Welcome back, Coventry City. It turns out we’ve missed you.
Most of us are happy with a 3-0 home win at the best of times, but there’s something about an opening day victory – with all the caveats and potential for things to go wrong – which seems to make it all the more satisfying.
Player-for-player we worked tremendously hard to earn the points yesterday. Was it the most coherent of team performances? No. Did players make mistakes and give the ball away? Yes. Of course they did. This is League Two football and these are League Two footballers working with their abilities. For some it may have been one of the biggest moments of their life coming out at the Ricoh for first time, and they showed their nerves. But as the game wore on the nerves wore off, and we were treated (definitely not the right word) to a hard-fought victory against a pretty brutal side.
The return of Michael Doyle added the much-needed Bastard factor to our midfield – both physically and mentally – as he embarked upon a 90 minute rantfest. But even our most consistent performer on the day saw his quality on the ball fade as the game drew to a close. Perfection in football is an unrealistic expectation, but the further we fall down the leagues the more frequent the faults become. Obviously that shines light on the conflict between demanding high standards and what is simply an inevitable consequence of being a lower level athlete. It’s taken a while for me to become comfortable with that distinction, but I feel like I’m getting there. Occasional mistakes should not define a player.
Doyle was ably assisted by debutant Liam Kelly in the middle of the pitch, who, while quieter than his loud mouth captain, put in a stable midfield performance full of harrying, pressing, and some mega challenges. It’s a combo that seems well fitted to the battles that will occur in this league; whether it can also provide a creative fulcrum for the team remains to be seen.
Defensively, Rod McDonald showcased his talents well and stood up to relentless physicality of Ameobi and Stead. Hyam appeared to attract more of the ball as the second half progressed but handled it capably. He doesn’t appear as swift along the ground as Rodney (I’m being kind – he’s actually quite slow) but coped with the aerial threat and battled well, and listened to the commanding presence of new keeper O’Brien, who will also be fairly pleased with how he handled his debut.
Grimmer seemed to be the player most afflicted by nerves in the first half, stumbling on the ball and fluffing his early lines with a few naff touches. But he rode that mental challenge well and grew into the match. He seemed perfectly happy with the battle that was taking place, while showing the ever-so-slightest hints towards his attacking credentials.
I’ve always felt Beavon is a clever and productive striker, and he once again kept the opposition occupied with his well-timed jumps and general alertness. He is so trustworthy with the ball as well, with a first touch you can set your watch by and an uncanny knack of getting a toe to the ball when you least expect it. The team performance wasn’t fluid enough for him to become too involved on the deck, but what he does do, I always feel like he does well.
Mark McNulty put in a similar performance and positionally was often able to place himself neatly on the shoulder, especially in the second half as our shape stretched. Unfortunately his positional awareness doesn’t seem to be backed up by a huge amount of pace to capitalise on it, but he slowed glimpses of being a technically astute player. It was a quiet performance, but not a poor one. Most of us have played football to some degree and will understand that distinction.
Contrary to what the sponsors will tell you, Jodi Jones was man of the match. Let’s not get complicated about this. If you score a hat-trick in the opening game of the season with three fantastically well-taken goals, you deserve the accolades. It’s just the way it goes. Sure, Doyle came back and drove us to victory and reminded us what a captain looks like, but Jones was the difference in quality and the only one who put the ball in the net on the day, and managed it three times.
I spoke in this week’s Nii Lamptey Show about this being a crucial season for Jodi and his development, but he’s not the sort of player who I ever imagined a hat-trick being on the cards for. I’m absolutely fascinated by the influence of confidence on footballers, and Jodi Jones is one such player whose abilities are best represented when he’s brimming with it. That’s not to say he didn’t graft like the others, because he did and you have to credit him for that. He’s in our team to be an attacking threat however, and the confidence boost after that opening goal was so visible and clearly aided and informed his final product for the rest of the game. The second goal in particular showed what happens when he’s left to his own, raw, natural instincts. One v one, with no doubts or conflicting voices hampering his execution.
Robins is absolutely right when he says Jones can dominate this division. But like Callum Wilson, and George Thomas, and all the other youngsters before him who needed to flick that internal switch before getting going; he just needs to believe it.
While I don’t have any negative perspectives on the performance yesterday, I note with interest how some players have come in for some early criticism. Personally, I think it’s incredibly dangerous to start forming strong opinions after a single game, especially negative ones. Even if you tell yourself you’re only judging things as you see them and feel balanced, you’re also crafting a narrative which you’re (subconsciously) going to look to validate the next time you see them play.
Vincenti appears to be the player who has attracted the most mixed opinions, and while I can certainly see why his performance drew the attention, I was happy enough with it as a club debut. It comes back to the point I made earlier; there’s a difference between being quiet and being genuinely poor. He made a high-profile mistake and had a fairly benign second half, but he also set up Jones for the opener and provided a rare aerial option out wide. It’s a little different, and I didn’t expect to see it utilised so heavily, but it’s an approach that has potential (if you can divorce yourself from the snobbishness that comes with it).
Ultimately it’s an opening day victory and one which we gained on merit. I think it was Epictetus who told us to “Embrace tenacity over perfection”, which is certainly one of the more relevant thoughts from Greek Stoic philosophy that I can apply to the League Two context we now find ourselves within.
That’s right, I’ve invoked Epictetus on the first weekend of the season. You’re welcome.
PS. Duckens Nazon, everyone.
Match highlights from the Official Coventry City YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RjnrlW2hMQ