Coventry City dropped into the SkyBet League One relegation zone after a 2-1 home defeat to fellow strugglers MK Dons. Ben Stevenson’s fantastic strike that cancelled out Ed Upson’s opener should have handed the Sky Blues momentum, but his later red card changed the outlook of the match. With a one-man advantage, Richie Barker urged his players forward and Upson scored his second of the afternoon late on to seal a vital win for the Dons.
Both teams, represented by caretaker managers, were forced to make changes. During the first period, Mark Venus would have been the happier of the two with his side’s performance, but the away boss left the Ricoh tasting victory. The Sky Blues now lie 21st and in deep trouble – supporters of the club are deeply concerned with matters on and off of the pitch.
After referee Andy Davies got things underway, it was the visitors who looked the more positive during the opening exchanges. A long clearance led to the first half-chance for MK Dons on three minutes, but Kieran Agard couldn’t find the power or accuracy to test Lee Burge. Coventry soon began to settle down, however, and they almost took the lead with 9 minutes on the clock. Neat build-up saw Jodi Jones tee up Ben Stevenson on the edge of the area but the young midfielder curled a strike inches wide of the far post.
The Sky Blues put together a threatening spell on 15 minutes but Marcus Tudgay failed to latch onto a low Jones cross before Gael Bigirimana sent a half-volley over the bar. Just four minutes later, some more incisive interchange reached Jones but the midfielder fired a strike off target after cutting inside. With 25 minutes played, Venus’ men mounted another attack and it was Jones who was allowed to shoot once more. Tudgay found him inside the area but he was unable to test David Martin in the away goal.
As possession continued to be shared, a lack of quality in the final third meant neither side created too many clear-cut opportunities. Kyel Reid flashed one wide for Coventry on 32 minutes before Ed Upson sent one over from 25 yards just seconds later. With 35 minutes on the clock, the defender did manage to find the net to haul the travelling outfit ahead. Dean Lewington delivered a pinpoint cross after getting the better of Dion Kelly-Evans out wide. Upson then rose above his marker to head past Burge and into the bottom corner.
Whilst the away supporters were still celebrating their side’s goal, Coventry were determined to quieten them and they did just that in spectacular style just three minutes later. Martin played a poor pass out from the back and Stevenson latched onto the loose ball before sending a first-time effort into the top corner from 35 yards to level the scores. The final few minutes of the half were then well contested but no further chances were fashioned and the teams went in even.
The Sky Blues started the second period with a great tempo and determined work allowed Jones to fire an optimistic volley wide of the target on 47 minutes. Two minutes later, MK Dons countered after defending a City free kick and Daniel Powell was left with a golden opportunity to find the net. He burst his way into the area but he could only clip the top of the crossbar after letting fly under pressure from Lewis Page. It was a huge chance wasted by the visitors but it seemed to inspire some confidence as they began to keep possession well.
Despite knocking the ball around confidently in harmless areas, the Dons failed to get in behind the Coventry back four and Burge remained a bystander for large passages of play. It was instead City who could have taken the lead on 62 minutes as a deep Reid delivery was met by Tudgay at the back post. His attempted header back across goal was cleared to the edge of the area and Bigirimana made a hash of his attempt. The away outfit then countered with speed on 64 minutes but Samir Carruthers failed to profit as he ballooned a strike way off target.
MK Dons’ contingent of supporters began to spur their side on and they were almost celebrating a goal on 68 minutes. Upson floated a cross into the box from a corner but Joe Walsh sent an effort over after evading his marker to gain a free header. Five minutes later, Coventry fashioned a chance of their own following a sweeping move that reached Gael Bigirimana. The Burundi international was allowed time and space to get a shot away but composure was lacking and it flew over.
With 74 minutes on the clock, Stevenson was dismissed after a poor tackle on Lewington and this saw the Dons gain an advantage. Just three minutes after the red card, Agard almost put his side in front after connecting with a Ben Reeves cross but Burge saved well. The home goalkeeper was left helpless six minutes later, however, as MK found the net. A deflected Lewington strike fell fortuitously into the path of Upson and he reacted to plant a finish into the bottom corner. That proved to be the winner as the ten men of Coventry struggled to test Martin in the final exchanges.
If you were doubting whether we are in a relegation battle this season or not, today’s result proved that we probably are. At home to an MK Dons side who have had an abysmal start to the season, we should have taken the game to them with much more authority. Having said that, I thought we were the better of two poor sides during the first half and we could have perhaps found the net on a couple of occasions. However, missed chances and poor defending meant we didn’t capitalise. Ben Stevenson’s goal was extraordinary, but that was an anomaly in what was a dull first 45 minutes.
With Jamie Sterry sidelined after he picked up his fifth caution of the season at Bolton on Tuesday, Dion Kelly-Evans was handed the opportunity to fill the void. His inexperience saw him get sucked inside for their first goal, but the central defenders didn’t cover themselves in glory either when attempting to clear the cross. For the majority of the match we actually looked solid at the back, but the goals we conceded were easily avoidable.
Jordan Willis has been handed a lot of praise this season, but he has endured a dip in form over recent weeks. We still lack that man-mountain in the heart of the back line and we are shipping sloppy goals. It’s almost reminiscent to the season we were relegated from the Championship when we had an inexperienced back four and nothing up front – I certainly fear the worst this term. If we aren’t taking our chances in front of goal, it’s imperative that we keep clean sheets but it just isn’t happening of late.
Although MK did look improved during the second half, they didn’t really stretch us until the sending off. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t get a good view of the challenge, but it has certainly factored into us losing the game. We reverted into a defensive position and we were made to pay. It was yet another deeply frustrating afternoon at the Ricoh Arena, one in which there was little joy as a Coventry supporter. The fact we have now dropped back into the bottom four will only dent confidence further and our youthful squad looks in danger.
One player who does have experience, Marcus Tudgay, was unbelievably poor. Tasking him with leading our forward line isn’t the best of ideas, particularly when you have more dangerous options on the bench. We have Jack McBean who has been scoring goals – albeit at under-23 level – and he can’t get a look in. With Marvin Sordell suspended, I thought it would be his chance to cement a place in attack but he was only given 15 minutes. If I was him, I’d be questioning whether to see out the loan deal or return to the sunny states.
With a break in league action now, I am hoping that we can progress in both the FA Cup and the Checkatrade Trophy to reinstate a fraction of belief amongst us fans. It has been an awful start to the campaign and I can’t see it getting any better. After the promise of last term, we have been shafted by the lack of ambition amongst the owners and the players are struggling to cope with the rigours of League One. Physically we are being picked off by other teams who are more ‘streetwise’ and I never feel confident of picking up points as a result.
Lee Burge – 6
Dion Kelly-Evans – 5
Jordan Willis – 5
Jordan Turnbull – 6
Lewis Page – 6
Ben Stevenson – 7
Gael Bigirimana – 6
Andy Rose – 6
Kyel Reid – 5
Jodi Jones – 6
Marcus Tudgay -5
Callum Maycock – 5
Jack McBean – 5
Ruben Lameiras – 5
Coventry City: Burge, Di. Kelly-Evans, Willis (C), Turnbull, Page, Stevenson, Bigirimana, Rose (Maycock 57), Reid, Jones (Lameiras 79), Tudgay (McBean 75).
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Harries, Gadzhev, Agyei.
MK Dons: Martin, Baldock, Lewington (C), Walsh, Upson, Carruthers (Reeves 75), Potter, Bowditch, Agard (Aneke 86), Powell (Colclough 69), Downing.
Unused Substitutes: Nicholls, GC. Williams, GB Williams, Hendry..
Attendance: 9,640 (772 away)