Interested yet? Of course you are.
Pre-season was two weeks ago and has so far proved absolutely worthless in terms of helping us to gauge the team. We’re told “it’s only two games in” and we shouldn’t be getting excited. Sod that. We’ve just blazed two former Championship teams in stunning fashion. That’s set alarm bells going in my head that this team might be more than just a bunch of lucky sods.
The Wigan game was emphatic enough, but Millwall helps to further emphasise another point – this bunch of players is capable of playing awesome football, thanks to a forward unit that is laced with technique and confidence.
Amazingly, we turned around an early setback almost instantaneously on Saturday when conceding a dubious penalty to a gambolling Lee Gregory, Burge picked himself up from the frustration and palmed away the resulting kick. This served to immediately rev up our engines, sending Chris Stokes in particular into a one-man crusade for justice. Ricketts calmed him down, but the tone was set and we embarked on a mission to assert ourselves.
And Christ, did we do that.
Armstrong’s first goal displayed all the signs of a striker who knows this is his opportunity to shine. You don’t attempt to lob the keeper from 40 yards if you don’t think you’re fucking wicked. The opportunity arises more often than you probably notice, but the doubt is always there that if you mess it up you’re going to look like an idiot, and that’s usually enough to put most players off. Remove that doubt and anxiety and you’re left with a striker who’s going to attempt such madness.
It was gorgeous technique and an all too blatant showcase of his abilities. I’m not worried too much as we knew what we were getting ourselves into by bringing in such a highly-rated player. The alternative is for him not to score many goals, but how does that benefit us? We’ve brought him in on a youth loan to develop and help us as a team, and so far, he’s tempting us into believing that he’s going be able to do that. If he’s recalled, it’ll be a bloody nuisance, but I want fireworks from him in every game. Be it 5 or 25. It’s better than a season-full of Callum Ball.
McClaren isn’t daft though. Time out dominating a league is going to be so much better for his development and confidence than a couple of Premier League 5 minute sub appearances and a return to youth team football during the week.
Taking the lead seem to galvanise the players and the passing began to flow. Watch Lameiras’ goal back in the extended highlights and you’ll see the sort of football we were starting to stitch together. Short, sharp, incisive passing, with players moving into attacking space once they’ve played the pass. The ruddy mavericks. It almost like they know what they’re doing.
Our second was far more impressive from a team perspective. Maddison and O’Brien linked up terrifically well before the slick 18 year old slotted a pass behind the defence and into the path of Lameiras. All eyes were on the middle for an arriving option – well, all except the young winger’s who deceived everyone with a drilled shot into the near post to finish off an exquisite move and send the Sky Blue army behind Burge’s goal absolutely bandy.
Going 2-0 up away tends to push the teams one of two ways. You’ll either begin to sit back, anxious about how a conceded goal will bring the opposition right back into the game, or you’ll step it up even more and force another.
This team is buzzing with confidence at the moment, and the third goal showed what they’re all about. Maddison and Lameiras were once again involved, before the Portuguese picked out a reverse ball similar in style to Jim O’Brien’s on the opening day and set Armstrong away. There was no catching (or doubting) him. His cool chip was City’s third, and put the game beyond doubt to everyone but Coventry fans, who are still riddled with 40 years of experience in buggering things up.
I don’t recall the last time we went into half-time 3-0 up, which is quite sad seeing as we’re entering our fourth season in the third tier, but of the little knowledge we have of this starting line up to date you have to feel justified in expecting it to happen a few times more if they continue to play with the same quality.
Naturally, we adjusted our intensity in the second half and invited Millwall back into the game, albeit reducing them to a flurry of long shots and hopeful crosses.
The intensity of the analysis also begins to wane at this point…
Fans all over social media, including those from the North East, began to take notice of Adam Armstrong’s second brace in a row, and were willing him to convert this into a hat-trick as he’d promised the week before. This didn’t materialise but it wasn’t for the lack of attempts. As always, the focus on hitting a hat-trick often results in a few poor calls from a striker, but this is just something you have to accept as a symptom of boundless confidence. Jim O’Brien seemed the most annoyed by this, although there’s little in this world that doesn’t get on his nerves.
Fortunately for Jim he got the goal that his ludicrous energy deserved, finishing off the day in stunning fashion with a high-paced interchange with Tudgay before nestling a shot into the top corner in front of the City fans. A clinical finish to a punishing move.
And we were done.
You can’t help but feel excited about what this team can achieve with the players creating and scoring so many chances. Armstrong once again takes the focus of attention, but the dynamic of the team feels so balanced right now, it all contributes to everyone heading into the Crewe game high as a kite.
Another element of our early form that has to be acknowledged should be how well we’ve responded to setbacks. The players are currently oozing with the required confidence to implement what their attributes suggest they’re capable of. That’s great and you’d like to think they’ll be able to carry that belief into the next game, no problem.
We all know however that it only takes an innocuous incident to put a dent in that, at any point, so what I’m intrigued to see is how the team continues to handle when things don’t go its way.
What’s encouraging about the games over the last week is how we’ve responded to the biggest setbacks:
- We went behind in midweek. The team pulled their finger out and equalised. We may have ultimately lost on pens but the original setback was well remedied as we dug in for an equaliser.
- Burge gave away a penalty against Millwall. There’s always an element of luck here, but I like to interpret his response as a sign of defiance. the penalty was saved and another setback avoided.
- Lameiras missed the key penalty on Tuesday which saw us exit the league cup. He seemed gutted at the time, but the boy responded this weekend by destroying his opponents with a goal and assist. I’d consider that setback well and truly annihilated.
Throughout the course of a season setbacks happen in each game. We’re so used to seeing even the smallest one impact on our performance, but in the games to date we haven’t allowed them to ruin us. There are loads more to come – we’ll probably have a few on Tuesday against Crewe – but what I’m really hoping is for the team (and the fans) to use these recent experiences in a positive way.
To succeed at the top you have to trust that when things happen, you have the ability to negate them. You won’t be able to every time, but these early season exchanges can prove crucial in solidifying a team mindset. It also puts the fans at ease knowing that you have a team that has shown competency in crafting out chances regardless of what the other team is getting up to.
For years we’ve gone behind and felt like a salvaging draw would be a struggle. I know if we go behind on Tuesday night, my mindset won’t adjust from anything other than victory. It’s slightly surreal to be so forceful with this point so soon after quite a tame pre-season, but you have to roll with the punches, and the two league games so far tell me that there’s something well worth taking notice of.
It’s an imperative adjustment in mindset which we need to grow more and more comfortable with and continue to enforce in every game.
Two wins out of two is great. But three our of three is better.
I ain’t afraid of no Crewe.