The Sky Blues started the new year with a bang as they travelled to Gresty Road on Saturday. As Tony Mowbray watched from the stands following his dismissal in City’s last outing, his side dismantled a fragile Crewe team with real simplicity.
After racking up a four-goal advantage before the interval, the game was all but won prior to a ball being kicked in the second half. Despite the home side’s best efforts to restore some pride, an inspired Coventry display was topped off with a fifth goal late on to rub the salt firmly in The Railwaymen’s wounds.
With another army of City supporters packed into the away end, the game got underway and they almost saw their side score immediately. Jacob Murphy started the move as he found James Maddison in a central area. The young midfielder then played a perfectly weighted pass into Joe Cole’s path but he blazed his effort harmlessly over the bar.
The travelling team continued to look the better of two sides early on and, despite not dominating possession, they were looking more threatening going forward. With 8 minutes played they went close again as Aaron Phillips’ good work down the right allowed him to pick out Romain Vincelot. With a defender in close attention, the Frenchman rolled the ball to Adam Armstrong and he forced Ben Garratt into a low stop with a curling drive.
Following some more pressure, The Sky Blues did take the lead just 3 minutes later to the travelling faithful’s delight. It was Murphy’s pace that caused the initial problem when he stole the ball from a defender’s toes. His through ball then released Armstrong who managed to beat the offside trap and he made no mistakes with the finish, firing into the bottom corner from just inside the area.
Crewe briefly responded to conceding and they had a chance to equalise on 15 minutes. A clever free kick was clipped into the area following a foul on Ryan Colclough and Marcus Haber was on hand to cause problems. His header found Ryan Lowe but the seasoned striker managed to head over from 6 yards. However, his blushes were spared anyway, as the offside flag was raised on the far side.
The game settled down soon after as both teams battled in the central areas. City were the next to create again though as John Fleck tried his luck from 30 yards. Garratt claimed at the second attempt with Murphy closing in after spilling the ball. With 21 minutes played, Lowe went close up the other end with a stooping header but Charles-Cook got his body behind it to thwart him.
On 26 minutes, The Sky Blues then doubled their advantage after the Crewe midfield gave Murphy far too much room to manoeuvre. The Norwich youngster opened up his body before bending an exquisite strike into the top corner from 25 yards. It was then 3-0 with the next move as Vincelot fell under a clumsy challenge in the area and a penalty was awarded. Armstrong stepped up and confidently slammed the ball home to grab his second of the afternoon.
Crewe had one final chance to cut the deficit before the half-time whistle as they won a free kick out wide from a Murphy foul on 36 minutes. James Jones clipped the ball to the back post for Haber to head back across the face, the aforementioned then met it but he could only fire over with City’s defence flailing.
City soon got back on the front foot and Murphy dragged an effort wide on 41 minutes. It didn’t matter, however, as they did score another soon after. Following another fine Charles-Cook save that denied Ryan Colclough, Joe Cole clipped a ball out to the left wing and Armstrong raced away. The striker showed superb determination to rob the defender and cut inside to drive into the box before smashing the ball past the keeper, sealing a hat-trick.
It proved to be a bright start for the away outfit again as they split the Crewe defence again on 49 minutes to create the clearest chance of the game. Maddison played a delightful ball through to Murphy who charged into the area. He then spotted Armstrong inside and he squared the ball to him but somehow, he fluffed his lines with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The game soon began to quieten down as Coventry’s midfield dropped deeper to reserve energy and frustrate Steve Davis’ side. Despite the home side being allowed more possession they failed to cause too many problems. Meanwhile, The Sky Blues were still looking capable on their forward ventures as Maddison curled over after good build-up involving Cole on 52 minutes.
Crewe did go very close to gaining a consolation on two occasions in the 65th minute. David Fox volleyed the first attempt narrowly wide following neat work from Jones and Haber, whilst the latter saw his one-on-one chance clawed away by an impressive Charles-Cook. The keeper was called into action again on 73 minutes to parry away Lowe’s header that was destined for the far corner.
The final 10 minutes of the game were rather topsy-turvy with both sides searching for a goal. Brad Inman struck a sweet effort towards goal on 82 minutes for the home side but it narrowly rose over the bar. City then probed for another and they were rewarded just a minute later. Murphy picked up the ball out on the right and he sped away into the final third before emphatically thumping it into the bottom left corner.
As the away section taunted the opposition fans, Crewe nearly pulled a late goal back but the width of a post denied them. Colclough broke down the left and his centre found an attacker who went agonisingly close. The final whistle was blown soon after to end the misery for Crewe’s players and the joy amongst the away fans heightened.
After the celebrations of the festive period came to an end, my focus switched to this fixture and getting off to a positive start in 2016. With a small blip in form hindering our progress slightly, it was a necessity that we won this game to keep in touch with the top two. The way in which we tore apart Crewe was very pleasing, however, and it will give us a massive confidence boost ahead of the Walsall clash.
There’s no doubting that that Crewe team is poor, very poor infact. In terms of opposition, they have to be the weakest side we have faced this season. Despite them creating a few opportunities which forced Charles-Cook to stay alert, we won’t get an easier three points than that.
Most pleasing for me though is the fact that I felt like we didn’t play anywhere near our best. We’ve managed to go away from home and dissect a defence to gain a convincing 5-0 victory, without getting out of second gear. Crewe’s heads dropped after the first goal and we capitalised. A clinical nature returned to our finishing also, and that is something that we’ve been lacking throughout the past month or so.
We did play some pretty football in the first half that saw us find the net on four occasions. The pace in our attack was a constant threat and every time we got forward you could sniff a goal. Armstrong deserved his hat-trick and I’m chuffed that he’s got it. That’s his first treble in professional football and hopefully that can be the catalyst for him to kick on in the second half of the campaign.
Defensively, we switched off on a few occasions and Charles-Cook proved to be a saviour in preserving a clean sheet. Of course, when you are in so much control of a game, concentration levels can drop. I have no doubt that Mowbray will highlight that, but he will be hugely impressed with his young team yet again.
The second half was fairly uneventful in comparison to the first, but scoring another late on boosted our goal difference further. It’s beginning to look more and more likely that we’ll sustain the promotion challenge, and if our fans keep turning out in number that will certainly aid our chances.
With Walsall dropping points, this sets us up nicely for the tie with them at the Ricoh. If we can get another victory on our own soil, that will send out another signal. They’ll be determined to avenge the 3-0 home defeat to Rochdale, but hopefully we can deny them. This is a vital period of the season, here’s hoping we can push on from here.
Reice Charles-Cook – 8
Ryan Haynes – 7
Chris Stokes – 7
Sam Ricketts – 7
Aaron Phillips – 7
John Fleck – 7
Romain Vincelot – 8
Jacob Murphy – 9
Joe Cole – 7
James Maddison – 7
Adam Armstrong – 9
Gael Bigirimana – 6
Ryan Kent – 6
Jim O’Brien – N/A
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Phillips, Ricketts, Stokes, Haynes, Fleck (Bigirimana 59), Vincelot, Cole (Kent 70), Murphy, Maddison (O’Brien 79), Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Lameiras, Tudgay, Fortune.
Crewe Alexandra: Garratt, Turton, Guthrie, Nugent, Lowe, Haber (Inman 58), Fox (C), King (Cooper 73), Jones, Colclough, Ajayi.
Unused Substitutes: Richards, Atkinson, Bingham, Baillie, Ng.
Attendance: 5942 (2292 Sky Blue Army)