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...?

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