It’s fair to say that the start of the 2022/23 season has been pretty disastrous for Coventry City. Ahead of tonight’s game with Preston, we’d only played 3 league matches whereas the rest of the league had all played 5 or 6 - this has been because of the calamitous situation with our pitch not being playable. Mercifully, this has now been resolved but with only 1 point on the board so far, the Sky Blues sat rock bottom of the Sky Bet Championship table prior to tonight’s fixture. A good performance was therefore imperative.
It’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog - my last one was after our 3-2 defeat away at Millwall. Last weekend I opted to go to Cheltenham Town v Oxford United rather than to watch the Sky Blues away at Hull, as I’m trying to complete the 92 (Cheltenham was 51, I’m now on 52 after I went to Molineux for Wolves v Newcastle on Sunday!), and I decided to sacrifice watching the City to tick a new ground off. This probably won’t be the last time I do that, but I’m hoping it won’t impact the blog too much in future. As well as writing the blog for Coventry City games this season, I’ve also decided to venture into the world of TikTok too in order to capture the games I go to (@atfootball_1 if that’s your sort of thing). Either way, it was good to be back writing tonight and especially good to be back at the CBS - seeing us play at home has been long overdue now!
The result last weekend was another disappointing one given the manner in which we conceded (mistakes made by Simon Moore again), which made tonight, dare I say it, a must win. I know it’s early, but it feels like we’re in real danger of being cut adrift at the moment and if we didn’t get a win tonight, things would look pretty grim for us ahead of our trip to Norwich this coming weekend. We couldn’t really afford to drop any points now, as once you’re in a poor run of form it becomes increasingly harder to get out of the longer it goes on. There also seems to be a feeling of negativity surrounding the club that wasn’t there last season, and it’s hard not to get sucked into it when you consider what we’ve all (players and fans) already had to endure this month with the defeats and the pitch crisis. Add on top of that that we’ve sold Dom Hyam this week to Blackburn, a divisional rival, and it’s easy to understand why many are becoming disenchanted with the club again. Even Mark Robins seems frustrated with how this season has started, and who can blame him?
Nonetheless, just under 19000 Sky Blues fans turned up tonight to watch us play and hopefully earn our first win of the season. I was hopeful that we’d get a result - our record against Preston isn’t great, and it wouldn’t be an easy game for us at all, but so far this season we haven’t seemed to struggle scoring goals. Keeping them out has been a problem of course, but with Matty Godden in form you always have to be quietly confident that you’ll win a game don’t you?
I was very keen to see how we’d line up tonight as I took my usual seat in Block 29 prior to kick off (looking resplendent in my purple training top from the new training range I might add), given Hyam’s departure and Simon Moore’s poor form - a back 4 was maybe on the cards, with Ben Wilson in goal. As it happens, we’d gone with our usual formation but with some significant changes. Ben Wilson did indeed start in goal with Simon Moore relegated to the bench, and Josh Eccles was preferred to Fankaty Dabo at right wing back. Jake Bidwell started at left wing back, with a back 3 across the middle of Michael Rose, Kyle McFadzean and Callum Doyle. Jamie Allen and Ben Sheaf would anchor the midfield despite Gustavo Hamer’s return from suspension - he would only make the bench. Martyn Waghorn was also given a start, in the number 10 role behind our usual strike partnership of Godden and Gyokeres.
This side will certainly have caused some raised eyebrows amongst City fans, particularly because Moore, Dabo, Panzo, Hamer and Palmer were all amongst our substitutes, but clearly Mark Robins has one eye on Saturday’s trip to Norwich. That’s the only explanation for the amount of changes he’s made for me - I just hoped it paid off, as it was certainly a gamble when we’re chasing a win!
As the first half kicked off, my main thought was that it was just nice to be back here. It doesn’t feel like the season has properly started as we’ve been away from home for the last month, but now we were back everything felt back to normal. I thought that our makeshift XI actually started quite brightly as well - we had a couple of promising attacks early on that sadly came to nothing, but I thought Godden and Gyokeres looked sharp. Ben Wilson had to be on his toes to make a smart save down to his left around 10 minutes in - Preston had had a pretty solid start to the game too. Our spark from the opening few minutes seemed to fade into general rustiness before long, and Preston used this to their advantage - they put us under pressure in a decent spell of attacks, but none of their attempts on goal troubled Wilson much thankfully for us.
City didn’t look completely at it, which was to be expected, but I thought the first half was quite even once the Preston pressure had subsided. Viktor Gyokeres was putting himself about and at one point he turned on the ball and had the defence back peddling towards goal, before he was chopped down around 25 yards out - the resulting free kick came to nothing. Arguably our best chance of the half dropped to Callum Doyle - he found room to get forward and have the ball laid off for him around 30 yards out, and after taking a touch out of his feet he let fly - it was a smart effort that needed a firm save from Preston keeper Freddie Woodman. Jake Bidwell also went close not long afterwards, after Viktor Gyokeres had held the ball up well on the left hand side of the box - Gyokeres pulled the ball back to Bidwell who’s effort curled away from goal at the last second, and ended up just wide of the mark.
We went into half time goalless, but fortunately still with 11 men on the pitch. Preston had broken through on the counter attack, and their centre forward beat an on-rushing Ben Wilson to the ball - Wilson was out of his area and couldn’t avoid contact with the centre forward. Rightly a free kick was given and Wilson was shown a yellow card, though he really should’ve been sent off. At first I thought the right call had been made, but after confirming with my brother Joe (who’s a qualified referee), technically Wilson should’ve been sent off as the foul happened outside the box - he was the last man, and denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. If the offence had happened inside the box then only a yellow should’ve been shown, but the referee gave a free kick so Wilson was lucky to stay on the pitch. A red card at that point would’ve been a disaster, and we got away with that one!
Reflecting on the first half during half time, I thought that Josh Eccles had been a bit of a weak link for us so far. He doesn’t seem to have enough confidence on the ball or in the tackle for me, and this impacts us massively. Martyn Waghorn had showed good feet at times, but I think he’s too slow to play in that number 10 role - we’re used to Callum O’Hare in there who’s very quick and nimble, and Waghorn feels lethargic and slower in general than O’Hare. We’re missing O’Hare massively at the moment, and if his importance to the team was in any doubt before this season it certainly shouldn’t be now. I was impressed by Callum Doyle though, he had looked very confident at the back - I thought he was playing similarly to Jonathan Panzo at Sunderland away, which is a big compliment.
Overall, we’d looked a bit disjointed at times but we were more than in the game. Mark Robins made no changes at half time, but again we looked lively straight from kick off as the second half began. Viktor Gyokeres hit the bar before long, running with the ball through the right hand channel and cutting on to his left - I thought his shot might’ve had a deflection, as it looped up on to the bar and bounced out. I’ve not seen it back, but it looked very close to dipping in.
Both sides had reasonably good chances in the opening stages of the second half. Gyokeres tested Woodman again down to the keepers’ right, and we almost conceded at the other end but thankfully Ben Whiteman couldn’t find the net with his effort from the edge of the box. I actually thought we looked like the better side in the second half though, and it was pleasing to see Mark Robins make changes around the 65 minute mark too. Kasey Palmer replaced Martyn Waghorn, Ben Sheaf was withdrawn with Gustavo Hamer taking his place and Fankaty Dabo replaced Josh Eccles. All of these subs had a positive impact I thought.
Ben Wilson needed to make a good save down to his left after Preston had broken through into our box - Wilson was out to smother the ball away quickly, but sadly the ball wasn’t cleared properly by our defence. We invited more pressure on to ourselves and in the next passage of play, Michael Rose had to dive in to block a shot from the edge of our box - the ball ricocheted off Rose across the box to Emil Riis, who took a touch and smashed the ball past Wilson after gaining a sight of goal from around 6 yards out. It was 1-0, and arguably Preston didn’t deserve to be ahead but they had defended well throughout, and in truth we hadn’t dominated them as would’ve done last season. It meant that for the last 20 minutes we’d be chasing the game though, and I wasn’t confident that we’d score.
We did hit the bar again with a looping header, and pushed for an equaliser but we couldn’t just break Preston down. They are clearly a well drilled side, and they kept us at bay whenever we put a cross into their box. We didn’t really have a clear cut chance for the remainder of the game - Preston did, again on the counter, but Ben Wilson was equal to everything that came his way once we were a goal down. Fabio Tavares was thrown on for Michal Rose with a couple minutes left on the clock - sadly, there was no dramatic equaliser from him as there had been in this fixture last season. The game ended 1-0 to the visitors, who’ll no doubt be delighted with that, and for us it’s panic stations again now.
I did feel we deserved something out of this game, but we hadn’t played well enough to win. A draw would’ve been fair, as our second half performance was a lot better than the firsts’, but that’s football. Sometimes there has to be a loser, and it’s our turn now. There was some reasons to be positive, but the overall feeling I have of tonight is that this was a missed opportunity for us. Again, we’ll be in danger of being cut adrift now, especially after we’ve failed to lift ourselves off the bottom today. We’ll likely struggle against Norwich on Saturday, as even though we deserved more tonight I don’t think we would be allowed to get away with losing the ball and giving it away as much as we did tonight - Norwich are a newly relegated side and will not show us any mercy.
One thing is certain though - it’s good to be home.