Coventry City welcomed newly promoted Oxford United to the Ricoh Arena on Tuesday night as the two sides faced off in SkyBet League One. Mark Venus’ men were looking to record only their second win of the season, whereas the travelling U’s aimed to build upon a solid start to push themselves into a play-off position. With the pressure firmly on the Sky Blues to earn three points, the affair proved to be well contested beneath the floodlights.
In front of just under 10,000 supporters, the Sky Blues rose to the occasion well to play some neat football on a slick surface. Following a few tight opening exchanges, Coventry began to look the better outfit and they went into the interval 2-0 up via goals from Ben Stevenson and Marvin Sordell. The home defence was then called into action frequently in the second half and they coped with the pressure well. Former Coventry starlet Daniel Crowley did pull a late goal back for the Yellows, but City held on to move off the bottom of the third tier.
The game began at a frantic pace and it was Coventry who created the first opening of the game with a minute on the clock. Ruben Lameiras jinked his way past a defender before finding Marvin Sordell in the area, but he was thwarted by a Simon Eastwood save. Following that chance, the game settled down and neither outfit could make waves into the opposition area. That was until the tenth minute, however, as a Chris Maguire delivery found the clutches of Lee Burge in the home goal.
Just two minutes later, the Sky Blues probed forward up the other end and Chris McCann found Daniel Agyei with his back to goal in the area. Clever movement then allowed him to roll his marker, but the resulting strike was easily smothered by the keeper. Eastwood then elected to distribute the ball quickly and it created an opening for the Yellows as Maguire forced Burge into action. The 23-year old did well to fist the effort away from goal and relieve the danger, however.
With 23 minutes on the clock, Oxford went agonisingly close to taking the lead. A deep corner found Cheyenne Dunkley at the back post and his looping header cannoned off of the crossbar. With the woodwork still shaking, Charlie Raglan propelled the rebound towards goal but it was diverted off target via a ruckus of Coventry defenders. Five minutes later and the Sky Blues opened the scoring via Ben Stevenson. Lameiras saw an initial effort well blocked but the ball fell to the young midfielder and his 30-yard strike nestled into the top corner to spark pandemonium in the home end.
In the final quarter of an hour in the first period, Venus’ side searched for a second goal and Sordell saw a powerful drive blocked inadvertently by Agyei on 33 minutes. Former Coventry man Josh Ruffels then caused issues up the other end as he crossed towards Kane Hemmings. The Oxford striker did well to shift the ball into a shooting position but his drive toward goal was way off target. Just before the break, a defensive mix-up in the away area gifted the Sky Blues another goal – Sordell profiting to tap the ball into an empty net to make it 2-0.
Immediately after the restart, the visitors fashioned a chance to pull a goal back courtesy of a Maguire corner, but Phil Edwards’ towering header sailed harmlessly over. With 53 minutes played, the travelling supporters shouted rather optimistically for a penalty as an Oxford player went down in the area. To their disappointment, the referee waved away the protests and City managed to clear the danger. Just three minutes later, an enticing delivery found Dunkley in the area but his header didn’t trouble Burge.
Just before the hour mark, another set piece was given Oxford’s way after Jamie Sterry committed a foul on the edge of his own area. Maguire then stepped up to send a dipping effort towards the far corner, but Burge sprung across smartly to deny him. Olé’s began to reverberate around the home section soon afterwards as their side knocked the ball around with real zest and intent. Pinpoint passing led to a chance for McCann on 66 minutes, but his volley was stopped by a block.
With United now becoming desperate to find an elusive goal, they began to throw more bodies forward. Some severe pressure was applied but the home back line dealt with the wave of Oxford attacks confidently. Maguire and Raglan both flashed strikes inches wide of the target, but it was the Sky Blues who went closest to finding the net on 88 minutes. Incisive interplay between Marcus Tudgay and Sordell led to the latter getting a shot away from the corner of the area. Eastwood was left scrambling, but to his delight, the effort crept past the far post.
Roars bellowed around the ground as Oxford’s fans realised that there was to be four minutes of additional time, but any hope they had was almost quashed as Tudgay went close for Coventry. In the dying embers, the visitors did find the net as a deflected cross rolled into the path of Daniel Crowley. The Arsenal loanee then slotted a neat finish into the bottom corner to halve the deficit, but that proved to be the final goal of the game and City ran out victors.
Hope always seems to spring eternal even during the darkest of times, and that performance went a long way in restoring some of my faith. Opposition managers have praised us on a number of occasions this season, branding our lowly position as ‘false’, and our display tonight certainly wasn’t that of a team rooted to the bottom of the table. We got a bit fortunate with our second goal, but we controlled the game for the majority of the night and thoroughly deserved the win.
Bar the first ten minutes or so whereby patterns of play were non-existent, we looked composed in possession and the midfield three were sensational. Ben Stevenson will of course take the plaudits due to his phenomenal strike, but Chris McCann and Gael Bigirimana broke up Oxford attacks time after time to regain the ball. Their forward movements were superb also and they pulled the strings for the Sky Blues.
Up the top end of the field, Marvin Sordell worked tirelessly again and he was rewarded with another goal. Daniel Agyei didn’t have his best game in a City shirt but he provided a decoy and his fellow attackers profited from the space he created. He is one of those players that – due to his physical presence – keeps defenders thinking and he is a nuisance to mark at times. We are still yet to see him really influence proceedings, but I believe he is a viable option in the final third.
Defensively, we were exceptional too. My heart was in my mouth when a header smacked off of the bar in the first half, but apart from that we looked reasonably safe. The goal we conceded at the end proved to mean nothing and it was rather fortuitous the way that it fell to Daniel Crowley. Lee Burge was helpless on that occasion, but he put in a top performance and he commanded his area well. He would personally be my first choice in the City goal and it seems that his confidence is growing which can only stand him in good stead.
We’ve now won two out of three of our last league fixtures and perhaps we can start to turn a corner. I’m still doubtful that we have enough experience and knowhow to pull of something spectacular, but if we perform like that we should be able to improve our standing in the league. Rochdale won’t be an easy encounter that’s for sure, but if we can gain another three points, things will begin to look a little rosier.
Lee Burge – 8
Jamie Sterry – 7
Jordan Willis – 8
Jordan Turnbull – 7
Lewis Page – 7
Ben Stevenson – 9
Chris McCann – 8
Gael Bigirimana – 7
Ruben Lameiras – 6
Daniel Agyei – 6
Marvin Sordell – 8
Marcus Tudgay – 6
Kyel Reid – 6
Coventry City: Burge, Sterry, Willis (C), Turnbull, Page, Stevenson, McCann, Bigirimana, Lameiras (Reid 80), Agyei (Tudgay 75), Sordell.
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Ricketts, Gadzhev, Jones, Wright.
Oxford United: Eastwood, Lundstram (C), Maguire, MacDonald (Johnson 55), Ruffels, Hemmings (T. Roberts 75), Edwards, Rothwell, Taylor (Crowley 67), Raglan, Dunkley.
Unused Substitutes: Buchel, Nelson, Sercombe, Long.
Attendance: 9,912 (2,137 away)
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