Following the Checkatrade Trophy triumph at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, Coventry City returned to league action as they travelled to Bramall Lane on Wednesday night. The Blades were searching for a win to bolster their push for automatic promotion and two goals in the second half handed them the three points. Former Coventry duo Leon Clarke and John Fleck both found the net for Chris Wilder’s men who tightened their grip at the top of division.
During the opening ten minutes, both sides kept the ball well on a slick surface but neither could fathom a real opening. A few stray passes from the home outfit gifted the Sky Blues possession, but any potential attacks broke down once the ball reached the final third. Gael Bigirimana did fire narrowly wide of the top corner from range on 11 minutes after finding space in a central area, but that was all Robins’ men could muster. Soon after, United began to dictate the tempo of the game and Coventry sat deep in an organised formation.
A long kick from goalkeeper Simon Moore aimed towards James Hanson did put Chris Stokes under pressure, however, but the bustling centre-forward could only find the gloves of Lee Burge from 20 yards. Just two minutes later, patient build-up play lead to another opening as Daniel Lafferty curled just wide. As the hosts began to drive towards goal with more intent, they struggled to probe beyond City’s back line. James Hanson probably should’ve found the net from close range on 23 minutes, but he couldn’t keep his effort down after John Fleck found him with a low cross.
For the remainder of the first period, chances came at a premium for the two teams and the Sky Blues seemed to settle down. Early in the second half, the visitors enjoyed a positive spell and Jodi Jones flashed one narrowly off target, but lacklustre link-up play often cost City. Sheffield United did then have the ball in the back of the net on 56 minutes. Billy Sharp’s celebrations were cut short as the linesman’s flag was raised to signal offside, however.
Despite looking relatively comfortable without really threatening themselves, Coventry rued a Ruben Lameiras miss as United took the lead on 70 minutes. The Sky Blues allowed Fleck to whip in a low cross and Leon Clarke got on the end of it to tap home from six yards. Fatigue then started to show amongst the City ranks and the defending for the Blades’ second goal was naive. Fleck drifted past a number of bodies before shrugging of Bigirimana to plant a neat finish of his own into the bottom corner. Game over and the home supporters entered party mode.
On the whole, there wasn’t too much between the two teams despite them being at opposite ends of the table. In certain aspects, the match was very similar to Sunday’s famous win as we were often required to watch the opposition knock the ball around in front of us. We set up quite defensively and that was to be expected, but it worked during the first hour. Sheffield United’s players were getting frustrated and the crowd were becoming impatient. But, once they opened the scoring, the contest was done and dusted.
I was fearful that they would turn us over with ease and we would be travelling home having been on the end of a hiding, but that didn’t happen. On another day, we would’ve held on for a very respectable point away to the champions in waiting. Their clinical nature in front of goal highlights why they are sitting pretty at the summit – even when they don’t perform to their usual high standards, they win games.
As for City, relegation is now nailed on and it would have been weeks ago if it wasn’t for Robins. We showed signs of improvements once more, but it was always going to be tough to compete with the best team in the league after the efforts put in at the weekend. Bigirimana was a shadow of the player that dominated proceedings versus Oxford, but he was visibly tiring towards the end. That meant the midfield were second best and Fleck orchestrated things for the Blades, something we know he can do expertly from his time with us.
The only player who probably warrants substantial criticism following the defeat is Marcus Tudgay. I suspect he was only given a starting birth due to fitness concerns amongst other members of the squad, but he was dire. Apart from experience, something which we lack, I fail to see what he adds to the team. As an outlet, he is not a brilliant option as the ball doesn’t stick to him and his movement is questionable. I have defended him in the past as he sometimes gets picked out for no apparent reason, but no team can expect to win games with him leading the line.
Peterborough are our next opponents as they travel to the Ricoh Arena on Saturday. That will provide us with another real test and it will be interesting to see how we approach it. Mathematically, there is an incredibly slim chance that we could survive the drop and Robins will be looking to win the game, I’m sure. All we can do now is keep supporting the lads and wait until that ‘R’ pops up next to our name. The manager is slowly asserting his ways and the players seem to be growing in belief, however, and I am going to put my faith in him heading into the summer.
It won’t be an easy ride in League Two and I’m sure there will be another mass exodus. New bodies will need to be drafted in, but we are in a much better with Robins at the helm as opposed to Russell Slade. I’m praying things work out for him here.
Lee Burge – 7
Jordan Willis – 6
Nathan Clarke – 5
Jordan Turnbull – 7
Chris Stokes – 7
Gael Bigirimana – 6
Kevin Foley – 6
Ryan Haynes – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 6
Marcus Tudgay – 3
Ben Stevenson – 6
George Thomas – 6
Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Sharp (C) (O’Shea 80), Wright (Clarke 50), Coutts, Hanson, Freeman, Duffy (Carruthers 50), Lafferty.
Unused Substitutes: Long, Done, Wilson, Chapman.
Coventry City: Burge, Willis (C) (Stevenson 45), Clarke, Turnbull, Stokes, Bigirimana, Foley, Haynes (G. Thomas 80), Lameiras, Tudgay.
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Di. Kelly-Evans, Rawson, Beavon, Folivi.
Attendance: 24,334 (308 away)