Sunday, 20 May 2018

My Sixty-Fifth 17/18 Game - Notts County vs Coventry City - Play Off Semi Final Second Leg

The day had finally arrived, we'd had to put ourselves through the longest and most gruelling week of our lives all for the second leg of our play off match against Notts County. All the first leg did was make things even more tense with all the controversy surrounding it, however we were gift wrapped a way back into the tie with a late penalty at the Ricoh. My man of the match that night was Tom Davies, and he was dealt a retrospective 3 match ban for stamping. You couldn't make it up.

All of that meant we needed a win at County, a ground we haven't taken a victory home from since 1963 and who finished above us in the league. In fact this rounded off the play off semi finals, in all five leading up to it the home team in the second leg won, basically everything was pointing towards a Notts victory. However as our pretend motto says, we don't play by the script, so literally anything could happen. One thing was for certain though, I was an absolute nervous wreck, the day was spent mainly crying and rocking back and forth.

Coventry City Starting XI:

Burge

Grimmer
Willis
Hyam
Stokes

Bayliss
Kelly
Doyle
Shipley

McNulty
Biamou

Coventry City Substitutes:

O'Brien
McDonald
Maguire-Drew
Barrett
Reid
Clarke-Harris
Ponticelli

Tom Davies getting suspended was a big blow to us, but it's not like Jordan Willis is a bad replacement, so he came in. Other than that we remained completely unchanged from the side who drew last Saturday. The word on the street was that Marc McNulty probably shouldn't have played after his head took a battering in training, as well as apparently something to do with his hamstring, from the off though, you really couldn't tell in the slightest.

First Half

Literally as soon as we heard the word go we were pouncing at the Notts County side like it was the last game of football we'd ever play. In less than 45 seconds, Maxime Biamou was played through on goal by a looping over the top ball from McNulty but I think out of general shock and surprise he got a chance that early on he scuffed it and the ball was immediately cleared. However, in the understatement of the century, he did go and make up for it ever so slightly a couple of minutes later.

A corner was whipped in and half cleared to Jordan Willis, he nodded it across the other side of the box where Maxime Biamou had his back to goal, got himself in the air, and flung his legs at the ball, striking into the far corner. One overhead kick is mad, two is an actual joke, how he can manage that is obscene. The fans were celebrating almost as much as the players, no one actually celebrated with Max, instead they all just sprinted towards the away end, amid a ridiculous amount of blue smoke.

On a personal note, I fell backwards onto the row behind in pure shock and elation, I wasn't even confident we'd do well, and we just came out flying and scored a worldie, it was almost too much. County were shellshocked, we were all over them, Doyler got a bit excited and as you can't get suspended for yellow cards at this point in the season he needlessly almost killed someone by diving at their shins.

We then pulled something off which is basically deserving of promotion, Shipley launched one about 60 yards straight to the feet of Marc McNulty, he squared it to Bayliss who carried to the edge of the box, dinking out to Liam Kelly. Somehow, barely even looking, he managed to pick out a ball through the sea of defenders to Sparky in acres of space, all he was left to do was stab into the completely empty side of the net. 2-0. Bodies flying absolutely everywhere.

Everyone was already booking their hotels at this point, and quite literally, as we were chanting "If we win, we're on the pitch" we let them get back in with a scrappy goal which was finished of at the back post by Jorge Grant. Grimmer was fouled in the build up by John Stead but Notts County fans only really see decisions that went against them because the whole refereeing situation is all a big conspiracy which we control...

Half Time - Notts County 1-2 Coventry City

Second Half

The collective feeling amongst the City fans was that the second half was going to go one of two ways, we'd lose 3-2 or batter them. The way it began, it really was looking as if it would be the former, we'd gone all Tony Pulis and decided that parking the bus when one goal ahead away in a game where the opposition are going to throw the kitchen sink at you was the best cause of action. I don't know who's bloody idea that was but it was a thick one. If things hadn't gone the way they did I would be crucifying various individuals.

Lee Burge has taken some stick this season, and I've always been a big defender of him and his work, but what a performance he had. Anything within 6 yards of him was either being claimed or sent into the River Trent with a belter of a punch. The key moment of his was John Stead shaking off Willis but Burge pulling off a fantastic save down to his right and flick it round the post. We were hanging on, and not long after we were dealt with our second huge slice of luck of this semi final tie.

The lumped a free kick into the box, it was nodded in the air and Forte beat Burge to the ball, heading it over him and into the empty net. Notts are already in raptures celebrating, scoreboard changed to 2-2, flags waving. However the linesman had other ideas, with his flag in the air calling it offside, you've never felt a bigger sigh of relief. However what we didn't see until after the game was that he was about a yard onside and it was a perfectly legitimate goal that had been disallowed. Oops...

This knocked the stuffiing out of the home side, and we were left to freely counter, with McNulty and Biamou playing a neat one two, the latter of which had the ball on the edge of the box. He pulls off a beautiful turn and slots it into the bottom corner like it was absolutely nothing. This was the point that we knew, as soon as ball hit net there was no doubt left in my mind, we're going back to Wembley. It was astonishing scenes, all the players and fans are in a big ball near the corner flag with legs in the air and everything.



To put the doubt beyond absolutely everyone Tom Bayliss did a Tom Bayliss and pranced through their entire team, shooting from 25 or so yards on the side foot, straight into the far corner. 4-1. 4-1 4 blooming 1. I've never been so happy as to how I was in those last 10 minutes, we've done it. The clock ticked down and we honsetly could have got 5 or 6 with Ponticelli's introduction. I encourage you to watch the full time reaction of the players if you haven't already, it's 7 minutes guaranteed to give you goosebumps and reduce you to tears.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

My Sixty-Fourth 17/18 Game - Coventry City vs Notts County - Play Off Semi Final First Leg

My birthday was on Friday, and normal people celebrate it and generally have a good time at the anniversary of their birth. This time round however, I was rocking back and forth in a ball wracked with nerves ahead of our first ever play off campaign. In fact the occasion is so big that I needed to add something onto the end of the usual generic title to commemorate it. After all, it was the first leg of our semi final tie against Notts County, the home one, with the Ricoh backing, and really, the one we needed to win.

Arriving at Coventry Arena train station 3 hours before kick off is quite something even by my standards, so once I'd settled my erratic heartbeat with a still not quite legal pint of Carling I went back to some more rocking in a ball. The walk back to the Ricoh was like some form of tsunami, my new coat was taking a right beating, as was the Ricoh pitch. Watching the ball travel on certain parts of that was honestly like a swamp, on other parts it was ice. In fact that game was barely playable. Just getting the excuses in early here boys and girls.

Coventry City Starting XI:

Burge

Grimmer
Hyam
Davies
Stokes

Bayliss
Kelly
Doyle
Shipley

McNulty
Biamou

Coventry City Substitutes:

O'Brien
Willis
McDonald
Maguire-Drew
Reid
Clarke-Harris
Ponticelli

Jordan Willis returned from having the trots but only made the bench due to Dominic Hyam's impressive display passing it round the back against Morecambe. That in itself is a brave call but as we've seen lately Mark Robins likes to show how big his testes are. This mean that only one change was made, legend of our time Maxime Biamou returned from his knock to replace Jonson Clarke-Harris. I was quite happy with the chosen eleven, but it became quite evident early on that the surface suited the visitors' style of play more than it did ours.

First Half

Personally I was just glad we didn't Lincoln it and throw away a big game extremely early on, so I calmed down a little when we made it to the 51 second mark still level. Once that was out of the way we actually had quite a bright start, we were making do with the constant unpredictable pitch whilst County were leathering it at Davies and Hyam. From open play they were making do but from set pieces the entire back four were like a circus, flinging themselves absolutely everywhere to stop it going in rather than calmly dealing with them. That said, it was us that had the first chance.

Jordan Shipley weighted a beautiful ball over the top to Sparky, with the angle looking tighter and tighter and the defenders getting ever closer he had to take one touch and go for it. I really thought it was in, so to see it cannon off the inside of the post when already mid-celebration was heartbreaking. I think this rattled the players a bit because the attacks became a bit more sloppy, partly down to them, partly to the pitch. Long story short it was a poor quality first half in terms of attacking football. 

The referee was one of those "Stop the game for absolutely anything" types and we were hard done by as every little niggle was being pulled up, Doyler was booked early on for dissent. He probably threatened his family or something even more Michael Doyle than that. Still though, we almost went ahead through a Gary Mabbutt-esque own goal. McNulty found himself down on the byline and aimed his cut back into Biamou but it was deflected in at the near post. Adam Collin got every single body part possible between him and the woodwork to stop it on the line. Despite screams of "EH? GIVE IT YOU NONCE", the referee looked at his watch and shook his head. Bloody goal line technology.

Tom Bayliss got caught in between shooting and crossing when in the area so somehow managed both, it was a few yards away from McNulty but also a few yards from the far post. Just leather it at goal mate, get the stats up. Jon Stead stabbed at the side netting and there were a couple of other half chances but nothing amazing as the time ticked down. We'd displayed fight in the first half though, and hadn't bottled it under the lights and big crowd, whilst it was 0-0 the display was quite pleasing.

Half Time - Coventry City 0-0 Notts County

Second Half

The first couple of minutes after the break were all City, it was really bright, Jack Grimmer flicked a header just over the bar almost immediately after the whistle was blown. Then at the other end he was involved in a cartoon style pile on the floor as him and Dan Jones both went to ground for a 50/50, the latter of which was very lucky to have it fall straight to him with Grimmer skidding into block 17. There was nothing lucky about what followed though, he crossed it in, (backwards, to those who are trying to claim it as offside) to Jonathan Forte, who backheel flicked it past Burge. 1-0. Somewhat undeserved but an absolutely beautiful finish sent the visiting fans into raptures and ourselves silent.

I may have overreacted a tad, it felt like the world was ending and our years of hurt were going to continue indefinitely when that goal went in. We've not won at County since the 60s, this first leg was a chance to give ourselves a head start. To draw is worrying, to lose would give us a mammoth of a task. What rubbed salt into the wounds was the attendance announcement, now I'm no expert, but surely there was more there than they said. 17,404 with 2,756 away would mean that there were less home fans in there than against Morecambe, despite more of the ground being open and blocks 14-23 being completely sold out. That just doesn't make sense.

Anywho, we'd lobbed Ponticelli on for Shipley and told him to do what he did last time at their place and try for the equaliser. Bayliss did some fancy footwork straight from the James Maddison school of excellence but when he turned his shot went just wide. Clarke-Harris was on for Biamou in another "do a goal" substitution with about 10 minutes left but whilst we were attacking, the final ball was seriously poor on our parts which massively let us down. Grimmer's was poor but I've seen a couple of people suggesting to drop him, which would be incredibly foolish. My player of the season

Stokes went for a hit and hope into the area which Collin half-heartedly punched away from the head of McNulty to Bayliss. It was a poor first touch but he made it level with Tootle, who flicked the ball away from him and out for a corner. Honestly, it went like this "Our ball yeah ref? WAIT WHAT?!", because for some unknown reason, Gavin Ward realised we'd been a bit hard done by so gave us the world's softest ever penalty. Even Bayliss himself was saying how he cleanly took the ball. Our poor luck had immediately changed, the block 14 yoof legion were already celebrating and giving it large. All I could think was about how Cov it would be to be literally gifted a chance to equalise and squander it. Sparky stepped up though, and of course he went and scored. 1-1.


This penalty cooly slots into my top 5 most celebrated goals ever, because I really didn't think we'd manage to pull it out of the bag, even if it was thanks to a diabolical decision. Then again, seconds after a completely not offside Tom Davies headed onto a defender's hand, which probably was a penalty. So I suppose it evened out on that front, plus for us not to have taken at least a draw to Meadow Lane would have been extremely harsh. We quite easily could have stolen a win mind you, but under the circumstances I'll take that.

Full Time  - Coventry City 1-1 Notts County

Undoubtedly, Notts have got the better result of the two sides, but it's a lot better than it was in the 86th minute. However once I'd minorly celebrated not losing after full time came, I realised the absolute state of what we have to do on Friday night. Go to Notts County, and somehow, however possible, get a win, whether that be in normal time or in extra time/on penalties. It's actually quite mad to think it'll either be one of the best or worst days of my life, it's fair to say I won't be getting much done this week. Oh well, see you there.

My Man of the Match - Tom Davies - Great game from the centre back, dealt with anything and everything extremely well, if we all ignore the violent conduct which he may end up with a retrospective ban for, he was brilliant. I'd still probably bring Willis back in for Hyam for the second leg to give us that extra bit of something but I guess we'll find out. Have I mentioned hoe huge it is yet...?

Monday, 7 May 2018

My Sixty-Third 17/18 Game - Coventry City vs Morecambe

45 league games lead us here, the finale which almost certainly wouldn't be the last game. All we needed to do was not Cov it up and get at least a point at home to 22nd placed Morecambe, who also by chance only needed a point to confirm safety, the scene was set. I think we all knew what was going on when Robins said in his pre-match interview that "We'll see what happens", not implying that we'd actually try and win an easily winnable game.

There was enough people in the Ricoh that they had to move the point of segregation along a whole block. People are starting to come out of their caves, roll on next Saturday, where we've got to be topping 20,000 at the absolute minimum. All it took to get there was one of the dullest on pitch 90 minutes of football known to man, but were you expecting anything else? That didn't make it any less hilarious to watch.

Coventry City Starting XI:

Burge

Grimmer
Hyam
Davies
Stokes

Bayliss
Kelly
Doyle
Shipley

McNulty
Clarke-Harris

Coventry City Substitutes:

O'Brien
McDonald
Haynes
Maguire-Drew
Reid
Ponticelli
Biamou

Just the two changes from the abusement of Cheltenham were both referred to as forced, presumably picking up a knock, Max Biamou dropped to the bench probably being deemed not worth the risk with Jonson Clarke-Harris replacing. Everyone's favourite conspiracy theory resurfaced yet again with Willis out of the squad, is he injured or has he apparently got a transfer to Rotherham agreed in principle for the fourth transfer window in a row. I mean it's almost definitely the first but who knows? I'm a big fan of the fact that we brought Hyam back in instead of McDonald. Top work Mr Robins.

First Half

I'll be doing minimal match analysis because I'm not sure people want to hear about various on twos between Tom Davies and Michael Doyle. Speaking of the captain, he had bags of space 20 yards out so spanked one towards the top corner, Barry Roche, who had a splendid game might I add, tipped it over the bar. This was in the third minute or so, and is one of only two chances we managed to bless ourselves with.


The second was brought onto us by Chris Stokes, he accidentally found himself bursting down the left wing having been played through by a deflection, shimmying past his man he threaded into Jonson Clarke-Harris. His touch teed it up in the air and on the volley Roche pulled out another fantastic save. SEE Sunderland fans, we did try! A bit... Tom Davies at the other end stopped a cross from being tapped in at the back post by flinging his legs at it, taking it out for a throw.

Half Time - Coventry City 0-0 Morecambe

Second Half

If you thought the first half was tedious and dull, then have I got a treat for you. It was so blatant that we were playing for a draw that it was laughable, Barnet were 3-0 up which meant we only needed a goal to condemn Morecambe to non league football. At our end though it didn't make one shadow of a difference whether we won or drew, we'd still be playing Notts County and finishing sixth. So it was a series of sideways passing and occasional sighs from a selection of Cov fans.

A personal highlight was substitute Maxime Biamou realising he was in a 3 on 3, panicking, turning and immediately feeding Callum Lang in for the counter attack. It was astonishing to watch, as the minutes ticked down no one was worried because why should we be? Mansfield and Lincoln were failing to score and we weren't exactly going to concede. As Tom Davies saw a 80 yard long ball out for a goal kick he screamed "COME ON" at singers corner, and when the full time whistle was blown, they did.


Full Time - Coventry City 0-0 Morecambe 

Streams of fans came onto the pitch, should they have, probably not, does it matter? Not really. It's not exactly harming anyone, even if it is ever so slightly tinpot. In fact the two things Cov fans were told not to do came true, as a flare was also set off to complete block 14 bingo. Once we'd all got off and the players had come back out for a lap of honour it dawned on me, we're in the f***ing play offs. (Censoring that in case my mums decides to have a peek at this) That means constant anguish and pain, I don't think I could mentally take yet another failure, if we're not heading to Wembley by 10:30 Friday the 18th of May then god knows what I'll do. I'll more than likely do a play off preview in the week.

My Man of the Match - Tom Bayliss - Actually looked like providing some attacking drive, he'll be incredibly key over the 2 play off legs. In fact that goes for anyone, we literally can't afford to have anyone making a mistake now, we need to be spotless, Bayliss along with a lot of this team hasn't experienced play offs before. The likes of Doyler and Sparky need to step up more than ever. *Gulp* See you Saturday.