Tony Mowbray’s Coventry City travelled to Bloomfield Road on Saturday to face a Blackpool side who are fighting for their lives at the bottom end of the League One table. With over 3,000 away supporters making their presence known by generating a vociferous atmosphere, it felt like a home fixture for The Sky Blues.
In terms of events on the pitch, it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing game of football. However, the visitors rose to the physical battles and they defended admirably to nullify Blackpool’s aerial threat. Up the other end, it took a solitary goal from Marc-Antione Fortune to ensure the sea of sky blue fans would be travelling home in buoyant mood.
As the game got underway, it was immediately clear to see that neither team would be able to play flowing football on what was a shocking playing surface. The home side looked to stamp their authority on affairs by getting the ball forward as quickly as possible. It was The Seasiders who registered the first strike on target on 5 minutes as Liam Smith forced Reice Charles-Cook into a low save from range.
Just a minute later and John Fleck almost opened the scoring for Coventry against his former club. Adam Armstrong initially attempted to breach the back line but he was denied by an outstretched leg from a defender. The ball then fell kindly into the midfielder’s path, but he failed to hit the target as his effort sailed narrowly wide. The Sky Blues then could have conceded up the other end soon after but Aaron Martin produced a fine sliding tackle in his own box to deny Jack Redshaw as he raced towards goal.
The scrappy nature of the game continued to disappoint as the two teams found it difficult to keep the ball efficiently. It was, however, Coventry who looked the more dangerous and Chris Stokes went close with a header following a Jacob Murphy corner on 12 minutes. Meanwhile, Blackpool were pumping aerial balls in the direction of the City back four but they coped with any prospective danger competently.
It took 26 minutes for the deadlock to be broken and the goal fell to Coventry. Murphy delivered an enticing cross into the box and Romain Vincelot met it to head up into the air. As the ball then dropped from the sky, Colin Doyle’s attempt to get under it in the home goal was poor and Marc-Antione Fortune was on hand to slam the ball into the back of the net.
As the travelling fans were still celebrating wildly, Tom Aldred went agonisingly close to levelling the scores from the restart as he saw a half volley fly an inch wide of the top corner. The Sky Blues then soon slowed the game down and they kept possession well in the opposition half. A succession of goal bound efforts were blocked by Blackpool as they rode waves of City pressure.
In the final 5 minutes of the half, both sides had chances to alter the scoreline. David Norris found Charles-Cook’s hands on 40 minutes before Brad Potts blazed a strike over from the edge of the box just before the break. The best chance was spurned by The Sky Blues after good build-up, however, as Armstrong’s deflected low effort rolled just wide of the far post with the keeper sprawling.
Coventry made the brighter start to the second period and they had an opportunity to double their advantage on 49 minutes. Controlled passing eventually allowed Murphy to pick up the ball down the right and he skipped past a defender to progress towards the byline. His attempted cross then fell to Vincelot but the midfielder’s strike travelled high over the crossbar. Another chance was then fashioned with the next move as John Fleck found James Maddison, but the youngster was crowded out.
The game adopted a slower pace shortly after as the away outfit looked to see out the game through controlled possession. Blackpool were desperately searching for an equaliser meanwhile and substitute Bright Osayi-Samuel forced Charles-Cook into a diving save on the hour mark. Just 4 minutes later and Murphy headed over for Coventry following a cross by Andy Rose who was introduced just prior to the move.
Blackpool continued to threaten to a certain extent with their direct style of play but the City goalkeeper was a bystander for large parts. The defence in front of him were resolute to preserve the lead and this allowed Coventry to look reasonably comfortable. With 81 minutes played, substitutes combined for Mowbray’s men as a Joe Cole corner was met by Rose but his header wasn’t enough to beat Doyle.
Following a lengthy delay whilst Chris Stokes was stretchered off with what looked to be a serious injury, 7 minutes of additional time was signalled by the fourth official. This proved to be a testing period for Coventry who were forced to hold on with 10 men after using all of their permitted changes. Despite a few goalmouth scrambles and a goal being disallowed as Osayi-Samuel handled the ball into the net, The Sky Blues were rewarded for their efforts with a vital set of points.
That result was massive. It may not have been pretty, but quite frankly, who cares? In my opinion, those are the types of victory that we haven’t got enough of this season – scrapping and fighting our way to three points. It was truly what us supporters deserved after yet another incredible turnout.
We saw a different side to our team during proceedings, and it shows we are capable of grinding out a clean sheet at the back. I thought the back four were truly sensational and the reintroduction of Aaron Martin to the defence has certainly made a positive impact. The former Southampton man looked comfortable alongside current Saint Jack Stephens and Blackpool’s attackers were left frustrated all afternoon.
Despite the home side pumping the ball forward at the first opportunity, I never really felt anxious. Granted, the final moments were nervy as we held on without Chris Stokes, but I couldn’t see Pool scoring. The only negative I can pick out is Stokes’ injury which looked very serious and a stretcher was called. Reports have indicated it is a knee problem but it doesn’t look as if the defender will feature again this term. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Going forward we struggled to create too many clear openings but I was impressed with the way we kept the ball. It is a difficult task for any footballer to adapt to a surface of such inadequate quality, but we were determined to make inroads via swift passing play. I said after the defeat to Shrewsbury that there was a lot of positives to take from that game, and thankfully, there was plenty to take from this game too.
Another undoubted positive was the performance of Marc-Antione Fortune. The bustling centre forward was exceptional again and his ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play proved vital. His presence alone created pockets of space for our creative players to exploit and his effort to close down didn’t go unnoticed either. A corner has certainly been turned and the Frenchman is winning over a number of fans who were quick to criticise.
The win moved us back up to 7th place and we are a win away from forcing ourselves back into the play-off positions. It won’t be an easy task and we all know that, but if we can combine the dogged defending with expressive attacking football, the season could still end on a high. With so many matches still to play, it’s all to play for.
We do face some very good sides over the next month or so but I’m hopeful that we can step up. If we can get behind Mowbray and his players from now until the end of the season, results may start to fall our way. Prior to this game I spoke about us being the 12th man – we were exactly that and our backing helped us over the line.
Roll on Swindon.
One last thing I would like to do is wish Blackpool and its supporters the best for the future. We know all to well what it feels like to be in your situation, but eventually, you will prevail! Good luck for the rest of the season and beyond.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Chris Stokes – 7
Aaron Martin – 8
Jack Stephens – 8
Sam Ricketts – 7
John Fleck – 7
Romain Vincelot – 7
Jacob Murphy – 6
James Maddison – 6
Adam Armstrong – 7
Marc-Antione Fortune – 8
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Ricketts (C), Stephens, Martin, Stokes, Vincelot, Fleck, Murphy (Cole 68′), Maddison (Rose 60′), Fortune (Tudgay 74′), Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Addai, Lorentzson, Lameiras, Henderson.
Blackpool: Doyle, Boyce, Aldred, Jones, Higham, Smith (Osayi-Samuel 58′), Potts, Norris (Ikpeazu 75′), McAlister, Redshaw (Cullen 58′), Philliskirk.
Unused Substitutes: Lyness, Aimson, Rivers, Paterson.