Statistically, at 187 miles away, Carlisle is the furthest away ground of the 92 as it sits on the Scottish border. Getting up at 6am for a December trip following the Port Vale shambles wasn't something I was looking forward to, putting it lightly. To avoid dropping out of the play offs we almost certainly had to pick up 3 points, I can't stress enough how incredibly tight it is. From here on in it's going to be a test of nerve at bottle for who's going to stick around and who's going to drop off. Only time will tell which of those categories we're going to be in.
Coventry City Starting XI:
Coventry City Substitutes:
When doing team selection, Mark Robins must have had in mind who needs to be rested and so on in terms of Monday's New Years Day fixture at home to Chesterfield. However with this being the more tough of the two on paper, only two changes were made. One of which was forced. Rod McDonald has been carrying a knock and is on antibiotics for a chest infection, along with that his wife gave birth in recent days. I think that's enough to excuse him for this one fixture. The other was the slightly more odd inclusion of Stuart Beavon, and it is a touch weird given how much the gaffer was hyping up the need for Jordan Ponticelli and Duckens Nazon during our packed schedule. Devon Kelly-Evans found his way back onto the right wing after the news that Peter Vincenti will be out for 2 months at the very least.
Playing into the wind was always going to make the first 45 minutes at least a bit tough. This meant we had to set up in a more defensive way to counteract this, it didn't take us too long to realise that long balls are just going to come straight back at you. Then again, our long ball merchant Rod McDonald was out for the game so that may have had something to do with it. After just 20 minutes we were forced to make our first substitution when Jordan Willis went off for Dominic Hyam, it's since been confirmed it's only a dead leg so he shouldn't be out for too long.
What's been letting us down in recent times is our distribution from the wide areas, whilst Jordan Shipley and Devon Kelly-Evans had good games overall, their crossing was still letting them down. That was partly due to the poor delivery in itself, the fact that both McNulty and Beavon are under 6 foot, but mainly due to the wind blowing them wayward. They saw this early on and decided the best cause of action would be to just start leathering them from the wings. Shippers had a couple go over and Devon troubled the keeper the most after cutting in with 10 minutes of the half left.
The early injury knocked us for 6 a bit, so we were playing quite poor, the couple of aforementioned half chances were all we could muster up in the first period. Quite a few of the players looked dead towards the end of the half, with Davies picking up a knock as well as Beavon needing to receive treatment. As we neared the end of the half we were just hanging on so we could regroup at the break with 11 fully fit players on the pitch.
Half Time - Carlisle United 0-0 Coventry City
Due to the knock he picked up in the first half, Stuart Beavon had to come off at the break with Duckens Nazon taking his place on the field. It was the be short lived but at least whilst he was on the pitch we made the breakthrough we were in desperate need of. I'm not sure what was said or if it was literally down to The Duck's influence for that 11 minutes, but we switched right on for the second half.
Thanks to the hosts' shambolic defending it didn't take us long to get what we needed, Michael Doyle's hoof/cross was completely missed by all of their back four, leaving McNulty 8 yards out through on goal. He made no mistake and slotted straight past the keeper for his seventh goal in his last 8 games. Nazon was forced off just 5 minutes later when he took a big blow to the hip for the now 57 year old Clint Hill, Biamou came on in his place.
In a period of sheer dominance from the Sky Blues, we nearly made it 2-0 on the hour mark, Bayliss was played in and struck the post with his effort, the rebound fell to Kelly-Evans. His strike was poor, it looked to be going miles wide until a deflection carried it towards Biamou on the goal line. Had he not backheeled it in from a yard out, I'm confident it would have just been cleared away, despite what Devon may say. He was flagged offside and robbed of his long-awaited moment of glory. To be fair, he was literally in the goal when the ball was struck so I'm not surprised it didn't stand.
Bayliss went on another surprising yet blistering run into the area with 20 minutes left and forced a good save from Bonham. His parry was just out of reach of Biamou who looks to be getting closer to that first Coventry City goal every minute. I'm making it sound like we were dominating and playing very well, which to be fair, we were, but don't let that disguise the fact that Carlisle were extremely poor. The shame really should have been put to bed by this stage, but it was still only one goal separating.
With 15 minutes left we were given the biggest opportunity of them all to win it, McNulty did some great work on the wing, nutmegging the defender and playing the ball into Shipley 12 yards out. Jones stuck out a leg to try and block the midfielder from rounding him and having a shot, but he caught his right foot instead, giving away a penalty. You could argue Biamou should have taken it to give him a confidence boost but I think McNulty was right to step up. It was a poor, low penalty which Bonham comfortably saved. I think we can let him off though, he had a great game and is in great form, plus he said how much it angered him.
Really we should have been breezing the last 10 minute 3-0 up but instead it was squeaky bum time for the majority, but we held it well in the corner and didn't let them get anywhere near an equaliser. The six minutes of injury time were still quite nervy however, the cloesest they did come was a free kick from Reggie Lambe which sailed miles over the bar. It was a good, professional performance to pick up the 3 points and see out 2017 with a win.
Full Time - Carlisle United 0-1 Coventry City
Robins is a man who doesn't make substitutes for the sake of making them, many times this season have we only used one or two. So to have three forced upon the side due to injuries just after half time, we adapted extremely well to come away with all three points. Max Biamou actually did look good when he came on, the majority of his goals for Sutton last season came in the second half of the campaign so lets all hope and pray it's a similar case now. What would be an extremely Coventry City thing to do would be to drop points against 22nd place Chesterfield. A win could push on our bid for automatics, and a win is what we need to aim for.
My Man of the Match - Tom Bayliss - He's only 18 years of age and you can count his professional appearances on one hand. This is absolutely staggering given how natural he looks on the ball, playing his way out of a sticky situation and he even has the ability to catch defences out by going on an unexpected darting run. He was unlucky to not come away with a goal on this occasion as well, striking the post. He needs to be tied down on a long term deal before heads turn, from what I've seen so far, we have some player on our hands. Also, an honourable mention needs to go to Tom Davies, he had an exceptional defensive performance in trying circumstances.