Coventry City were in EFL Cup action on Tuesday night as they faced Championship side Norwich City in the second round at Carrow Road. After suffering a 3-0 defeat to the Canaries in a pre-season friendly in July, Tony Mowbray would be hoping that his depleted squad could cause an upset. Alex Neil, meanwhile, was confident ahead of the fixture despite a number of injuries limiting his options in some areas.
A few internationals were still named in the lineup, however, and their experience proved too much for the travelling side. Ruben Lameiras scored Coventry’s only goal of the night via the penalty spot but a brace from Sergi Canos inspired Norwich to an emphatic victory. Kyle Lafferty, Jacob Murphy, Russell Martin and Ben Godfrey also found the net as the Canaries comfortably progressed into the third round of the competition in front of their own supporters.
The home side got the ball rolling under the floodlights upon hearing the referee’s whistle, and they immediately looked to run at a youthful Coventry back line. With just 3 minutes on the clock, Louis Thompson shimmied his way towards the box before he was stripped by Sam Ricketts. From a dangerous position, James Maddison struck the resulting free kick over Reice Charles-Cook’s crossbar. The Sky Blues did settle into proceedings by playing some expansive football, but they struggled to get in behind Norwich’s defence.
Another free kick was awarded to the Canaries on 9 minutes as Lewis Page hacked down Sergi Canos and it brought the first attempt on target of the evening. Maddison elected to roll the ball into Tony Andreu’s path but his low drive was held by the Coventry keeper. Following this opening, Alex Neil’s men looked to dominate possession and they began to stretch the visiting defence. Some clever work from Canos down the right flank allowed him to stand a ball up into Andreu’s path, but the midfielder miscued a volley way off target.
In the 18th minute Russell Martin was a Charles-Cook fingertip away from giving his side the lead. A pinpoint Maddison corner picked out the Norwich skipper but the away keeper made an acrobatic stop to claw the ball over the bar. Just 4 minutes later, Sam Ricketts made an excellent sliding challenge in his own area to deny Canos, but the hosts did find the net with their next attack. A hopeful ball was knocked long and Coventry defender misread the bounce, allowing Canos to profit. The winger then had the simple task of playing a pass into Kyle Lafferty and the Northern Ireland striker slotted a finish into the corner.
Just after the half hour mark, Coventry enjoyed a brighter spell as they searched for a leveller. With 32 minutes played, Ben Stevenson called Paul Jones into action but the keeper was equal to a half-volley that followed some neat combination play. A few minutes later, another chance fell the Sky Blues’ way but Vladimir Gadzhev could only bend a strike narrowly wide of the far post. Those missed opportunities came back to haunt the away outfit as Canos ghosted inside before doubling Norwich’s lead with a shot that beat Charles-Cook. A few more sightings of goal were had before the break but the score remained 2-0 at the interval.
As the Sky Blues looked to recover a two-goal deficit, they started the second period brightly with Agyei being denied by the alert figure of Jones on 48 minutes. Coventry academy product Maddison then forced Charles-Cook into a low save up the other end with 51 minutes on the clock before Gadzhev fired wide after receiving an Agyei pass. Despite that miss, the visitors weren’t deterred and they won a penalty on 56 minutes as Dion Kelly-Evans was hauled down in the box. Substitute Ruben Lameiras then stepped up to tuck the spot kick away and restore hope amongst Coventry supporters.
Any chance of a comeback was soon eradicated, however, as Norwich reinstated their two-goal buffer just before the hour. Another tempting Maddison corner was propelled deep into the Coventry area and Martin volleyed home emphatically after eluding his marker. Lameiras then skewed an effort off target for the Sky Blues before Jacob Murphy scored to make it 4-1 to The Canaries on 63 minutes. Impressive build-up eventually found the winger and he turned expertly before curling an unstoppable finish past the despairing Charles-Cook.
Amidst the changes being made by both managers, Agyei passed by a golden opportunity before he was substituted as he directed a Lameiras cross onto the woodwork from close range. Soon after, the Canaries expressed their confidence by effortlessly knocking the ball around on the slick surface, forcing the opposition to chase shadows. Dropping into space at will, Maddison fizzed an effort inches over before Josh Murphy saw a low drive saved on 75 minutes.
Despite Coventry’s best efforts to keep Norwich at bay, the Carrow Road crowd were on their feet again as Canos slid a tidy finish under Charles-Cook with 80 minutes played. As the tempo of the match began to drop, it seemed as if that would be that as far as the scoreline was concerned. However, Norwich debutant Ben Godfrey still had time to introduce himself to the supporters as he rifled a powerful strike into the back of the net from range to wrap things up on 86 minutes. The referee then sounded the full-time whistle soon after to bring an end to a torrid evening for the Sky Blues who were left hapless and hopeless.
I can’t say anything else apart from we were outplayed by a much better side tonight, despite the Canaries having the luxury of fielding a largely second-string eleven. Despite us sticking to our principles by attempting to play an attractive brand of football, we were picked off far too easily as our own mistakes and Norwich’s superiority combined to ensure they secured a comfortable victory. In all honesty, I never expected us to get a result, but we were swept aside far too easily.
Physicality is an element that is desperately needed in competitive football, particularly in the lower leagues, but our frailties in that area were evident all night. The imposing figures of Russell Martin and Sebastien Bassong mopped up any danger throughout, and apart from a few tussles with Daniel Agyei, they wouldn’t have known they were in a game. The Burnley loanee did prove to be a handful at times, but he was left isolated for most of the game and he was cut a fallorn figure.
The first couple of goals we conceded were incredibly frustrating and they were reminiscent of the ones shipped in the friendly fixture. An inexplicable lapse in concentration from Jordan Willis led to the first and Reice Charles-Cook should’ve done better with the second, although he was offered little protection from his back three. Is it time for a change in formation? I am starting to believe it is as we were left wanting in wide areas consistently throughout the tie.
One of the most worrying things for me so far is that the youngsters seem to be low in confidence and that result won’t do anything to lift their heads. Tony Mowbray has the job of encouraging them and picking them up, but I fear that the longer our winless run goes on, the more difficult it will become to get out of. You can clearly see from the stands that the effort is there from the boys donning Coventry shirts, but we are being forced to play a number of lads that aren’t ready for the rigours of League One. We were completely bullied tonight.
As our injury list continues to expand, it is becoming more and more obvious that we simply have no depth to our squad. With just over a week for the manager to paper over the cracks with a few fresh faces, I just can’t see us being competitive. We have some superb players for this level in the likes of Vladimir Gadzhev, but there isn’t enough quality beyond the starting eleven, or maybe even in it for that matter. Hopefully we can secure a victory versus Northampton Town at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, but if we don’t, the solemn mood around the club will worsen.
Reice Charles-Cook – 5
Cian Harries – 6
Sam Ricketts – 6
Jordan Willis – 5
Lewis Page – 5
Chris McCann – 6
Vladimir Gadzhev – 7
Ben Stevenson – 5
Dion Kelly-Evans – 5
Kyel Reid – 5
Daniel Agyei – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 6
Kyle Spence – 5
Devon Kelly-Evans – 5
Norwich City: Jones, Whittaker (Godfrey 65), Martin (C), Bassong, Toffolo, Thompson, Canos, Maddison, Andreu, Ja. Murphy (Jo. Murphy 65), Lafferty (Mulumbu 85).
Unused Substitutes: McGovern, Turner, Morris, Grant.
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Harries, Ricketts (C), Willis, Page, McCann, Gadzhev, Stevenson (Dev. Kelly-Evans 66), Di, Kelly-Evans, Reid (Lameiras 45), Agyei (Spence 66).
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Haynes, Finch, Tudgay.