After Tony Mowbray’s resignation earlier in the week, now managerless Coventry City travelled to Burslem on Saturday to face a Port Vale side in high spirits. The Valiants occupied fifth spot prior to the game after a convincing 3-1 win over Millwall on home soil last time out. The Sky Blues’ turmoil continues meanwhile as they lay bottom of the division without a win to their name before kick off. Caretaker boss Mark Venus was determined to change that, however, using the departing manager as motivation.
That tactic certainly paid dividends as the Sky Blues looked rejuvenated and positive within their play. A tight opening 20 minutes saw no goals but Marvin Sordell fired in his third goal of the season to send City in with an advantage at the break. Unlike the meeting between the two sides last season, the visitors came out looking to inflict further damage in the second period and they sealed three points via a perfectly placed Chris McCann finish. That win now moves Coventry off of the foot of the table whilst Vale drop down a place to sixth.
The game got underway with the rain coming down at a gloomy Vale Park and the opening few minutes did nothing to warm up the spirits of the supporters. It was the hosts who looked more threatening early on, however, Alex Jones finding the gloves of Lee Burge with the first attempt on six minutes. The Sky Blues did muster together a few promising passing moves, but the final ball was lacking as they attempted to open up an opportunity for themselves up the other end.
It took until 15 minutes for the next opening to be fashioned and it fell to Vale and Jones once more. The winger burst into the area past a helpless Jordan Turnbull, but his fierce strike could only find the side-netting from an acute angle. A lofted free kick then caused City problems as Burge’s punch could only find Paterson inside the area. After controlling the ball well, the seasoned striker then sent a looping effort over the crossbar with the keeper stranded.
Following Vale’s forward ventures in the first 20 minutes, the away side began to counteract that by looking to be more direct on the attack. Turnbull sent a header wide of goal on 21 minutes before City did have the ball in the back of the net on 23 minutes. Intricate passing play allowed Daniel Agyei to slot the ball past Jak Alnwick, but the referee ruled the goal out as he had already blown for an infringement on Andre Wright. That sense of injustice seemed to spur the Sky Blues on, however, and they began to gain a foothold on proceedings.
Chances started to come on a more frequent basis as Agyei went close a minute later before Chris McCann saw a deflected effort drop narrowly over on 27 minutes. As things started to settle down again soon after, it was the Sky Blues who were growing in confidence. Superb work rate from Agyei then led to an opening with 36 minutes played and the breakthrough was made. The Burnley loanee’s pass found Bigirimana and he calmly pulled the ball back into the area and Marvin Sordell finished emphatically to make it 1-0. No real opportunities were created in the final moments of the half, meaning Venus’ men went in a goal to the good.
With that one-goal lead intact, the Sky Blues began the second half in bright spirits as they looked to make the breakthrough again. Promising ventures forward came to nothing, however, and it was Vale who almost equalised as a driven cross led to a bout of pinball in the Coventry area on 49 minutes. Despite that bit of play that had both sets of fans biting their nails profusely, the tempo soon slowed and action was limited as a result.
A few heavy challenges were put in by both teams and this seemed to spark the game back into life as the clock ticked past the hour mark. Vale began to pepper the away box with crosses in order to stretch the Coventry back line, but they dealt with the danger confidently to preserve their lead. Up the other end on 66 minutes, Agyei pounced on an ill-judged Alnwick pass to give himself a one-on-one opportunity. The home goalkeeper avoided embarrassment though as he got down sharply to parry the ball wide of goal.
Just six minutes later, Vale were caught napping again as McCann stole the ball in midfield. The midfielder then played a one-two with Agyei before slotting a pinpoint finish into the top corner of the net via the underside of the crossbar, sparking pandemonium in the away end. That jubilation continued as the Sky Blues knocked the ball around with real ease on a slick surface, frustrating the hosts in the process.
In the final 20 minutes of the game, Coventry looked in full control of the tie and a host of efforts were to be had. Substitute Ruben Lameiras flashed a strike just wide on 79 minutes before Agyei saw a couple of low efforts diverted away from danger. A minute into stoppage time, Vale should have reduced the deficit as they worked the ball into the box. However, an incredible last-ditch tackle from Jamie Sterry thwarted them and the referee’s whistle was sounded soon afterwards to signal a 2-0 victory for the Sky Blues.
One word – brilliant. After watching the opening ten fixtures of the season, it’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting that kind of performance. It’s usually the case that the players are determined to impress after a manager leaves the club, and that was certainly correct this time around. In uncertain times, the supporters tend to unite and they made a huge difference, airing their frustration at the owners whilst getting behind their own team.
The work rate of the front three epitomised everything perfectly. Daniel Agyei, Marvin Sordell and Andre Wright all pressed from the front and this unsettled Port Vale on numerous occasions. Make no mistakes about it, the Valiants are a good side and Vale Park isn’t an easy place to go and play football, but we looked like a completely different outfit. I know it’s only our first win of the season and we still sit 23rd in League One, but that performance – more than the result – has given me great hope.
Defensively at times there were a few scares, but on the whole we looked solid. Lee Burge had a couple of nervy moments as did Lewis Page and Jordan Turnbull, but the clean sheet topped off a fine team performance. In the midfield, Chris McCann was sensational throughout, emphasising why he was held in such high regard at Wigan last season. Ben Stevenson and Gael Bigirimana were sensational too, breaking up the play with real composure.
We have been unlucky during a number of games so far in the 2016/17 campaign, but we didn’t need any luck at all to win this one. Our own grit and will to win got us over the line comfortably, and to tell the truth, it could have been a wider margin of victory. Both goals were taken expertly from Sordell and McCann respectively, but we created a plethora of opportunities, particularly in the latter stages when the home side were chasing the game. It was just refreshing seeing us comfortably win a game of football – I was beginning to forget what it felt like.
Whoever gets appointed as the new manager of Coventry City will definitely have a tough job on their hands, but the players proved they can play over the course of the 90 minutes. Our gutsy phases of getting stuck in and winning the ball back coupled with some sublime interchange should threaten fellow League One teams. It’s the finishing that has been lacking over recent weeks, but we are now starting to show glimpses of our capabilities. Fingers crossed we can follow this up with another set of maximum points.
Lee Burge – 7
Jamie Sterry – 7
Jordan Willis – 7
Jordan Turnbull – 6
Lewis Page – 6
Ben Stevenson – 8
Chris McCann – 8
Gael Bigirimana – 8
Marvin Sordell – 8
Andre Wright – 9
Daniel Agyei – 9
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Streete, Tavares, Foley, Paterson, Thomas (Forrester 45 Shalaj 53), Brown (Pereira 45), Smith, Jones, Hart.
Unused Substitutes: Mackintosh, Kiko, Santos, Amoros.
Coventry City: Burge, Sterry, Willis (C), Turnbull, Page, Stevenson, McCann, Bigirimana, Sordell (Tudgay 83), Wright, Agyei (Lameiras 73).
Unused Substitutes: Addai, Ricketts, Harries, Gadzhev, Jones.
Attendance: 5,601 (604 away)