass from Ruben Lameiras on 7 minutes gifted Ajay Leitch-Smith with a golden opportunity. His low drive then flashed past Reice Charles-Cook in the City goal, however, the post came to the rescue to spare Lameiras’ blushes.
Mowbray’s side continued to struggle and Port Vale were having the majority of possession. Despite controlling the play, no real chances were carved out by Robert Page’s men. Jacob Murphy’s pace for the hosts did provide them with an outlet, but he was also unable to have much of an influence. A fairly dull and scrappy pattern of play was beginning to develop and the atmosphere was mute as a result.
The next chance of the affair didn’t come about until the 29th minute, it was Vale who it fell to after some sustained pressure. Colin Daniel’s initial cross from the left evaded everybody in the area, but Leitch-Smith clipped the ball back in from the opposite side. Sam Foley got underneath it as it dropped kindly to him, however, he could only blaze harmlessly over the bar.
City seemingly stepped up a gear soon after and Vale were less influential on proceedings. Joe Cole was finding space in midfield to orchestrate a few attacks, but it was in vain as Chris Neal remained untested in the away goal. Two efforts were to be had in quick succession for The Sky Blues and Murphy in the latter stages of the half, the first travelling just wide before the second was deflected into the side netting via a defender’s leg.
Fortunately, Coventry began the second period in a much more positive fashion which excited supporters. A number of deliveries from wide positions were headed away from danger by Vale, but it was the controlled passing that pleased many. Neat interchange allowed Adam Armstrong to drill a low cross across the box on 51 minutes before Lameiras fired a strike just wide almost immediately after.
The away side started to drop deeper as a unit following City’s pressure, this again allowed Cole more room to have an impact on the game. He was at the centre of the next move on 56 minutes as he showed superb feet and awareness to find Armstrong who saw a shot deflected into the keeper’s arms. Just 2 minutes later and it was Murphy’s pace that caused Vale problems as he drove into the area. The winger then fell under a innocuous challenge but the referee pointed rightly for a goal kick.
Both sets of fans ramped up the noise levels soon after and it seemed to aid in bringing the game to life. Coventty’s players bounced off of the supporters’ chants and they went close twice just after the hour, whilst The Valiants saw two efforts blocked brilliant by Sam Ricketts and Gael Bigirimana up the other end. City then countered again in a rather end to end period through Murphy, he then found Armstrong who had another penalty shout waved away as he went down under pressure in the box.
Things started to even out again soon after and this prompted change from Mowbray. Jim O’Brien and James Maddison were introduced at the expense of Joe Cole and Ruben Lameiras. It was then on 80 minutes that the changes reaped rewards as the two combined to conjure up the only goal of the game. O’Brien won possession with a strong tackle before finding the youngster in a central area. Maddison then did the rest with a superb low drive into the bottom corner after he created room for a shot. This sparked euphoria in the home end.
City’s back line was then tested in the remainder of the tie as Port Vale threw the physical striker Uche Ikpeazu into the mix. As Page’s side searched for a late equaliser, The Sky Blues stood up to the task to clear any danger. It was in fact the home side who had the best chance of the latter stages as Maddison played a delightful swerving pass to Ryan Kent. The Liverpool youngster then prodded the ball past Jak Alnwick, however, a defender was there to clear to ensure the game would finish at 1-0.
Well, that certainly wasn’t an easy ride. Beating a decent, organised Vale side was never going to be a simple task, but we made it doubly difficult at times. Credit must go to Robert Page’s side and their pressing game, but we never really woke up in the first half.
I’m sure that a few of our strange decisions on the ball in our own defensive third had the majority of the ground reeling in despair. When Leitch-Smith went agonisingly close to handing Vale an early lead, I was left bamboozled and furious with what I was witnessing. However, I was kind of glad that we were still attempting to play out from the back. If we had started hoofing the ball long, that would have played straight into the opposition’s hands.
We once again missed John Fleck and his metronomic ability with the ball in midfield. The choice to place Jim O’Brien on the bench also raised some questions, and I think we lacked his relentless work rate and nitty grittiness at times. One thing that did please me though was our back four. After coming under some scrutiny of late, and without Ben Turner’s physical presence, we didn’t allow the away side to register a single shot on target.
After riding out a below-par performance in the first half, we certainly responded in the second. We still didn’t quite reach fifth gear but it was better, much better. Our forwards started to drive at the Vale back four and they struggled to cope with our speed, as do most sides when we get going. Even so, Jak Alnwick remained relatively untroubled in goal and it took a piece of magic from James Maddison to win us the game.
Prior to kick-off, me and a few others agreed that it was a must win fixture and I’m certainly pleased that we took the three points. We’ve stopped a brief winless run in the process and confidence will now be rife going into Monday’s clash at Chesterfield. If we want to stake a real claim for automatic promotion, the points we pick up from this festive period could prove vital. A total of four points from the last two games isn’t bad at all, now let’s build on it.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Aaron Phillips – 7
Sam Ricketts – 8
Aaron Martin – 8
Chris Stokes – 7
Romain Vincelot – 8
Gael Bigirimana – 6
Rubén Lameiras – 7
Jacob Murphy – 7
Joe Cole – 7
Adam Armstrong – 6
Jim O’Brien – 7
James Maddison – 7
Ryan Kent – N/A
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Phillips, Ricketts (C), Martin, Stokes, Vincelot, Bigirimana, Lameiras (Maddison 72), Murphy (Kent 81), Cole (O’Brien 72), Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Haynes, Tudgay, Fortune.
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Dickinson (C), McGivern, Duffy, O’Connor, Foley (Ikpeazu 86), Daniel, Moore (Birchall 72), Leitch-Smith (Hooper 81), Grant.
Unused Substitutes: Neal, Streete, Yates, Kelly.
Attendance: 17,779 (1283 away)