Following the stalemate versus Northampton Town at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, Coventry City were back in action on Tuesday night in the EFL Trophy. With the introduction of various Premier League ‘B’ sides into the pilot scheme of the competition, West Ham United’s U23’s faced the trip to the Midlands. The game was the first of three group stage encounters for the Sky Blues and they got off to a flying start.
The only negative for the home side was Dion Kelly-Evans’ dismissal late on after the right-back received a second yellow card. On the scoreline, however, the Sky Blues romped to victory as they found the net on four occasions. Jordan Turnbull scored a couple to add to strikes from Jordan Willis and Ruben Lameiras, and that proved enough to cancel out a double from lively West Ham forward Antonio Martinez.
With a record low attendance under the floodlights, the game got underway and it was Tony Mowbray’s men who made the more imposing start. Some promising build-up play found its way to Gael Bigirimana in the 3rd minute and it resulted in the first piece of goalmouth action. The midfielder flashed a low drive towards the corner, but to his dismay, Raphael Spiegel got down smartly to parry the attempt wide of danger. Following that opening the match settled down into a battle for possession, causing chances to be limited.
Despite the visiting outfit looking very comfortable on the ball, it was Coventry who fashioned two chances in quick succession with around 18 minutes on the clock. The first came as Chris McCann played a free kick towards Daniel Agyei, but the striker completely missed the ball from 20 yards. Seconds later and the Sky Blues surged forward again, Ruben Lameiras being denied by Spiegel after some tidy work from Marvin Sordell down the left wing. With 21 minutes played, Lameiras this time turned provider as he teed up Agyei who found the gloves of the West Ham keeper.
The pace of the game then soon slowed once more and neither team looked like registering a goal, but with 32 minutes played the deadlock was broken. Although City were beginning to look the better outfit, it was the Hammers who hauled themselves in front. An initial powerful strike was blocked by Jordan Willis but the ball looped into the air. As it dropped, Lee Burge and Willis failed to deal with the loose ball and Antonio Martinez pounced to slot a finish into the back of the net.
As Terry Westley’s youngsters looked to defend their lead, they were disrupted by Coventry’s pressing game in the centre of the field. Just a few minutes after the opening goal of the tie, the scores were levelled as Jordan Turnbull tucked an effort into the top corner after reacting first to a loose ball in the West Ham box. In the final 10 minutes of the first period, the Sky Blues looked to dominate proceedings and they almost turned the game around on 40 minutes. Patient passing play allowed McCann to pick the ball up in a dangerous area, but Spiegel flew across his goal to tip the ball wide to ensure it remained 1-1 at half-time.
With the hosts in high spirits after their positive spell in the latter stages of the first half, they began the second in a similar vein. With 47 minutes played Turnbull threaded a sublime pass into the advancing Agyei, but as he attempted to round the goalkeeper, he saw the ball clawed away from his feet expertly. Almost immediately after, however, the physical forward showed great strength and awareness to find Lameiras and the Portuguese winger stroked a sublime finish into the far corner.
In the following moments, nothing of note occurred and the affair became devoid of action. The next sighting of goal didn’t come about until the 58th minute and it was Lameiras who brought a save out of Spiegel as he let fly from 25 yards. 11 minutes later and another attempt on target was registered by the Sky Blues. Substitute Ben Stevenson found a pocket of space before rolling the ball to Lameiras, but his low drive was easily held by the keeper.
Marcus Tudgay was then introduced into the fray on 72 minutes and he made an instant impact to grab an assist within a minute. Fellow substitute Jodi Jones clipped in a free kick and the forward’s header across goal was turned in by Willis. City then furthered their advantage once more just 2 minutes later as an identical Jones set piece found Turnbull. The delivery floated enticingly into the air and the summer signing towered above his marker to nod in his second goal of the evening.
It was almost 5-1 with 81 minutes on the clock as Cian Harries propelled an arcing pass over West Ham’s defence into the feet of Jones. His impeccable control then allowed him to get a shot away but Spiegel was alert to make a sprawling stop. The Hammers then carved out their first clear-cut opportunity of the half with 5 minutes remaining, but Burge bravely got down to block the effort. The final moments were then controlled by Coventry, but Martinez sealed a brace for United with an exquisite lob to conclude the game at 4-2.
Despite not boycotting this fixture like the majority of other football fans across the country, I am not a fan of the radical changes made to what was already a perfectly fine cup competition. Whilst the FA will preach that it’s still a fantastic opportunity for the lower league teams to reach Wembley, the introduction of the ‘B’ teams makes fixtures less appealing. The argument is that it will benefit our national team in the long run, and maybe it will, but there’s other measures that could’ve been taken.
With the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur all electing to decline the invitation to participate, I think this one-year trial will be the last we hear of it and a return to the original format will be made in the summer. It’s just frustrating that these effectively Premier League reserve sides have been added, and I can only see financial reasons being the answer as to why the Football League clubs voted in favour of the radical adjustments. I just hope that it’s an all first-team final, not one involving a set of U23 players.
Anyway, in regards to the game itself, it was actually a good spectacle. After a fairly lifeless opening 20 minutes or so, it kicked into life. We kept the ball well and during the few minutes before conceding the first goal we looked like we were taking control. However, some indecisiveness from Lee Burge and Jordan Willis gifted West Ham the undeserved opener. It was a shame for the keeper really as he would’ve been itching to impress the manager. A shaky display from him means that Reice Charles-Cook will almost certainly be donning the number 1 strip a Fleetwood.
As for the rest of the team, I thought they performed very well. We matched a technically sound Hammers side throughout and, as expected, we were far superior in the physical duels. Jordan Turnbull was very impressive in the back three and his two goals were throughly deserved, but Cian Harries and Jordan Willis put in good shifts too. The standout man for me, however, was Gael Bigirimana. He marshalled the midfield excellently and he excelled in both his defensive and attacking responsibilities.
I’m just hoping that the win and the nature of how we dominated the football allows the players to instil some confidence going into the weekend. Albeit against an inexperienced U23 team, we performed incredibly well and there are a lot of positives to be taken. Focus now switches back to SkyBet League One and I’m confident that we can turn two recent improved performances into a desperately needed set of three points.
Lee Burge – 5
Cian Harries – 7
Jordan Turnbull – 7
Jordan Willis – 6
Ryan Haynes – 6
Chris McCann – 7
Gael Bigirimana – 8
Dion Kelly-Evans – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Marvin Sordell – 6
Daniel Agyei – 7
Ben Stevenson – 6
Jodi Jones – 7
Marcus Tudgay – 6
Coventry City: Burge, Harries, Turnbull, Willis (C), Haynes, McCann (Stevenson 60), Bigirimana, Di. Kelly-Evans, Lameiras (Tudgay 72), Sordell (Jones 65), Agyei.
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Finch, Ricketts, G. Thomas.
West Ham United U23’s: Spiegel, Neufville, Rice, Lewis (Eggleton 65), Pike, Sylvestre, Makasi, Quina (Powell 62), Browne, Diangana (Gordon 78), Martinez.
Unused Substitutes: Hector-Ingram, Trott, Kemp, Akinola.
Attendance: 2,091 (98 away)