During a seemingly endless off-season period without domestic football, fans all across the nation had to settle for digging their teeth into Euro 2016. However, with England’s catastrophic failure firmly lodged at the back of our minds, attention once again switched to Coventry City and the first game of the latest pre-season schedule. As the beginning of the 2016/17 campaign looks imminently over us, the traditional trip to neighbours Nuneaton Town of the Conference North handed the Sky Blues’ fans an opportunity to cast their eyes over Tony Mowbray’s squad.
With both teams utilising their full squads of players, the priority was ensuring the respective outfits got some crucial minutes under their belts. Despite the wholesale changes at the interval, both halves of football produced some good entertainment for the crowd of almost 1700. However, it was the League One side that earned the bragging rights as goals from Ruben Lameiras and Devon Kelly-Evans cancelled out Luke Shorthouse’s consolation for Nuneaton.
The game got underway with a strong following from Coventry looking on, but it was the home outfit that made the brighter start. With just 2 minutes on the clock, a long ball was pumped forward by Boro and Darragh Leahy misjudged the flight of the ball. Billy Daniels then advanced towards goal but his strike didn’t trouble Lee Burge as it sailed harmlessly over. The Sky Blues’ goalkeeper was called into action just minutes later, however, as he somehow sprung across to his right to claw a powerful header off the line.
Nuneaton’s early control continued as a youthful away side struggled to settle into proceedings. Despite a few early openings, Kevin Wilson’s men couldn’t find the breakthrough as Burge comfortably held a free kick on 8 minutes before another effort was struck wide of the near post. With 15 minutes played, The Sky Blues fashioned their first chance of the tie as Ruben Lameiras flashed a fierce drive wide.
The visitors gained some impetus after their first sighting of goal and Ryan Haynes looked threatening down the left wing. Great speed allowed him to surge into a promising position on 20 minutes but his drilled cross was collected by Zeus De La Paz as Lameiras closed in. Some scrappy exchanges ensued soon after but City kept searching for an elusive goal. Devon Kelly-Evans fired a shot wide with a defender closing in after 24 minutes before Lameiras saw a great effort bounce off the bar following superb work from Callum Maycock.
As the hosts began to be forced back into a defensive position, The Sky Blues’ patience paid off as they went 1-0 up on 37 minutes. Another piece of direct play from Haynes created the goal as he feinted past a defender to create space for a pass inside. Lameiras was the man who received the ball and he opened up his body before curling into the far corner past a despairing keeper. City then doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time as Devon Kelly-Evans pressurised De La Paz into a mistake. The academy product stole the ball before finishing after a wonderful turn in the area.
With both sides completely changing their lineups in the second period, it was Coventry who began the brightest. Vladimir Gadzhev swung in a deep corner almost immediately after the restart and new signing Marvin Sordell couldn’t direct his strike after peeling off his marker. The next chance also fell to The Sky Blues on 54 minutes as Jordan Shipley played a delightful ball across the pitch to Dion Kelly-Evans, but to the full-back’s disappointment, his effort was tame.
The tempo of the match slowed down soon after as both outfits battled for dominance in the midfield areas. Nuneaton started to enjoy more time on the ball but they struggled to trouble City’s back line. One of the home team’s best chances came about after 67 minutes as a tempting cross found Whitehouse. The captain’s header was powerful but Reice Charles-Cook got down rapidly to parry the ball away before Cian Harries hooked it away to safety.
Marvin Sordell had another chance after 73 minutes as Jodi Jones clipped a cross into the forward’s path after twisting his way towards the area. His volley towards goal was well blocked as Nuneaton threw bodies in the way to deny a goal. The Boro then had their first real chance of the second half in the 79th minute and it led to the deficit being halved. Substitute Luke Shorthouse struck a sweet strike past Charles-Cook after the ball sat up invitingly for the trialist forward.
The final 10 minutes proved to be fairly lifeless as things petered out a little. Nuneaton were driving forward in attempt to equalise, but Coventry looked organise defensively to restrict the space. A couple of final attempts were had by The Sky Blues in the latter stages as Sordell hit the post before Jack Finch saw a header well saved. The referee’s whistle was sounded shortly after to signal a 2-1 victory for Coventry in their first preparatory fixture.
The annual trip to Nuneaton never proves to be the most enthralling encounter, but it does signal that the start of the season is very close. As always, results don’t matter too much in pre-season but players are judged by supporters and staff. With only a couple of signings brought in before the tie, City’s squad was supplemented by a large quantity of youth products vying to catch the manager’s eye.
With all things considered, it was a positive display from The Sky Blues and we were unlucky not to score a couple more, the woodwork denying us twice. The goals we did score were of high quality too, particularly Ruben Lameiras’ finish that nestled into the top corner. With the lack of strikers on the books at City, it was a surprise to see Devon Kelly-Evans operating in the number 10 role. The small but quick youngster was a constant menace during the opening period and he took his goal very well.
Defensively we looked solid too, and bar the goal and a few half chances, Nuneaton didn’t really test either Lee Burge or Reice Charles-Cook. Cian Harries was his usual composed self during the second half and Jack Finch also looked composed in the heart of defence. Andy Rose and Vladimir Gadzhev also looked strong in midfield, as did the warrior-like Romain Vincelot who will be partnered by one of the aforementioned players after John Fleck’s departure.
With a number of friendlies still to be contested and hopefully a number of signings imminent, fans will be hoping for a positive season. In terms of results, we have recorded more wins than last season’s dismal pre-season campaign. With a week of training in store for the squad out in Austria over the coming week, City will be hoping to gain some more confidence versus an unconfirmed opponent.
The main thing we learned over the course of the game is that we have a lot of talented youngsters coming through at this football club. Whilst we evidently lack experience at the current moment, it’s fantastic to see the local talent we are producing. However, this reinforces why the academy is vital for the future of our club. Whilst we hope for success on the pitch this season, we also need to fight to preserve our category two status.
First Half XI: De La Paz, Clifton, Warburton, Scott, Langmead, Wheatley, Cartwright, Tempest, Ironside, McDonald, Daniels.
Second Half XI: Snedker, Pilbeam, De Bayo, Mitter, Keane, Penny, Cameron, Shaw, Bishop, Whitehouse, Demkiv.
Substitutes: Hawksworth, Hodgett-Young, Rigg, Shorthouse.
First Half XI: Burge, Vincelot, Ricketts, Leahy, Whitmore, Maycock, Rose, Haynes, Lameiras, Tudgay, De. Kelly-Evans.
Second Half XI: Charles-Cook, Willis, Harries, Finch, Di. Kelly-Evans (Spence 76), Gadzhev, Stevenson, Shipley (Sayoud 76), G. Thomas, Jones, Sordell.