Tony Mowbray’s Coventry City made the long journey to Southend on Saturday as they looked to return to winning ways. With another healthy contingent of travelling supporters packed into the away end, The Sky Blues failed to perform and their pursuit of the automatic promotion places took another wrong turn.
As Adam Armstrong and Jacob Murphy were sidelined through injury, Mowbray was forced into making changes and the selected players let him down. For Southend, however, it was an easy day at the office as they closed the gap on the play-off positions.
The match got underway with both sets of supporters out in force. Neither side could take control In the first few minutes, City struggled to keep the ball on a bobbly Roots Hall surface and this caused for the game to adopt a scrappy nature. Southend pounced on Coventry’s inability to keep possession as they had the first chance of the affair on 5 minutes, Stephen Hendrie could only stroke wide though.
After this point, the away side began to settle down and possession became easier to keep. Despite knocking the ball around neatly in the centre of the park they failed to create any openings. The Shrimpers then took advantage of some nervy defending from Gael Bigirimana on 10 minutes and Jack Payne forced Reice Charles-Cook into a routine stop.
As The Sky Blues continued to spray the ball around the pitch, it was them who went closest to opening the scoring after 16 minutes. An incisive ball from Joe Cole found Jim O’Brien lurking outside the box and the Scottish midfielder took aim. He brought the best out of Daniel Bentley in the Southend goal and the keeper’s acrobatic flying save diverted the ball over the crossbar. Romain Vincelot then somehow headed the resulting corner wide from close range with the goal gaping.
The battling between the respective sides continued and it was Coventry who were looking the better side, however, Phil Brown’s men took the lead on 23 minutes. Sam Ricketts failed to clear the ball in his own defensive third and Jack Payne profited, finding space to drill a low effort into the bottom corner past a sprawling Charles-Cook.
City responded immediately to conceding by getting back onto the front foot, but they failed to translate possession into chances. The visitors were then left seething with 30 minutes played as The Shrimpers doubled their advantage to the disbelief of Coventry’s fans behind the goal. Jim O’Brien lost the ball in the centre of midfield and Stephen Hendrie powered forward. He then found Tyrone Barnett inside the area and the striker smashed the ball into the bottom corner.
Southend then expectedly looked the more confident of the two sides on the ball and they carried on probing before the break. The superb Jack Payne went close on 33 minutes as he saw a deflected effort trickle just wide and Gary Deegan blazed over just before the interval. O’Brien did force Bentley into a fine save before that moment, but that was the only time where The Sky Blues looked threatening.
Coventry came out for the second half looking to get back into the tie and they made a bright start. A real surge forward led to four consecutive corners but none of those caused any problems amongst the Southend back line. City were handed a boost on 52 minutes though as Gary Deegan was sent down the tunnel after tripping James Maddison to force the referee into brandishing a second yellow card.
Space then seemed to open up for the visitors as Southend reverted into a more defensive formation. Some very tidy buld-up allowed The Sky Blues to go close through Cole on 58 minutes but the midfielder was denied by the goalkeeper after showing quick feet inside the box. Charles-Cook was forced into a magnificent point blank save up the other end just minutes later to thwart Hendrie.
The next chance came about on 65 minutes and it fell to Maddison but the youngster could only curl narrowly wide of the far post after manoeuvring the ball brilliantly. Southend then broke forward 3 minutes later as City committed bodies forward and they won a penalty as Charles-Cook brought down Will Arkinson. Barnett then secured his brace with an emphatic finish from the spot to put the game out of sight.
As far as entertainment goes, the remainder of the affair produced very little of it. The Sky Blues did attempt to restore some pride by scoring a consolation goal, but they failed to test the opposition keeper. Long range efforts from Gael Bigirimana and O’Brien were wayward and taunts from the home supporters became increasingly audible. They then erupted into celebration as the final whistle was blown to signal a defeat for Coventry City.
Well, that was definitely painful. After travelling down from Sheffield, I was hoping that we would pick up a victory to make the journey back a little more bearable. Frustratingly, we didn’t quite put on the show that I and others wanted, leaving the 1800 City supporters disappointed and livid at the final whistle.
I was under no illusions prior to kick-off about the game being simple, but upon hearing the team news I became more apprehensive of gaining a result. Undoubtedly, we desperately lacked pace and the absence of Adam Armstrong and Jacob Murphy didn’t aid our cause. More to my annoyance though is the way in which we defended.
Before the home side made the breakthrough, we had looked the more capable of the teams. I think Marcus Tudgay linked up play well and we were stringing together some neat moves going forward. However, we didn’t get in behind the Southend defence frequently enough and Daniel Bentley was a mere bystander for the majority of the game.
To then concede the first goal after dawdling on the ball just outside our own box is deeply annoying. Sam Ricketts is a brilliant player and he’s been consistent this season, but he has this tendency to take too much time on the ball and occasionally it leads to danger. The second was then just as bad with the midfield parting like the Red Sea. And the third, well, it was coming.
I just can’t fathom how we can perform to such high standards at Crewe and then fail to turn up a few weeks later. It’s probably the first game that we’ve lost this season where I’ve genuinely thought we deserved to be on the wrong end of the scoreline. That’s a positive we can take, at least we haven’t had too many days to forget this term.
Frustration is certainly beginning to heighten amongst supporters though and that was evident when a chorus of boos greeted the City players at half-time. The level of expectation was perhaps set slightly too high, and now we’ve started to falter, criticism is rife. Don’t get me wrong, this was a very poor result, but it won’t make or break our season.
We have a long way to go get and who says we can’t go unbeaten until the end of the season? Football is a funny old game and stranger things have happened. We’ve shown that we are a good side up to this point, we’ve just got to step it up again very quickly. The gap between us and 7th is now getting slimmer and we have to ensure we don’t let our sensational start go to waste.
We still have plenty to work on and I’m sure Mogga will look for reinforcements before the January transfer window slams shut. A physical central defender may be difficult to find, but it has to be priority. Another goal scorer would also be a great help as we need to reignite our ability to find the net.
One thing we need to do now though is get behind those in sky blue. The players will be as aggrieved as us, but we’ve got to stick together and get through this rocky patch. The last thing we want to do is dent their confidence and we can’t dwell on recent results. Let’s get as many bodies through the turnstiles next weekend at the Ricoh and get back to winning ways.
Reice Charles-Cook – 6
Ryan Haynes – 6
Chris Stokes – 7
Peter Ramage – 6
Sam Ricketts – 6
Romain Vincelot – 6
Gael Bigirimana – 5
Jim O’Brien – 6
Stephen Hunt – 6
Joe Cole – 7
Marcus Tudgay – 7
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Ricketts (C), Ramage, Stokes, Haynes (Lameiras 56), Vincelot (Fortune 59), Bigirimana, O’Brien, Cole, Hunt, Tudgay(Maddison 46).
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Phillips, Lorentzson, Rose.
Southend United: Bentley, Hendrie, Barrett, Thompson, Bolger, O’Neill, Deegan, Leonard, Atkinson (McQueen 83), Payne (Timlin (58), Barnett (Hunt 74).
Unused Substitutes: White, Mooney, T.Smith, Kamara.
Attendance: 8767 (1791 sky blue fans)