After last weekend’s defeat away to league leaders Wigan Athletic, Tony Mowbray’s Coventry City hosted Millwall at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday. With The Lions sitting pretty in a play-off position, they were undoubted favourites to leave the midlands with a victory under their belts. However, the home side’s supporters were desperate to see an improved performance from their team.
The word ‘revenge’ was used by Neil Harris in his pre-match press conference, and following the last meeting between the outfits ending in a 4-0 Coventry win, they were determined to get their own back. It wasn’t to be for Millwall though, and after being reduced to ten men, The Sky Blues looked in control as they ran out 2-1 victors.
As the game got underway, both sets of players tussled for possession early on. Despite that, it was Coventry who opened up the first chance of the affair on 4 minutes. Controlled build-up from Mowbray’s men allowed Aaron Phillips to receive the ball in advanced position down the right wing. The full-back then floated a cross to the back post for Romain Vincelot to head just over after jostling his marker to win the aerial duel.
Just 2 minutes later and it was Millwall who were looking to probe forward. An incisive through ball set Aiden O’Brien free but the forward was left frustrated as Reice Charles-Cook parried his effort away from danger. Following that sighting of goal, Neil Harris’ outfit took the impetus as they enjoyed a spell of possession. Ben Thompson looked to orchestrate attacks from the centre of the park, but City were organised to stop any goal scoring opportunities.
A lazy pass from Andy Rose did hand The Lions their next chance on 17 minutes, but Jack Stephens and Sam Ricketts spared his blushes with a couple of solid blocks. However, to the home crowd’s frustration, the defence were left wanting on 20 minutes as the travelling side took the lead. Shane Ferguson whipped a corner towards the front post and Byron Webster got in front of his opposite number to head powerfully past Charles-Cook.
Coventry’s fans had celebrations cut short soon after as the ball hit the back of the net at the other end just 5 minutes later. Joe Cole saw an initial effort rebound off the post after Adam Armstrong inadvertently found him but as he slotted the ball home at the second attempt, the offside flag was raised. Despite that, City were handed an advantage on 26 minutes as Williams was dismissed by referee Mark Haywood after inexplicably head butting Ruben Lameiras in the face.
As a result of the red card, Millwall dropped into a deeper position and Coventry were consequently given more time on the ball. Their next chance didn’t come about until 40 minutes, however, with Phillips seeing a powerful strike blocked. John Fleck then brought a low save from Jordan Archer soon afterwards before James Maddison sliced a gilt-edged wide on the stroke of half time.
As The Sky Blues searched for a route back into the game, they made a bright start to the second period as Lameiras volleyed a Ricketts cross wide of the mark. Former West Ham man Joe Cole then let fly on 50 minutes but his effort didn’t cause Archer too many problems. Some more pressure from the hosts then led to Maddison shifting the ball into a shooting position, but his bending strike dropped narrowly wide.
Just after the hour mark, Mowbray’s men did find an equaliser as Fleck scored from distance. Phillips found the midfielder occupying a central area and he made no mistakes as he fired a perfectly placed strike into the top corner of the net from 30 yards. After levelling the scores, Coventry looked very commanding and they were confident of edging themselves in front.
Their positivity was rewarded with 70 minutes played as substitute Marcus Tudgay sparked pandemonium in the home end. A superb passing move carved open the away defence as Fleck found Armstrong on the edge of the area. The young striker then produced a magnificent first-time flick to bypass Millwall’s defence and seasoned striker Tudgay slotted the ball past Archer with real composure.
Coventry continued to probe forward a Millwall risked throwing extra bodies into attacking positions. The Sky Blues failed to turn possession into chances, and the visitors went close to earning a point late on. Joe Martin prodded a volley just over on 87 minutes before he was then denied by the acrobatics of Charles-Cook, the keeper managing to claw the ball away from the top corner. Maddison had the final chance of the affair for City but his miss didn’t prove costly as The Sky Blues picked up their first win in six games.
Fair enough Millwall were a man light for the majority of the game, but that second half was the most convincing we have seen City play for a long time. Despite the away side being a man down, that didn’t make it a certainty that we would prevail. Regardless of what is in front of you, you have to perform and we did that throughout. Perhaps our patience frustrated some sections of the home crowd, but it paid dividends.
Our midfield were outclassed last weekend versus Wigan, but today they were excellent. John Fleck’s form has come under a lot of scrutiny recently, but he was particularly effective as he metronomically orchestrated attack after attack. The goal he scored himself was exquisite too, and that is why us supporters encourage him to fire at goal more often. Andy Rose accompanied the Scot well with his athleticism and James Maddison looked lively after replacing Romain Vincelot in the first half.
The only negative from the game was the way in which Millwall opened the scoring. Our failure to defend set pieces has been a real Achilles’ heel of ours all season and it haunted us again. Defensively, bar that lapse in concentration, I thought we performed well on the whole. I am not the biggest fan of Aaron Phillips, but he put in an improved performance. Going forward he looked very threatening too, and giving credit where credit is due, he was superb.
Part of the reason why he was allowed to maraud forward so frequently was undoubtedly down to the extra space, but I was delighted that we played wth more width. We utilised the flanks much more effectively than we have previously and it caused the visitors issues. The main thing that impressed me, however, was our determination to drive forward even when we were in a winning position.
Far too many times we have seen City throw away points after reverting to a defensive position, but we never looked like doing that this time around. Even without the ball, we pressed well in forward areas and Marcus Tudgay characteristically made a nuisance of himself after coming on. It was just a very professional performance all around really, and us fans deserved that. Confidence should now be restored as we face another very good side in Bradford City.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Sam Ricketts – 7
Aaron Martin – 8
Jack Stephens – 7
Aaron Phillips – 8
Andy Rose – 7
John Fleck – 9
Romain Vincelot – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Joe Cole – 7
Adam Armstrong – 6
James Maddison – 7
Marcus Tudgay – 7
Martin Lorentzson – N/A
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Ricketts (C) (Tudgay 55), Martin, Stephens, Phillips, Rose, Fleck, Vincelot (Vincelot 35), Lameiras (Lorentzson 84), Cole, Armstrong.
Unused Substitutes: Addai, Bigirimana, Murphy, Fortune.
Millwall: Archer, Romeo, Webster, Beevers, Martin, Taylor (Gregory 79), Thompson, Williams, Ferguson (Abdou 34), O’Brien (Upson 57), Morison.
Unused Substitutes: Forde, Craig, Onyedinma, Philpot.
Attendance: 11,632 (1,862 away)