Coventry City’s home campaign concluded on Saturday as the Ricoh Arena played host to Nigel Adkins’ Sheffield United. In the reverse fixture at Bramall Lane, a host of dubious refereeing decisions cost The Sky Blues as the Yorkshire side prevailed 1-0 courtesy of a Billy Sharp header. With the nature of that defeat in mind, Tony Mowbray’s men would be extra determined to sign off with a victory on home soil.
City handed George Thomas his first senior start of the season and Stephen Hunt replaced the injured Sam Ricketts. Despite a few injury problems, the home side ran out comfortable 3-1 victors as Marc-Antione Fortune, Andy Rose and Ruben Lameiras found the net. Billy Sharp did hand his side a lifeline via the penalty spot just before the hour mark, but The Blades’ loss means they are a League One side again next term.
With a cold wind swirling around Coventry, the home side looked to turn up the heat immediately from kick-off and they had supporters erupting into celebration with 4 minutes played. Adam Armstrong let fly from range and his effort inadvertently deflected of Marc-Antione Fortune, causing the ball to roll past George Long who was stranded in the Sheffield United goal.
Remarkably, the away side probed forward themselves following the restart and they went inches away from equalising. A long ball was pumped forward and Che Adams showed magnificent technique to flick the ball over Romain Vincelot’s head. The former Coventry academy product then evaded the advances of Reice Charles-Cook, but after skipping past the goalkeeper, he could only miscue his strike wide of the near post.
Just 2 minutes later, the away outfit were left ruing that miss as The Sky Blues doubled their advantage. Joe Cole provided the assist with a perfectly weighted pass that was gratefully received by Andy Rose, the midfielder then planted the ball into the top corner with aplomb. Coventry were in firm control of the game at this point, and with Reda Johnson, Lee Burge and Ivor Lawton joining fans up in block 15, a party atmosphere was created.
After the incredibly lively start, the action soon began to come at a slower rate. George Thomas did muster a tame strike on goal with 12 minutes played, but it was the visitors who saw the next real opening fall their way on 26 minutes. Ben Whiteman received the ball out wide after smart play from Billy Sharp before playing a pinpoint cross towards the back post. Adams was the man lurking with intent and he forced Reice Charles-Cook into a sprawling save after fending off a host of defenders.
Up the other end, Coventry’s guile and swagger allowed them to go close on a number of occasions with Sheffield United’s defence forced into some last ditch blocks. Ryan Flynn then had a chance of his own for the visitors after 32 minutes but Charles-Cook pushed it away. A moment of indecisiveness from Coventry’s goalkeeper then created space for Sharp to cross into a packed area but luckily for The Sky Blues, Romain Vincelot was on hand to hook the ball away from the unguarded goal.
With United needing a victory to keep them in the mix for promotion, they pressed the home side as expected in search for a route back into the tie. However, it was Coventry who went close again on 48 minutes as Stephen Hunt’s curling cross somehow evaded the plethora of bodies in the area. Adams then saw space open up on the edge of the home box with 51 minutes on the clock but his low drive was simple for Charles-Cook to deal with.
Jack Stephens then ran the length of the pitch for Coventry just a minute later but his final touch trickled just wide of the far post. In the 57th minute, The Blades were handed an opportunity to claw a goal back from the penalty spot and they did just that as Sharp dispatched it down the centre with Charles-Cook springing to his right. This sparked a feeling of hope amongst the away supporters and their side responded by upping their intensity.
As the Yorkshire outfit started to enjoy more possession of the ball, Coventry’s back line was forced into a more defensive position. Despite being given more space to play in front of City, United failed to take advantage as the hosts dealt with any threats comfortably. With a counter attack, The Sky Blues almost scored a third on 64 minutes as Stephens and Hunt combined well to find Cole who fired narrowly wide from 20 yards.
In the 72nd minute, Sheffield United put the opposition under some serious pressure as they bombarded the goalmouth. A number of shots were initially blocked before Charles-Cook denied Alex Baptiste and Paul Coutts blazed over from range after the ball rolled invitingly into the midfielder’s path. Coventry’s defence then continued to frustrate Adkins’ team with some organised and rigid defending that deprived The Blades.
During the latter stages it was The Sky Blues who looked the more promising as they utilised the open space to good effect. With United throwing bodies into forward areas, Armstrong broke to tee up substitute Ruben Lameiras and his shot was blocked. City recycled possession, however, and Jodi Jones forced Long into a great reaction save from close range. Both of the late additions did combine well in stoppage time as Jones picked out Lameiras who was unmarked in the area. The Portuguese midfielder then slid the ball under the goalkeeper to ensure Coventry ended with a 3-1 win at the Ricoh.
That was a great way to sign off at the Ricoh for this season, and the overall performance was very pleasing. We can’t deny that the second half of the footballing calendar has provided us with very few celebratory moments, but it has been a much improved campaign that should give us hope for next term. Hopefully that victory, along with the triumphs over Millwall and Bradford, entices supporters to back the club again when the ball gets rolling in 2016/17.
In terms of this game, I was disappointed with Sheffield United who looked second best for the majority of the game. Whether it was nerves, complacency or any other factors, I’m sure that the travelling fans will be seething at their side’s lack of fight. The main compartment where they looked incredibly poor was was in the midfield areas, and Romain Vincelot, John Fleck and Joe Cole all took advantage to run the show.
Defensively there were a few nervy moments, particularly after United reduced the deficit to 2-1, but we dealt with any threats competently on the whole. Aaron Martin has been exceptional this term but Jack Stephens particularly impressed me in this fixture, showcasing his ability to bring the ball out from the back and causing the opposition problems in the process.
Up the other end of the pitch, we looked far more dangerous than we have recently and some free flowing football led to an entertaining spectacle. The way in which we took the latter two of our goals was excellent too, with the build-up leading to Andy Rose’s goal impeccable. Despite breaching George Long’s goals on three occasions, the scoreline could have been wider but for the goalkeeper’s shot-stopping antics.
The victory should give us confidence going into our final game at Oldham Athletic next weekend and I’m hopeful we can follow it up with another set of three points. Of course, neither side has anything to play for with John Sheridan’s men avoiding relegation and City falling short of the top six, but it would be nice to end on a high wouldn’t it? Another healthy following will make the trip to Boundary Park, let’s just hope they are left smiling upon the full-time whistle.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Aaron Martin – 7
Jack Stephens – 8
Stephen Hunt – 7
Romain Vincelot – 7
John Fleck – 8
Joe Cole – 8
Andy Rose – 8
George Thomas – 7
Adam Armstrong – 7
Marc-Antione Fortune – 7
Jodi Jones – 7
Aaron Phillips – 7
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Martin, Stephens, Hunt, Vincelot, Fleck, Rose (Phillips 70), G.Thomas (Jones 65), Armstrong, Fortune (Lameiras 77).
Unused Substitutes: Addai, Harries, Gadzhev, Tudgay.
Sheffield United: Long, Baptiste, Basham, Coutts, Edgar, McEveley, Whiteman (Reed 84), Coutts, Flynn (Woolford 65), Adams, Done (Kelly 89).
Unused Substitutes: Sammon, McGahey, Brooks, Ramsdale.
Attendance: 13,177 (1,909 away)