Four games lost on the spin, albeit the last of which was against a Premier League side, Coventry City are yet again, in a dire situation. Ah, it's good to be back. To make things a whole lot easier for ourselves we went off to Mansfield, the early favourites to win the league, who have also only lost the one league game at home.We were warned of the run beforehand, so there's no point in crying about it now. Although believe me, I think I speak on behalf of quite a few Cov fans when I say we very much felt like it.
Sticking with the non-official coach of dreams, we were in the town of Newark-on-Trent well before 11, I'm not sure what it is about the Sky Blue Army coach, but they've got a habit of picking out some beautiful country towns prior to games. Who'd have known that the village of Lechdale near Swindon was that nice? Today was no exception, however some of them are, the less said about Dunstable the better... Extremely close to the drop off/pick up point we found ourselves in a pub, quite literally on a barge, right next to the River Trent. It was quite amazing the hidden wonders our League Two tour has brought.
At the risk of this turning into a monologue of an episode of Countryfile, I'll get back to the football. With Mansfield doing so well, and us in particular doing the the opposite, big changes need to be made but I'm not sure anyone was quite sure what. Some were quite obvious, but others needed a lot of though, such as do we drop Biamou, who goes out in midfield? All of which were answered when the team news arrived with an hour until kick off.
Coventry City Starting XI:
Coventry City Substitutes:
The obvious decision that had to be made was throwing Michael Doyle straight back into the fold, we've looked helpless without him for the last 3 games so he had to come back into the side to show the rest of them what to do. Rod McDonald also came back in for Dominic Hyam, who got a rare start in the cup match, however both Ryan Haynes and Jonson Clarke-Harris impressed enough at Brighton to retain their spot into the next league fixture. For once I actually looked at the side and thought that we had the ability to go out and get something, the only downside we me would be continuing to play Tom Bayliss on the right when everyone knows his best spot is in the middle.
Somehow, we actually started the brighter of the two times, we had three corners in the first 2 minutes. Only one of them resulted in a serious opportunity, Rod McDonald rose like a salmon at the back post and only a wonder save by Conrad Logan denied him. It was actually, promising, front-foot, attacking football, I'm not sure anyone was expecting it. Then, in spectacular Coventry City fashion, it all came crashing down like a ton of bricks in the space of about 2 minutes, funny how that seems to happen quite a bit.
Logan launched one over the top, the defence parted like the red sea and before you know it Jordan Willis and Danny Rose are in a race to the ball. Rose goes to ground after contact with Willis, that's the bottom line, so I can see why the referee gave the foul and a red card as he was indeed last man. However, if you watch the replays you can see there is no way Rose is getting to the ball ahead of Burge, therefore he hasn't denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. Willis certainly didn't intend to foul him and I'm pretty sure he's been played in this scenario, but as I've said, there was contact so we can't complain too much, but we can feel a tad hard done by.
What really rubbed salt into the wounds was the manner in which they scored from that free kick, MacDonald spooned the ball straight into Kane Hemmings and Burge could only look on helplessly as he was sprawled on the floor and the ball trickled in off the post. A massive strike of luck for the hosts, and there's nothing we really could have done about it. Yet in the space of 120 seconds, we'd gone from being by far the better side to 1-0 down with 10 men. You begin to think that is going to be one hell of a long afternoon.
For the remainder of the half we were clinging on a bit, Hemmings nodded a free header over the bar from about 8 yards when really he should have hit the target at the absolute least. It was CJ Hamilton with the best chance of the half however when he broke the offside trap and burst down the right wing. Burge didn't know what to do, but after Doyler screamed at him to come out, he did, and pulled off a great save with his feet after closing down the angles. This meant we could limp into the break and regroup for the second half.
Half Time - Mansfield Town 1-0 Coventry City
Even with the 10 men, and the fact we were on for our fifth defeat in a row, we came out not looking like we were going to lie down and take a beating. We started plugging away, now Bayliss was in the middle he could run through the entire side which helped us out massively, occasionally he got carried away and looking at one specific point he could have threaded in JCH but instead carried on on his own looking for glory and ended up getting tackled. He's a great footballer but that was his raw inexperience surfacing.
Marc McNulty wasn't having the best of games himself, so he left the field for Jordan Ponticelli to come on, a brave move considering we now had two strikers on the field with no league goal between them. But what we can say about him is he does work hard and run all over the shop, and from here we began to really get a grip on the game and take control. Ryan Haynes and Jordan Shipley played a one-two which left the former through on goal, and everyone knows about the wand of a left foot he possesses. Once more though, Logan made a great save to turn it onto the post.
It was all City, and just a couple of minutes later we finally got a chance to get back into the game, albeit in controversial fashion. Bayliss played a weak ball into the area from the right wing, it hits MacDonald and whilst he tries to get back he falls over in front of Jonson Clarke-Harris, they both go to ground. I think we appealed out of desperation more than anything, I was shocked the referee actually gave it. It looked like JCH fouled him more than anything at first glance, but looking in hindsight we did have a slight case.
With McNulty just leaving the field, everyone's wondering who the hell is going to take it, I guess because he's a striker, is hard as nails, he won it and no one wanted to tell him otherwise, Clarke-Harris stepped up. Logan was doing his best to put him off, and got booked for it, but he continued, started pointing at the top left corner, moved over there, and basically told Jonson where to go. So after a lot of faffing, he put it exactly where he was told to. 1-1. We were right back in with a shout and deservedly so. We continued on, but it was a very back and forth final 20 minutes.
I'm confident had we had 11 players on the pitch we would have won that game. Max Biamou was thrown onto the field as we continued to push on but we couldn't get anything clear cut away due to not having that eleventh man. In the dying moments Ricky Miller was booked for diving, and rightly so. Yes Hyam had his hand on his back but there was no push, minimal contact, and definitely nowhere near enough to go down and earn a penalty. I'm not quite sure what Steve Evans was talking about in the post-match interview (I'll get to that) but it certainly wasn't clear cut like he said. In the end neither side could find a winner, so the spoils were shared, and The Stags and Sky Blues both picked up a perhaps fair point.
Full Time - Mansfield Town 1-1 Coventry City
A well battled, very much deserved point, hear that Steve Evans? DESERVED. In his post match interviews which I strongly suggest you watch, he attacks the referee for not giving his side various chances and says every decision he made was wrong. Yet he also says the Willis sending off was warranted, and he must have missed the moment where Clarke-Harris was elbowed in the face and it was ignored. He referred to Mark Robins as "Squeaky little Robins", and just all round came across as very petty and bitter. I will look forward to the FA charge on Monday morning.
Looking forward, we've now got 2 absolutely massive games against Wycombe and Lincoln, the first of which is a game in hand. Win then and we will be right back up there and in with a shout, but any less than four points from these games and we'll be looking at a massive uphill battle for the remainder of the season. So basically, it's now or never, and we have a kind run in so getting the results now will pay off.
My Man of the Match - Ryan Haynes - The decision to put him back in for Chris Stokes paid off as he did what he does best, was solid defensively and ate up ground with his darting runs. He's still not on the wing and I won't stop until I see them both in the side but I guess that if it's not been done by this point it never will be so we're just going to have to settle for one or the other at a time.