With all of Coventry City’s promotion rivals playing on Saturday, Tony Mowbray’s men headed into Sunday’s showdown with Port Vale with the aim of claiming three points. Supporters of the midlands outfit are becoming increasingly anxious as their team fall away from the top two, and it was certainly another nervy afternoon for the travelling contingent.
Despite City looking off the pace for the majority of the game, they took a 1-0 lead into the interval. Reice Charles-Cook was the busier of the two goalkeepers, however, and he made a string of fine saves to preserve his side’s advantage. Frustratingly though, he could do nothing about Sam Kelly’s vicious strike late on and The Sky Blues failed to win for the fifth consecutive fixture.
As the referee blew his whistle to get proceedings underway, it was immediately clear to see that the pitch wouldn’t be conducive to aesthetically pleasing football. Both sides scrapped for possession early on but it was the home outfit that looked to be the more physical. Ajay Leitch-Smith and Theo Robinson provided Vale with different options in forward areas and they were looking for them at every opportunity.
Despite The Valiants looking more threatening, it was Coventry who had the first meaningful effort of the game on 10 minutes. Jacob Murphy whipped in a free kick from the right wing and it curled in towards the back post. Baily Cargill peeled off his marker to open up space to head on goal but he couldn’t direct his effort. The home side then went close themselves just 2 minutes later as Leitch-Smith was denied by Reice Charles-Cook’s outstretched leg following a neat Matthew Kennedy cross.
That proved to be the first warning sign for The Sky Blues’ defence and Port Vale took control of the affair soon after. Despairing groans were coming from the away end as Coventry’s back line were bombarded by home attacks. Another enticing Kennedy cross picked out Robinson on 15 minutes but the striker’s header was tame and Charles-Cook sprung across his goal to grasp the ball.
Rob Page’s side were physically much stronger than their counterparts and some brilliant work from Ben Purkiss created the next chance on 22 minutes. He shrugged Chris Stokes off the ball before firing a low pass into Kennedy. The Cardiff loanee then shifted the ball out of his feet but his curling effort dropped narrowly wide of the post. Leitch-Smith was the next one to try his luck with 29 minutes played as Robinson’s flick on handed him a one-on-one opportunity. Coventry’s keeper got down quickly to his left to thwart the initial attempt, however, before blocking the rebound brilliantly as well.
Soon after, Coventry began to stamp their authority as they finally woke up. The best opening of the first period fell to the visitors on 39 minutes after a Jack Stephens clearance found Maddison. The young midfielder then controlled on his chest before spraying a ball out to Adam Armstrong. It was then the Newcastle man who raced past a number of defenders to open up room to shoot, but he struck straight at Jak Alnwick with the goal gaping.
The deadlock was broken just 3 minutes later and it was The Sky Blues who found the net. Murphy and Armstrong combined to play a one-two that allowed the aforementioned to surge into the box and round the keeper, and he made no mistakes with the finish. The dangerous Leitch-Smith could have levelled the scores straight from the restart but he sliced wide with only Charles-Cook to beat.
The game looked to be fairly even in the early stages of the second half as the two teams battled for possession. Vale had the first few chances, however, as Sam Foley found the gloves of Charles-Cook on 47 minutes before Leitch-Smith tested him again with 58 minutes played. Carl Dickinson was then somehow denied by City’s keeper soon after as his deflected free kick brought out an unbelievable save.
Up the other end just 4 minutes later, The Sky Blues had a chance to extend their lead through Armstrong. Murphy did well initially to find Maddison and he then picked out City’s top scorer with a perfectly weighted through ball. The Valiants’ keeper sped off his line to deny the striker with a smart save, however.
The home side began to see more of the ball as the game progressed, with Coventry’s defence instinctively dropping deeper to preserve the slender lead. Some solid defending allowed them to counter through Stephens on 76 minutes as the midfielder carried the ball forward. Andy Rose was then handed a chance as a Murphy cross was steered into his path, but Alnwick responded with a diving low save.
A few set pieces then tested the defence of Coventry, but it seemed as if it would be their day. That was until the 85th minute, however, as substitute Sam Kelly conjured up a piece of magic to tie the game and spark euphoria amongst home supporters. The final few minutes turned out to be entertaining as both sides chased a winner, but it was City who had the final chance, a Darius Henderson header cleared off the line by Anthony Grant.
I’ve been saying this a lot recently, but that was definitely another frustrating day in the life of a Coventry City supporter. As for the game itself, the standard of football on display was remarkably poor. The heavy turf didn’t help The Sky Blues, but they were bullied physically at times and they were on the back foot. Even at 1-0, we always looked likely to concede with Vale’s power up front.
Despite hanging on precariously for what felt like an age, we defended a lot better than we have over the past few matches. I was impressed with Baily Cargill’s performance in the heart of defence and Jack Stephens looked more than capable operating in the defensive midfield role. Reice Charles-Cook was also much better too, pulling off a few fantastic saves to deny the home team.
In all honesty, if anybody deserved to win that game on the balance of play it would have been Rob Page’s men. However, it’s certainly another case of 2 points dropped in our pursuit of promotion. A lot of people will be saying you can’t defend a screamer like the equaliser, but he was allowed far too much room to operate.
Jim O’Brien’s relentless pressing meant he was out of position and Vale used the space to mount an attack. The goal scorer was then allowed to ghost past a couple of City bodies before rifling the ball into the top corner. At that stage of the game we were craving organisation, but we let an opposition player simply wander forward into a dangerous position. I’m not taking anything away from the strike which was sensational, but we’ve got to see out the game.
Despite the initial frustration, I am pleased with certain aspects of the performance. For a large period, we displayed a grittiness in our defending which hasn’t been evident recently. Andy Rose also brought added energy into the midfield and he looks like a much better option than Gael Bigirimana. If we combine the nitty gritty side of the game with our ability to attack with pace and the season isn’t over yet.
There is still a long way to go and we have to improve, but we’ve got to keep backing the players. Bury will provide another stern test next week and we need to be streetwise to get what would be an important victory. It’s that stage of the season now where we will have to fight for every point, and we’ve got to ensure we force ourselves into the top six.
Reice Charles-Cook – 9
Chris Stokes – 7
Baily Cargill – 8
Sam Ricketts – 6
Martin Lorentzson – 6
Jack Stephens – 8
John Fleck – 6
Andy Rose – 7
James Maddison – 7
Jacob Murphy – 6
Adam Armstrong – 6
Peter Ramage – 7
Darius Henderson – 7
Jim O’Brien – N/A
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Lorentzson, Ricketts (C), Cargill, Stephens, Stokes, Fleck, Rose, Murphy, Maddison, Armstrong.
Substitutes: Burge, Ramage, O’Brien, Lameiras, Cole, Henderson, Fortune.
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Dickinson, Duffy, Kennedy, Foley, Moore, Leitch-Smith, Robinson, Inniss, Grant.
Substitutes: McGivern, Hooper, Yates, Brown, Kelly, Boot, Campion
Attendance: 6,320 (1,604 sky blue army)