After a long summer of preparations, competitive football returned on Saturday as the Sky Blues travelled to Swindon for an opening day clash in League One. Coventry’s record at the County Ground is nothing short of abysmal, not winning a league game there since 1960. I’m sure supporters will remember last season’s clash at the stadium for all of the wrong reasons. With just minutes to play and a comfortable 2-0 lead intact, Tony Mowbray’s men self-imploded to gift the Robins a point.
With both clubs struggling to recruit fresh faces, the general consensus amongst both sets of fans was very negative. Swindon and Coventry both have young, threadbare squads and that was evident amongst the team selections. In the battle of the inexperienced outfits, it was the Robins who came out on top as a late Yaser Kasim goal swung the tie in his side’s favour. Missed chances turned out to be extremely costly for City, but the hosts dominated proceedings in the second half and the solitary goal proved to be enough to seal three points in Wiltshire.
As the game got underway in sunny Swindon, the pre-match jitters that some Coventry fans had were quickly alleviated as their side started very sharply. Jodi Jones displayed tidy feet to win a free kick on 2 minutes, and although the initial short pass from Vladimir Gadzhev didn’t work out, the ball eventually found Marvin Sordell. The former Colchester United man then galloped into the box before crashing a powerful effort off of the far post with Lawrence Vigouroux left stranded.
The Robins looked a bit shaky in the early stages and they were opened up again just 5 minutes later as the Sky Blues passed their way forward. Sordell caused problems as he sprinted past his marker to create space. It was his low cross that then led to the chance as George Thomas failed to adjust his body after Jodi Jones miscued a shot into his path. This opportunity seemed to act as a wake up call for Luke Williams’ men and they soon regained some composure to keep the ball.
With the home fans aggrieved with their team’s early showing, it was up to the Swindon players to restore some calmness. Despite knocking the ball around and opening up gaps, they failed to test Reice Charles-Cook in the away goal. His opposite number, Lawrence Vigouroux, was forced into a fingertip save up the other end on 20 minutes, however, as Dion Kelly-Evans found the target following a perfectly executed Sordell flick.
The tempo of the game did become slower soon after with the teams jostling for control, but Anton Rodgers did manage to hit a strike high and wide of Charles-Cook’s goal on 26 minutes. Swindon then fashioned another couple of openings around 35 minutes as a James Brophy found the keeper’s gloves before Jonathan Obika struck wide after a neat turn on the edge of the area. The final chance of the half then fell to George Thomas of Coventry, but he hesitated before being denied by Vigouroux.
I’m sure Swindon’s manager would have told his players to keep moving the ball around in the second period and they continued from where they left off. Despite being in charge, it was Coventry substitute Kyel Reid who saw the first chance of the half blocked on 52 minutes. The pace of Jones then allowed him to run onto a Jordan Wilis ball just seconds later, but the young winger was denied by Vigouroux’s feet as Reid stood unmarked in the area.
Swindon squandered a golden opportunity themselves just before the hour mark as it became a rather topsy-turvy affair. Brophy skipped away down the left wing before firing a low cross into the area that ricocheted off of two away defenders. Rodgers’ eyes then lit up as the ball roles invitingly into his path, but he was left frustrated as Cian Harries slid in to block. The resulting corner routine then bamboozled the Coventry defence and Obika flicked a header inches wide.
As the game progressed into the final quarter, the hosts began to look incredibly threatening. Conor Thomas hit a shot over from 15 yards after ghosting into the box on 70 minutes to receive a Brophy pass. Queens Park Rangers loanee Doughty was then sent through one-on-one courtesy of a perfectly weighted Jordan Young pass, but Willis tracked back magnificently to throw himself in front of the shot.
With relentless pressure now being mounted on the young Sky Blues defence, the embankment of away supporters were becoming restless. Their hearts were certainly in their mouths on 84 minutes as Young flashed a powerful effort off of the crossbar from 25 yards. Whilst the visitors may have been relieved at that point, they were left despairing just 2 minutes later as Yaser Kasim concluded some neat build-up with a sweetly struck effort that dropped into the far corner. Cue euphoria in the home end as Swindon ran out 1-0 victors.
We failed to get a result at Swindon yet again. It’s a horrible place to go to, particularly when you have a track record of conceding with just minutes to go. The goal itself was undeniably deserved as Swindon penned us back deep towards our own penalty area for the majority of the second half. Our young defence did cope well with the pressure being applied, but I felt that our midfield pairing of Andy Rose and Vladimir Gadzhev went missing.
Their failure to shield the back three made life far too easy for Swindon, making me even more eager for Chris McCann to come in and shore us up with his defensive capabilities. Although we did create a host of shooting opportunities in the opening 45 minutes, we also allowed opposition attackers to ghost into dangerous positions. Better sides would’ve capitalised on that, but we all know that we are in desperate need of reinforcement in that area.
Going forward, we looked a threat early on with our pace and directness, but we simply weren’t clinical enough. Lawrence Vigouroux went relatively untroubled all game, and we failed to stretch former Coventry man Conor Thomas as he filled in as a makeshift centre-back. Jodi Jones and George Thomas did show intelligence within their running, but both made questionable decisions when on the ball. Marvin Sordell did look very clever too, and how different the game could have been had his early strike dropped an inch inside the post.
As far as the performance is concerned as a whole, there were some positives to take considering the lack of experience. However, I am quite worried that if the new signings don’t embed into the squad quickly enough and we pick up a few injuries, we will be a long way off the Coventry we saw last season. I have faith in Tony Mowbray to bring in the right players, but it’s vital that we aren’t left too far behind come the end of August.
As I said earlier though, there are 46 games in a season. Ideally, we’d love to be sat here with a win under our belts, but we have a long time to iron out our frailties. It’s a huge risk relying on loan players to come in and fire us to success, but if we strike it lucky as we did last term, we could well push for the play-offs. With the current group of players, a mid-table finish would be respectable. However, we have to aim higher. The expectations have been furthered after 2015/16, so the pressure is on Mowbray and the players.
Swindon Town: Vigouroux, Thompson (C), Thomas, Rodgers, Sendles-White, Doughty, Kasim, Obika, Goddard (Young 63), Brophy, Barry.
Unused Substitutes: Henry, Landolo, Smith, Stewart, Evans, Hylton.
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Willis, Ricketts (C), Harries, Haynes, Di. Kelly-Evans, Rose, Gadzhev, G.Thomas (K. Thomas 72), Sordell (Reid 45), Jones (Lameiras 66).
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Tudgay, Finch, Stevenson.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Jordan Willis – 8
Sam Ricketts – 8
Cian Harries – 8
Ryan Haynes – 6
Dion Kelly-Evans – 7
Andy Rose – 6
Vladimir Gadzhev – 6
George Thomas – 6
Marvin Sordell – 7
Jodi Jones – 7
Attendance: 9,023 (1,956 Coventry)