The Sky Blues slipped to their third consecutive defeat on Saturday as they went down 1-0 to Keith Hill’s Rochdale. Similar to the away fixture at Spotland stadium, the game was lacking in quality as both sides struggled to make their mark on proceedings. The way in which the home side lost would certainly frustrate the home fans, conceding from the penalty spot at the death.
In terms of Coventry’s promotion ambitions, they now sit outside the play-off positions for the first time this season. Fans will be wondering what is happening as they’ve watched their side hit a prolonged spell of poor form, bar the flash-in-the-pan demolitions of Crewe Alexandra and Bury. As for Rochdale, they have now moved up to 13th place and just 4 points shy of City’s total of 52 points.
Things kicked off at a sunny Ricoh Arena and Coventry City were immediately on the attack following the referee’s whistle. Jack Stephens directed a pass forward from his own half and it found Adam Armstrong just outside the Rochdale area. The striker then brought the ball down excellently with an exquisite touch, however, his shot wasn’t so accurate as it flew way wide.
The visitors attempted to mount an attack themselves with 6 minutes played but Reice Charles-Cook raced off his line to thwart Ian Henderson. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was then first to the loose ball but the referee denied Dale a free kick after the forward tumbled to the ground.
Both teams continued to tussle early on as they attempted to work out each other’s game plans. It was the travelling side who began to look the more dangerous though and they went close on 10 minutes. Some patient build-up led to Donal McDermott receiving the ball in an advanced position and it was his snap shot that then forced the Coventry keeper into a smart low stop. The Sky Blues were then on the charge just a minute later but neither Romain Vincelot or Armstrong could make contact with a John Fleck cross.
Tony Mowbray’s men then created their clearest chance of the opening half on 16 minutes to spark life into the supporters. A superb diagonal pass from Fleck started the move as it found Ruben Lameiras on the right wing. The Portuguese midfielder then rolled a sly ball into Joe Cole but the former England international was denied by a tremendous Josh Lilis save.
Rochdale started to look the better side on the ball soon after but they weren’t creating anything of note. The hosts were the next to spurn a chance as Armstrong fizzed in a low cross on 27 minutes but nobody committed themselves to get on the end of it. James Maddison then called Lillis into action on the half hour mark after showing sensational skill to beat two defenders. The academy graduate’s strike was weak though and the goalkeeper got across his goal quickly to hold the ball.
During the remainder of the first half, City pressed for the opening goal but they couldn’t find a way past Lillis. Some neat build-up play involving Fleck and Chris Stokes led to Maddison getting a shot away on 36 minutes but he sliced wide of the left post. The final flurry then saw Vincelot try his luck from 35 yards but the goalkeeper got behind the powerful strike well. Lillis then thwarted Armstrong just before the break as the forward slammed a half volley towards goal from 20 yards.
Dale started the second period brightly and they went close to taking the lead on 48 minutes. McDermott whipped in a tempting delivery from a corner and Ashley Eastham met the ball with a downward header. Unfortunately for the defender, Jack Stephens got his body in the way to clear off the line and preserve Coventry’s clean sheet.
Following that chance, the game proved to be a very cagey affair as some sloppiness crept in to both team’s play. Supporters around the stadium weren’t being treated to much entertainment but those in the home section were furious on 59 minutes as a penalty appeal was waved away. Maddison played a one-two with Armstrong but as the aforementioned attempted to get onto the return pass, he was pulled back inside the area.
Up the other end, Rochdale went agonisingly close again with 68 minutes on the clock. Mendez-Laing initially found Jim McNulty on the edge of the area but his curling effort was tipped over from Reice Charles-Cook. The resulting corner was then taken by Michael Rose and Niall Canavan’s ferocious header was inadvertently blocked on the line by Dale forward Ian Henderson.
Just a few minutes later and the away side should have scored again after Mendez-Laing and Rose teamed up down the right wing. The latter then played a swerving cross towards the back post and Matty Lund’s header back across the face was inches away from being nodded in by Henderson.
As the visitors looked to settle for a draw, the Coventry supporters attempted to spur their side onto victory with increased levels of noise. Substitutes Jacob Murphy and Marc-Antione Fortune responded and they linked up effectively on 76 minutes but to the frustration of Mowbray, nobody was able to get on the end of another dangerous cross. Armstrong then darted forward 5 minutes later to tee up Murphy but the Norwich loanee could only find the goalkeeper’s gloves from a tight angle.
With 84 minutes played, The Sky Blues did manage to beat Lillis and find the back of the net. Murphy caused problems again and it was his pass that allowed Armstrong to slot the ball past the keeper, however, the offside flag was raised. Then, to add to the dismay of Coventry’s fans, Rochdale were awarded a penalty just a minute before full-time. Fleck was the man who gave away the foul and Henderson stepped up to slot the ball home and hand his side the victory.
When is our season going to take a turn for the better again? It’s now becoming desperate for us and our collapse has now led to us dropping out of the play-offs. It’s difficult to put a finger on events really as we’ve wavered away from favourites to win the league to a team that looks average at best.
Of course, many people will say that injuries in key areas have hindered our progress but that can’t be the sole reason for our downfall. It has been evident for the last few months that teams are working us out. Rochdale didn’t really do anything throughout the 90 minutes but, yet again, they didn’t have to. Keith Hill’s side packed the midfield and defended in number, restricting The Sky Blues in forward areas.
Our fluent attacking football that was being displayed earlier in the season has came to a halt. This, in my opinion, down to a lack of confidence coupled with the constant tinkering of the starting lineup. Our lack of a physical presence in higher areas of the pitch also makes life a lot easier for opposition defences. Adam Armstrong was offered very little support again and I think he would benefit from playing alongside a ‘big man’ like Darius Henderson.
Time after time we cleared the ball forward an their centre halves mopped up with no worries at all. If Henderson was up there providing an outlet, they’d have more to think about. As well as winning the aerial duels and flicking the ball on to fellow attackers, he could also be useful in providing a decoy that allows Armstrong more freedom in the final third.
A few months ago, we weren’t questioning any of the manager’s selections but now we have people calling for his head. Yes, what was initially labeled as a blip has now transformed into a major worry, but we have come a long way. The pressure is now on the players down on the pitch to stand up and be counted, but we need to stick with them regardless of how challenging that may be at the moment.
We are not used to aiming for promotion and perhaps the expectation of many is now that we will fall further away from the top. However, we’ve got to remember what we achieved in the opening stages of this season. We do have players that are capable enough, they just need to remember that. It’s not going to be easy now and that’s for certain, but there is still 12 games to play. Win on Tuesday and we creep back into 6th spot. It isn’t over yet.
Reice Charles-Cook – 6
Chris Stokes – 7
Jack Stephens – 7
Baily Cargill – 6
Sam Ricketts – 7
Romain Vincelot – 7
John Fleck – 7
Ruben Lameiras – 6
James Maddison – 6
Joe Cole – 7
Adam Armstrong – 6
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Stokes, Stephens, Cargill (Lorentzson 46), Ricketts (C), Vincelot, Fleck, Lameiras (Murphy 67), Maddison, Cole (Fortune 72), Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Addai, Hunt, Rose, Henderson.
Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, Eastham, Canavan, McNulty, Lund, Rose, Allen, McDermott (Camps 60), Mendez-Laing (Holt 70), Henderson (C).
Unused Substitutes: Collis, Bennett, Vincenti, Hooper, Bunney.
Attendance: 9542 (245 away)