After being dealt a blow on the opening day of the SkyBet League One campaign, the Sky Blues were keen to avenge the 1-0 defeat at Swindon with a victory on Tuesday night. Portsmouth were the visitors at the Ricoh Arena, and despite the two managers naming changed sides, both sets of supporters were hoping to see their respective side progress into the second round of the EFL Cup.
Last term, Coventry City fell at the first hurdle in the competition as Rochdale prevailed via a penalty shootout at Spotland. Pompey managed to make it one step further than City last season after edging past Derby County in the first round. However, they were narrowly defeated by another Championship side in Reading just two weeks later. It was the Midlands side that progressed the furthest this time though, seeing off their League Two counterparts after extra time.
With the game getting underway beneath the floodlights, it was Coventry who looked the more comfortable side in possession early on. A few ventures forward did get the home fans off of their seats, but the lack of a final ball soon soured the mood. Portsmouth did enjoy substantial time on the ball also, but they looked less dangerous on the attack. It took 9 minutes for the first opportunity of the affair to come about, but Ryan Haynes’ fizzed cross was well held by Alex Bass with Marcus Tudgay in close attention.
As the visitors began to impose themselves on the tie, they opened up their first chance just minutes later. Some clever passing play eventually reached Ben Tollitt but he only managed to fire a strike wide from range. City then broke to fashion a sight on goal themselves but Haynes found the clutches of Bass once more. With a quarter of an hour on the clock, the Pompey keeper was called into action again but it proved to be a routine stop from a tame Tudgay shot.
Soon after, it was Paul Cook’s outfit who began to look the more threatening and Kyle Bennett was giving them real impetus on the attack. With 19 minutes played, the dynamic winger burst into the area before being felled by a City challenge. As Bennett returned to his feet, Coventry’s players appealed with rage but the referee pointed to the spot. Curtis Main then confidently strutted up to the ball before firing Portsmouth into a 1-0 lead as his powerful drive nestled into the roof of the net.
As the travelling team attempted to set the pace after taking the lead, they almost conceded an equaliser on 24 minutes as an Andy Rose cross split the back four. Tudgay was the man that the delivery found in the centre of the area, but his header was poor and Bass thwarted him from point blank range. The Sky Blues used that chance as an incentive to attack, but again, a lack of quality in the final third was looking very costly as chances passed by in number.
With the half coming to a conclusion, Portsmouth raced forward and went close to stretching their advantage as Gareth Evans arced an effort just over the bar. In the 42nd minute, some more promising play from the athletic figure of Rose led to a half chance up the other end. Another pinpoint cross from the former Seattle Sounders man found Tudgay but the striker couldn’t keep his acrobatic attempt under the bar.
With Tony Mowbray electing to bring on livewire Jodi Jones during the interval, it was clear that City were looking to influence the game more in the forward areas. His impact was instantaneous and superb combination play with Rose allowed another cross to be played into the Pompey box on 52 minutes. Lameiras failed to show any desire to get on the end of the ball, however, and the danger was relieved. Young midfielder Ben Stevenson then pulled the trigger just a minute later but it wasn’t troubling Bass as it sailed wide.
As confidence began to increase both in the stands and on the field, Jones made another incisive pass that led to Tudgay having a shot blocked well by Adam Buxton. With 61 minutes played, City did make pressure pay as they levelled the scores with a well worked goal. Vladimir Gadzhev clipped a cross into the area and Portsmouth’s back line could only clear to Haynes who volleyed home emphatically.
Following the equaliser, the atmosphere around the Ricoh Arena improved and Coventry’s players responded to their fans’ encouragement. Kyel Reid was introduced into the fray on 69 minutes and he was eager to make an impression as he pivoted to fire wide with his first involvement. Haynes was also gunning to make amends for his poor start and he looked a changed man after finding the net.
With 82 minutes on the clock, the home supporters were sent into celebratory mode as Coventry took a deserved lead. Some intricate play on the edge of the opposition area found Lameiras and it was his sly pass that set Gadzhev free to roll the ball past Bass. The jubilation didn’t last long, however, as Kai Naismith dipped a perfectly placed free kick into the top right corner of Reice Charles-Cook’s goal to send the tie into extra time.
As the extra period began, it was the Sky Blues who looked to take the game to Portsmouth. Bouts of probing attacks from City tested the away defence but their back four coped well. Jones did force Bass into his first save of the additional time on 102 minute but the keeper responded excellently with a low stop. The away fans were almost applauding a goal of their own on 105 minutes, but Charles-Cook magnificently clawed the ball away from Bennett’s feet inside the area following a swift counter-attack.
Just after the restart, Mowbray’s men retook the lead after a surging Haynes run down the left. The young full-back charged into the area before seeing a powerful effort parried into Rose’s path an he made no mistakes with the finish. City continued to motor forward in order to wrap things up, but Haynes and Lameiras were both denied. Pompey then bombarded the home penalty area with aerial balls as the game ticked into the latter stages, but the Sky Blues’ young defence withstood the pressure to secure the win.
Another roller coaster ride of a night watching Coventry. The first half was very worrying and we had similar problems to what we saw on Saturday – a lack of incision in the final third. Again, we kept the ball well at times but at no point did Portsmouth’s back line look in any real danger. On a positive note, our own defence restricted the space in front of Reice Charles-Cook very well and apart from the dubious penalty, the away side didn’t really have any clear openings.
Cian Harries and Ryan Haynes did both struggle during the first period and they were targeted as a result, but they kept plugging away. Maybe it was a case of pre-match jitters, but once the fairly disappointing first half was out of the way, both acquitted themselves very well. The latter obviously got on the score sheet and he seemed to beam with life after grabbing the equaliser, transforming into the attacking threat we know he can be.
The thing that pleased me the most during the night has to be the guts shown from the players and the reaction in the second half. A few stray boos echoed around the stands at the interval, but boy did we silence the critics. Jodi Jones was simply unstoppable and he terrorised the opposition after coming on, showing us once again that he is a real star. Kyel Reid also looked very aggressive with the ball at his feet and those two could prove very key during this season.
Defensively we are still short of a few pieces to the jigsaw, but we have the basis of a fairly strong side. Andy Rose looked very capable in the right wing-back role and Vladimir Gadzhev put in a controlled display. One player that I am very excited about is Ben Stevenson and he staked a claim for a central birth too. He is destined for big things and I believe he can be a great option off the bench for us this season.
Questions are still being asked of the 3-4-3 formation that the manager has implemented, but there are promising signs for sure. Do I think we have as good of a squad as we did last year? No. However, if Mowbray can work his magic to bring in a traditional striker along with a few defensive reinforcements, all hope is not lost. Regardless of the players out on the pitch, we have got to get behind the lads and see what comes of it. It won’t be easy, but hopefully that win has raised confidence levels.
Just finally, I’d like to thank the loyal band of Portsmouth fans who made the long jaunt to watch the game. You behaved impeccably throughout and supported your side with great vocal backing, but all Coventry fans appreciate you joining in with the applause to remember the life of Jayden Parsons, a City supporter who sadly passed away a year ago. You are a credit to your club.
RIP Jayden – forever sky blue.
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Jordan Willis – 7
Sam Ricketts – 7
Cian Harries – 6
Ryan Haynes – 7
Vladimir Gadzhev – 8
Ben Stevenson – 7
Andy Rose – 8
George Thomas – 5
Marcus Tudgay – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Jodi Jones – 9
Kyel Reid – 7
Jack Finch – 7
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Willis (Finch 76), Ricketts (C), Harries, Haynes, Gadzhev, Stevenson, Rose, G. Thomas (Jones 45), Tudgay (Reid 69), Lameiras.
Unused Substitutes: Burge, K. Thomas, Page, Di. Kelly-Evans.
Portsmouth: Bass, Davies, Naismith, Buxton (Talbot 77), Barton (C), May, Linganzi, Bennett, Tollitt, Evans (Chaplin 64), Main (Hunt 84).
Unused Substitutes: O’Brien, Whatmough, Doyle, Baker.
Attendance: 4,976 (722 away)