Despite recent off-field issues causing concern amongst the supporters of Coventry City, Tony Mowbray and his players travelled to Gillingham on Saturday fully focused. Without a win to their name so far in SkyBet League One, the Sky Blues went into the fixture as the side propping up the rest of the division. A 0-0 stalemate was played out the last time the teams met, but both managers would be looking to better that result.
With the worst attack (Coventry) coming up against the worst defence (Gillingham), it was never touted as a thriller. There was goals, however, but it was the team from Kent that edged out the Sky Blues as they secured three points with a 2-1 win. Goals from Max Ehmer and Billy Knot cancelled out Kyel Reid’s opener and Coventry now remain rooted to the foot of the SkyBet League One table.
Almost immediately after the referee blew his whistle to start proceedings, Gillingham were on the attack and Billy Knott registered the first attempt on goal. After receiving the ball on the edge of the area, he pivoted before forcing Reice Charles-Cook into a routine low save. As the Gills continued to apply the pressure early on, the visitors broke away with speed on 5 minutes to fashion an opening on the counter. Andre Wright did well to bundle a ball into the area but Marvin Sordell was thwarted by a brave Stuart Nelson stop.
Despite enjoying less time on the ball, the Coventry front line were looking to make a nuisance of themselves. However, it was Justin Edinburgh’s men who carved out the next opening as a Bradley Dack corner was hurled in towards Deji Oshilaja on 12 minutes. After peeling away from his marker, the defender connected with the ball but his glancing header dropped harmlessly wide. Sordell then found the clutches of Nelson up the other end before another dead ball situation allowed Max Ehmer to test the away keeper on 18 minutes.
Just 2 minutes later, the deadlock was broken and it was the Sky Blues who hauled themselves into the lead. A deflected Gael Bigirimana cross found Kyel Reid on the edge of the area and the winger accurately fired a half-volley past a sprawling Nelson after controlling expertly. The joy amongst the visiting fans was short lived, however, as a long throw-in from Ryan Jackson unlocked the Coventry defence. Ehmer was able to profit, towering above his opposite number to head into the net to level the scores with 26 minutes on the clock.
After finding the net, the Gills failed to build any real momentum and it was instead the visitors who began to control possession. Great interchange between Reid and Sordell allowed the latter to flash a low cross into a promising area just after the half hour mark, but nobody was on hand to turn the ball towards goal. Gills defender Jackson then saw a long range effort deflected into Charles-Cook’s gloves up the other end but it was Sordell who had the final meaningful effort of the opening period. The forward cut inside smartly before forcing Nelson into a fingertip save that sent the ball over the bar on 41 minutes.
The second period began at a much slower tempo than the first, both teams battling for possession in central areas. Gillingham did have two chances in quick succession through Scott Wagstaff on 49 minutes, the first a stooping header that flew over and the second an optimistic drive that bounced wide of goal. The Sky Blues soon settled down to control the rhythm of the game, but they failed to split the home defence despite patient build-up.
Just before the hour mark, former Coventry man Cody McDonald had a clear opportunity to put Gillingham ahead but he spurned it. Oshilaja found the forward in an advanced position but he skewed his low effort wide from close range after breaching the offside trap. The Sky Blues then countered instantaneously to mount an attack themselves, but Vladimir Gadzhev could only sting the palms of Nelson after robbing Dack of the ball.
As the pattern of the game ebbed and flowed with both outfits struggling to make a mark, it looked as if the game would play out to a draw. However, in the 72nd minute, calamitous defending from Coventry captain Sam Ricketts handed Gillingham a chance to take the lead and they duly obliged. The defender’s mistimed header allowed McDonald time and space to roll the ball into Billy Knot’s path and the midfielder calmly slotted a finish past Charles-Cook.
With the Gills now boasting a one-goal advantage, Edinburgh instructed his players to sit deep and make things difficult for Coventry. The away side searched for an equaliser but it proved to be elusive as the home defence coped with any danger competently. Substitute Ben Stevenson went close to making it 2-2 on 81 minutes as he drilled a low strike inches wide of the far post. Sordell then forced Nelson into a superb reflex save in stoppage time but the referee’s whistle was sounded soon afterwards to signal defeat for the Sky Blues.
I just can’t see where a result is going to come from. It’s getting incredibly tedious now following City – another weekend without anything to cheer about. In the first half I thought we controlled the game well and the ball was worked around tidily, but we never really looked too threatening. Kyel Reid’s goal was of high quality and it was probably deserved, but the way in which we shipped goals up the other end was laughable.
I’ve said it time and time again, it’s all well and good knocking the ball around and playing possession football, but there has to be an end product. We create limited opportunities going forward and when we do, we are usually wasteful. Stuart Nelson was only stretched on a couple of occasions and the Gills looked comfortable, particularly in the second half. When we were chasing the game with minutes to go, we made it far too easy for the home defence. Why don’t we spread the ball out wide and bombard the opposition area with crosses? It’s notoriously difficult to play tiki-taka football through a line of six or seven defenders.
Despite being a fan of Mowbray, there is tremendous pressure on his shoulders now. Granted, he hasn’t been backed financially, but he has to be questioned tactically at times. Our form in 2016 has been atrocious and he doesn’t deserve a free ride. The players still look confused in regards to the system being played and that isn’t a promising sign at all. We were comfortable playing 3-4-3 in the first half, then we switched to 4-2-3-1 and we lost the foothold. Dion Kelly-Evans did look way out of his depth, however, and it was no surprise to see him replaced at the interval.
Lewis Page was also far too inconsistent down the left side of defence, meaning Gillingham targeted the flanks. The first goal we conceded came from a long throw and it really is schoolboy defending, and then Sam Ricketts has had a nightmare for the second. For the large part we seemed to deal with the pressure well, but it’s a couple of mistakes that proved costly once more. The majority of goals from the opposition have occurred through our own wrongdoing. Combine that with a lack of firepower and you begin to see why supporters are fearing the worst.
It’s just a really bleak time at the football club at the moment and I fail to see any glimmer of hope. We are a shambles off the field and we haven’t been much better on it. Something major needs to change otherwise relegation to League Two could be a formality. The only positive is that there is still 37 games to put things right, but it’s hard for anybody to feel remotely confident at this current moment. There were some plus points to take from the game, but results just aren’t being ground out by City and it’s a real cause for concern.
Reice Charles-Cook – 6
Jordan Willis – 6
Sam Ricketts – 5
Jordan Turnbull – 5
Dion Kelly-Evans – 4
Lewis Page – 5
Vladimir Gadzhev – 6
Gael Bigirimana – 6
Andre Wright – 5
Kyel Reid – 7
Marvin Sordell – 7
Jodi Jones – 5
Ben Stevenson – 5
Daniel Agyei – 5
Gillingham: Nelson, Jackson (Osadebe 55), Ehmer, Oshilaja, Wagstaff, Donnelly (Emmanuel-Thomas 69), McDonald, Knott, Konchesky, Dack, Wright (C) (Byrne 45).
Substitutes: Hadler, Pask, Oldaker, List.
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Willis, Ricketts (C), Turnbull, Di. Kelly-Evans (Jones 45), Page, Gadzhev (Agyei 74), Bigirimana, Wright (Stevenson 72), Reid, Sordell.
Substitutes: Addai, Harries, Lameiras, Tudgay.
Attendance: 7,664 (380 away)