Coventry City, you rascals.
I have a strong memory from Saturday as the players ran out for the second half. Instead of my usual irrational defiance, I was hit by the conscious realisation that the game was beyond us. I know for a Coventry City fan that can be considered a perfectly sane assessment, especially after what we’d just witnessed. But even during the worst of times, I don’t usually feel that way. I can’t help but hope that we’ll turn it around.
Saturday was unbelievable – literally. I genuinely thought we’d had it. Sitting watching our players perform in such panic for that first period, the game felt beyond us in every sense.
What’s great is that we don’t have to spend hours attempting to understand how it happened, because the reasons for victory were so clear. It had sod all to do with the formation or any complex tactical arrangements employed by Pressley. It was down to good old-fashioned improved application from the players, and a thunderous shift in self-belief once we grabbed our first goal.
Big players in big positions altered the dynamics of the team. Reda came in and gave a display of manic proportions. He went a bit far at times, losing control of his body through sheer overexertion – but the dynamism of his display was crucial in setting the tone and giving confidence to those around him.
At the other end, Frank Nouble offered a true striking outlet. Just imagine how much safer it must feel as a midfielder, defender and even goalkeeper, to know you’ll always have a chance of keeping possession even with a slightly wayward direct ball. Frank’s presence was enough on Saturday to shift the doubt into the opposition’s minds, something we’ve barely manage to enforce throughout his absence.
Outstanding physical attributes get you everywhere, especially the further down the leagues you go. Last season we had the strength of Leon Clarke and the explosive pace of Callum Wilson. This season Nouble is our main hope with his brute physicality.
Of course it took a while for the players to realise they had these two strengths working for them. The first half was symbolic of a group of players whose self-belief was on the floor. The majority of the mistakes weren’t borne out of bad positioning or lack of concentration – they were the result of panic and nerves. Even oft-reliable performers like O’Brien appeared shaken, unable to kill the ball, and were all too keen to release the ball to a teammate than take control of the situation themselves.
The low confidence wasn’t totally unexpected. We’ve all seen the spiraling decline we’ve been on, but the nerves were far more noticeable this week. Far more obvious to the opposition, and the players were punished.
In fairness, the first goal stemmed from a horrid bounce which in turn introduced an all-too exploitable gap in our defence and was definitively pounced upon by the spritely ‘Boro attack. It was a bad moment to concede as we were actually showing brief signs of resilience in the face of multiple moments of jelly-legs and pass-the-buck.
If the first goal left the players deflated, the second engulfed the stadium with a feeling of helplessness. What are you supposed to do when your goalkeeper concedes a side-footed free kick from 30 years which nestles dead centre of his next? We all recognise the technique by now, but you rarely see it executed at our level. I will give due credit to Marcus Maddison – how I wish we had a side-foot wizard who could do the same – but you couldn’t help but feel anger that we’d been bamboozled quite so easily. It reminded me of a young Kirkland being given the run around by a Beckham free-kick that everyone else in the stadium had clocked about five minutes earlier.
But that was the last of the negativity. 2-0 down at half-time was shit for all concerned. A strong reaction was imperative.
The character displayed to turn things around was stunning. The players deserve huge credit for generating a performance when they absolutely needed it.
These were the same players who had spent the previous half shaking on the ball. They harnessed every positive moment that arose. Conor Thomas has suffered from dwindling confidence more than most, but there was a dramatic recognition by him on Saturday. He realised he had a job to do, and finally started to make things happen rather than allowing his nerves to consume him. His tackles because forceful, considered, and timely.
Jim O’Brien shook off a nightmare opening forty-five and took control of his zone. His earlier impulse to release the ball too soon was left behind, and he offered a stunning connection between defence and attack, eyeing the space ahead of him and exploiting it to stunning effect.
I’m also delighted for Ryan Haynes who is showing he has every attribute to become a hugely-threatening left-back for our club. Like most of our players he just needs to know that he’s not going to be punished for committing himself to the moment. With the support of Reda, Barton and Fleck around him he flourished, bringing the stadium and his teammates to life with a finish of real class.
His goal was the clear turning point, with the performance taking on a totally different complexion from then on.
The threat up front was clear with Nouble as a focal-point, while O’Brien, Fleck and Haynes offered themselves as alternative creative options across the pitch. Meanwhile Barton continued his calming and disciplined control in the centre. There was nothing showy – just a concerted focus on his role, and a true sense of valuing possession.
McQuoid offered commendable movement, but his opportunities with the ball were limited, and he never really looked capable of impacting the game like the lively bunch around him. Simeon Jackson joined the action on 62 minutes, and immediately contributed to all hell breaking loose.
Jackson’s first touch was to play a defence-splitting one-two with Haynes to send him storming towards the danger zone. You have to admit the reverse to Fleck was somewhat rushed, while the header was little more than an instinct to direct it goalwards, but what was most striking was the run by Jim O’Brien whilst all around him were stood gawping.
Yep, we lost it big time. We’d gone from “Typical Coventry” to “WTF Coventry” in the space of ten minutes.
Oddly, the comeback wasn’t the most unbelievable part of the match – it was the timing. What were we playing at equalising with half an hour to go?
Shooting to win. That’s what.
Just a few minutes later and the players were ultra-pumped, with Big Frank left to complete the transformation. I want to say it was a great goal, because the run that led to it was a perfect display of the new-found confidence coursing through the team. I think the wild deflection made the moment even better though. Usually goals are over in a split-second and you can’t quite process the specifics of what’s gone before. It’s amazing how a looping shot skywards gives you ample time to predict with those around you the outcome of the shot.
“That’s going in mate… that’s only going in!”
What a moment. What a recovery. What a game.
Pressley got it absolutely right afterwards. It was a magnificent turnaround for everybody, but it’s just the first step in fixing where our poor run has left us.
The confidence issue isn’t fully resolved because the crucial element during this poor run has been the fragility in adversity. What this game should prove to the lads is that they’re capable of turning around any scoreline or any performance.
We have our leaders back, our focal points, and hopefully the self-recognition that we are in control of what happens on that pitch if we apply ourselves and commit to the moment.
I don’t know about you, but the next game can’t come fast enough.