Already relegated Coventry City ended their home campaign by beating Walsall at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday afternoon. The ‘M6 El Clasico’ was well contested throughout, but a solitary goal from George Thomas during the first half was enough to hand the Sky Blues a set of three points that lifts them off the bottom of the division.
With both teams having little to play for bar pride, the opening exchanges failed to give any pointers that the game would be anything but a damp squib. A few stray passes early on meant that possession was shared, but it took until 12 minutes for the first chance of the game to be opened up. Ruben Lameiras saw an initial strike inadvertently deflected into Kevin Foley’s path, but the right-back’s effort on goal was comfortable for Craig MacGillivray to grasp.
Five minutes later, Eoghan O’Connell saw an equally tame strike gathered by Reice Charles-Cook. Coventry City soon settled down and began to see more of the ball, but it was to no avail. Gael Bigirimana and Vladimir Gadzhev paired up well in the centre of midfield but a creative spark was lacking. Despite getting themselves into dangerous positions, the hosts looked tentative in getting a shot away. Jodi Jones did deliver a number of enticing crosses from the left, but nobody was in there to meet them with authority.
Just after the half hour mark, Walsall had a great opportunity to pull themselves ahead as Joe Edwards floated in a cross from a wide free kick. Matt Preston arrived unmarked to glance a header towards goal, but to his disbelief, it flashed just past the far post. That miss then came back to haunt Jon Whitney’s men as the Sky Blues took the lead on 39 minutes. A short corner routine allowed Lameiras to carry the ball into the box before finding George Thomas. The academy graduate then slotted a composed finish into the far corner, his fifth league goal of the season.
At the start of the second period, Kieron Morris and Lameiras had efforts saved for either side before Amadou Bakayoko saw his appeals for a penalty waved away on 53 minutes. Just four minutes later an Edwards corner caused some drama in the City box and the Saddlers almost found an equaliser. The delivery picked out Eoghan O’Connell at the back post and his looping header was cleared off the line brilliantly by Bigirimana.
With the game becoming more of a spectacle the atmosphere ramped up as well. O’Connell then received his second booking of the afternoon after a poor challenge on Thomas and the Sky Blues played the final 20 minutes with a man advantage. Having the extra body allowed Coventry to dictate possession and they comfortably saw out the game to ensure a 1-0 triumph was earned.
It wasn’t the best game of football we have seen this season, but it provided evidence of how much Mark Robins has improved things on the pitch. Defensively we restricted a Walsall side who do play some attractive football to limited chances and Reice Charles-Cook remained a spectator for large periods. The back four played well as a unit and the central pairing of Jordan Turnbull and Jordan Willis worked well. If both can be retained in the summer, that could be a strong partnership going into next season.
Another dynamic that looked positive was the duo of Vladimir Gadzhev and Gael Bigirimana in the middle. The Bulgarian hasn’t featured much this season, but his performance shows that there is a decent footballer in there somewhere. I felt that they complimented each other well and their influence was crucial in securing the three points. Gadzhev did the basic things very well and Bigirimana was very industrious as always.
Marcus Tudgay also had a decent game, putting in some important blocks late on as well as winning his fair share of aerial duels. Ruben Lameiras showed glimpses of quality behind him in the number ten role and George Thomas took his goal expertly. The fact he is now our leading goal scorer in the league shows how poor the 2016/17 campaign has been. It was a professional performance overall though and every player looked comfortable throughout. Whether or not we will keep hold of them remains the potent question, but I’m sure the manager will be pleased with their output of late.
Going into the summer there is some optimism around the club and I didn’t see that a few months ago. We are a ‘sleeping giant’ and I am really praying that next season can be the start of a revival. The talk of a potential takeover is a mouthwatering prospect to say the least and should that come to fruition, fans will stream back. It was clear today with the chorus of “there’s only one Mark Robins” that people are desperate to get behind him and the team. They trust him to arrest the decline but he needs backing. I know we say it every summer, but maybe the next season might be better.
With this being my last blog of the season, I would just like to thank everybody who takes time to read my work – it really is appreciated. It isn’t easy being a Coventry City supporter, but I wouldn’t change it for the world! If we keep fighting on all fronts and show that this club is far from dead, our fortune may start to change one day. I won’t be there next season due to an opportunity I can’t turn down, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on the results.
Play Up Sky Blues!
Reice Charles-Cook – 7
Kevin Foley – 6
Jordan Willis – 7
Jordan Turnbull – 7
Chris Stokes – 6
Gael Bigirimana – 8
Vladimir Gadzhev – 8
George Thomas – 7
Ruben Lameiras – 7
Jodi Jones – 7
Marcus Tudgay – 7
Farrend Rawson – 7
Jordan Shipley – N/A
Dion Kelly-Evans – N/A
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Foley (Di. Kelly-Evans 85, Willis (C), Turnbull, Stokes (Rawson 75), Bigirimana, Gadzhev (Shipley 85), G. Thomas, Lameiras, Jones, Tudgay.
Unused Substitutes: Burge, Reid, K. Thomas, Folivi.
Walsall: MacGillivray, O’Connor, Preston, O’Connell, McCarthy, Chambers (C), Osbourne (Dobson 45), Morris (Candlin 69), Edwards, Bakayoko, Makris (Oztumer 45).
Unused Substitutes: Ganley, Roberts, Haylea-Docherty, Jackson.
Attendance: 9,284 (932 away)