Monday, 3 April 2017

My Sixtieth 16/17 Game - Checkatrade Trophy Final - Coventry City vs Oxford United

So here we are, Wembley, 30 years on from that infamous FA Cup victory over Tottenham. This time though the competition was different, the stadium was different, and the team was certainly a lot different to the one that lifted the cup. But we were looking to be celebrating being winners all the same as everyone descended on North West London with a class day ahead.

I've never seen anything like it before in my life, personally I went in a limo but Coventry station was rammed early on, and when I stopped off at Toddington services there was honestly more people there than there was at Swansea away in the Quarter Finals. That's not a dig of any sorts, it just proves how large our fanbase has the potential to be.

From the Green Man at 10:30 until kick off, there were seas of Sky Blue everywhere you went, it was crazy to see. Flares in the pubs, everyone singing and having a good time. But just to soak everything in I made it into the ground early and that's when the team hit me in all of its glory.

Coventry City Starting XI:

Burge

Willis
Turnbull
Stokes
Haynes

G Thomas
Bigirimana
Stevenson
Reid

Lameiras
Beavon

Coventry City Substitutes:

Charles-Cook
Kelly-Evans
Harries
Gadzhev
Jones
Folivi
Tudgay

It's near enough what I'd have gone for, if Stokes is fit to play then perfect but Kelly-Evans is really becoming a decent full back so maybe deserved to start. I felt sorry for Charles-Cook whom has played all of the matches since Wycombe away and if it weren't for his penalty heroics at Swansea we wouldn't even be here, but that's football I guess.

You can't help Kwame Thomas being injured but it's disappointing, but that meant Deadline Day signing Michael Folivi actually got his first sighting on the bench, and what a place to get it at, crazy. Lameiras instead took his place playing with/just behind Beavon. Annoyingly though Chris Maguire started for Oxford. You know, that one who scored 2 free kicks for us against MK Dons a couple of years ago.

First Half

With over half of the stadium covered in City fans, the game kicked off and the theme brought about was one that lasted for most of the match, Oxford with lots of possession. They managed to pass it around quite well but we defended well and played the offside trap to perfection in the early stages, but it was fair to say we were on the back foot.

10 minutes in and everyone was gearing up for the minutes applause for Yellows fan Steve Dyer who sadly recently passed away, this was due to happen on the 12th minute followed up by a similar mark of respect for Jayden Parsons on the 15th. One of our own who died at the beginning of last season, which devastated many Sky Blues fans.

The reason I say all of this should have happened is because immediately before this period of respet was due to start, Jordan Willis' cross was poorly cleared into the path of Gael Bigirimana who slotted home in the bottom corner. Everyone went absolutely mental, the phrases "Scenes" and "Limbs" are thrown around a lot these days but this time they were serious.



What a weekend for Bigi by the way, becoming a father on Saturday and then giving your side an early lead at the home of English football in a cup final, and you could see how much it meant to him as he fell to his knees celebrating. He's just a player who no matter what, you can't dislike, he arrived at Ryton with his boots as an 8 year old refugee from Burundi asking for a trial and now here he is. An absolutely astonishing story, meaning I was ecstatic that it was him who gave us the lead.

In all the mayhem the minutes of applause slipped our minds' but Jayden probably would have found Bigi's goal enough respect all the same. But the Burundi international was playing out of his skin, which you could see as the excitement got the better of him leading to a couple of silly fouls and a booking close to half time.

Like I said, Oxford were keeping the ball well but weren't doing anything with it, so they didn't have a shot on target until the second half. Meaning we went in to the break quite happy to say the absolute very least.

Half Time - Coventry City 1-0 Oxford United

Second Half

City came out for the second half, surprisingly, on the upper foot, I assumed Oxford were going to do what Play Off standard teams usually do and take control of the game but as is said by many people, cup finals are different. Saying that there was a scary moment when United looked to be through on goal but decided for some reason to wait for Jordan Willis to get back and put in a challenge.

Then everything turned even crazier than before, a nice one-two between Haynes and Reid gave the ex-Bantam winger space to rip into. His cross went to the edge of the box where George Thomas took down extremely well and let fly on the half volley. It flew into the bottom corner like it was drawn there by a magnet, some people are under appreciating how good the strike actually was.

Ever not known what to do with yourself when your team scores because you're that excited? Well after Georgey doubled the lead I felt that so just stumbled about jumping on various people throwing my arms everywhere, limbs. Both teams then made a sub each with half an hour remaining, Sercombe replaced Football Manager 2015 hero Ryan Ledson whilst Kelly-Evans came on for Willis who had picked up yet another knock, something seems to be niggling away at him because that's the third time recently he's had to go off.

Then the dreaded moment arrived, we gave away a free kick in a dangerous position with Maguire still on the pitch. He dipped it over the wall with ease but Lee Burge got up well to stop it from getting under the crossbar. With just 15 minutes left on the clock you really begin to believe but then
that belief comes crashing down to earth after one moment.

A corner for Oxford was played to 20 yards out the other side of the box where the city defenders failed to come out to meet Liam Sercombe who was ready to unleash a shot. Given everyone was still in the box, Burge saw it very late so by the time he did he couldn't get enough on it to stop it meeting the bottom corner and bringing the Yellows back into the game.

This sparked something which I believe people call squeaky bum time, it was a head in hands final 13 minutes, with every Oxford attack leaving you fearing the worst. Rob Hall was one on one with Burge just 2 minutes after their goal but the City graduate became big to prevent the collapse from happening,

The seconds were turning into minutes, to try and brake up play and maybe help push for another Jodi Jones came on for official man of the match winner George Thomas. The goalscorer Sercombe was booked for a poor tactical foul on Kyel Reid who was looking to mount a serious attack with just 4 minutes left.

The fourth official indicated 5 minutes additional time, something which was as painful as hypothetically hearing you're adopted. Once again another substitution was made to time waste, putting it bluntly. Marcus Tudgay made his banter appearance for the last minute of the five added on. Even that was nearly enough to make us concede.

One of the scariest moments of my entire life ensued after 95 minutes were played and Oxford had a corner, the ball was played in and headed towards the bottom corner by Rob Hall I believe but Burge pulled out an incredible save to scoop it away. The rebound however was guided past him and had to be cleared off the goal line by none other than Gael Bigirimana. I've never been more relieved than to see Burge collect that. Almost immediately after the final whistle was blown and met by a roar from the Sky Blue Army.

The party then began, Jones came sprinting straight over to the fans and it started to sink in, we'd won the Checkatrade Trophy. The lap of honour came from the players who looked absolutely delighted, and deservedly so. After the season we've had, all of the on field pain, off field pain, and everything in between. It's all amounted in this, who'd have thought it? It's staggering.

I'll never forget this day, the elders had '87. I had '17, this is the best day of my life and it will take some topping. But for now that'll have to be put to one side as on Wednesday night we travel to Sheffield United away in a game where if we want to stay up we literally have to win. It's 6 wins from 6 or nothing. But if I see what I did today then you never know...

My Man of the Match - Gael Bigirimana & George Thomas - Honestly, it was so hard to pick a man of the match so I plumped for not only the two goal scorers, the two best performers. I'd like to thank them for helping provide the best day of my life, god knows how many awards they're on now, I need to go through them and have a count.

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