Friday, 1 June 2018

My Sixty-Sixth 17/18 Game - Coventry City vs Exeter City - League Two Play Off Final

Finally, the day had come. After everything, it all came down to this, the day we would know for certain whether or not we'd be promoted. All it took to get there was one of the best, yet easily the most stressful of my Coventry City supporting life. Exeter were all that stood between us and a return to League One at the first time of asking, as well as a first promotion in 51 years. Not to be negative or anything but a loss would have been disastrous for the club, half the team would go, and we'd more than likely be stuck here for a few years. So it's fair to say it was a bit big...

Being in The Green Man from 9am onwards was eventful to say the least, the first couple of hours were quite chilled out, with everyone almost close to crying with nerves, but once they'd got a few £5 pints down themselves they were all a bit more relaxed. As soon as midday passed the atmosphere went from 1 to 100, it topped last years, everyone was having a great time flinging about the cans of Fosters they'd managed to sneak through the fences across the beer garden. The women walking around the garden selling jagerbombs must have made an absolute fortune as a side note.

Despite it being massively out of the way, we decided to head down Wembley Way to get the full experience, and basically just making sure we did everything that we forgot to last time and practically completed Wembley. Even spending a tenner on a scarf got ticked off the list (Not a half and half one), throughout the process of money exchanging hands it never felt like a good idea. Had we lost I'd be so disgusted that I'd probably have torched it. I was even tempted to buy a programme until I saw they were the same price, ten pounds for a programme, even last year they were half that.

Anyway, once I'd stopped myself from physically being sick at the sight of the price of any form of merchandise we bumbled into the ground and into our seats with still a good hour to go. Now I've got a friend who did all this last year with Reading in the Championship Play Off Final who lost on penalties to Huddersfield and his warning was the wait until kick off just sitting in your seat is the worst part of it all. My word he was absolutely right, the minutes were ticking down as you slowly watched the seats fill around you. JD from free radio's segment was as painful as you can imagine, I'm pretty surely he rarely does Ricoh games anymore so god knows why he was there. However this extra time did give us a chance to individually analyse the completely unchanged side.


Coventry City Starting XI:

Burge

Grimmer
Willis
Hyam
Stokes

Bayliss
Kelly
Doyle
Shipley

McNulty
Biamou

Coventry City Substitutes:

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

The away leg of the Notts County was one of, if not, the best performance by us this season, we were unbelievable in that first half. So why on earth would we make any changes unless they were forced? Everyone earned their spot in the Wembley side, and even if Sparky was still carrying a small injury which I doubt he would have been Robins would have been holding a gun to his head forcing him to play. Not that anyone would need to be forced to play in a Play Off Final at Wembley mind you.

First Half

Now our first half tactic was very simple, and practically the exact same as Exeter's, "For gods sake whatever you do don't f*cking concede", which resulted in a slightly dull affair for a first half. However saying that, we were a smidgen less conservative, in fact a little bit of me died when Marc McNulty was through on goal but couldn't get the ball under his spell to take it through so it was cleared. This was the first segment of what I'm choosing to call a very "open-mouthed" 90 minutes.

Shippers was doing well on the left, playing some decent one twos with Sparky, on a couple of occasions he got himself into great shooting positions but his weaker right foot let him down. The only real point I got nervous Exeter were going to score the scared first goal was when they scuffed a shot straight at Burge from 25 yards. It made up for all the nerves felt in other games though, it's like I'd been stabbed in the stomach and been spiked with a ridiculous amount of drugs because my heartbeat was erratic. The half time whistle came as a relief, we got a small break from the painstaking horror of the Play Off Final.

Half Time - Coventry City 0-0 Exeter City

Second Half

What I like about Mark Robins is, he always knows the right stuff to say at the half time interval, but even by his standards this was silly. I don't know what words he came out with, or what on earth he put in the water, but it must have been something special because they all came out and played as if they had fireworks sticking out of their backsides. Our earliest chance came a couple of minutes after the restart when Sparky hit a cutback first time towards the top corner which was tipped round the post.

Both centre backs came up for the resulting corner, which was half cleared to Doyler about 35 yards out, he played a low hard ball into Willis, and as a Sky commentator once said, it was a 'lovely first touch' to tee himself up, and a 'brilliant second' to bend the effort into the top corner. It was a burst of emotions, elation as we'd just gone 1-0 up in a Play Off Final at Wembley was obviously the biggest and most prominent one. Next in line it was probably shock at the fact our centre back had just scored an absolute beauty like that one. Our longest serving player left at the club no less, an academy product who's stuck by us through thick and thin bagged the opener in emphatic fashion, you couldn't write it.

Going to use one of my many many cliches I've brought out for the last time this season now, but this really was the straw that broke the camel's back, we weren't sitting on the lead, we saw this as the start of a demolition job. McNulty muscled off his marker and his first touch took it away from them, he was alone but bounding forward and if there's one thing you don't want to do against us, it's back away from Marc McNulty. He reached close to the edge of the area and by this point Jordan Shipley had bounded beside him and picked up the lay off, hitting it first time, with the ball coming off the calf of a defender, it looped through the air in a perfect arc and into the top corner.

These were some of the best scenes I've ever had the pleasure of being involved in, the first goal was good, but now it was a sense that we could actually do this. This season we'd never lost when winning, and now we were 2-0 up with yet another academy product scoring, however lucky he and we may have been in the process. It reminded me of when a certain Mr George Thomas did a similar thing just over a year ago, except when he scored Oxford got one back and gave us squeaky bum time. This time around though we just kept going and going...

McNulty provided a small piece of magic again, he was on his way into a blind alley and then laid off to Grimmer, who had absolutely no business shooting from where he did, first time on his left foot. What do you know it's in the top corner. 3-0. Even if some people were still in a bit of doubt after Shipley scored, that had all been swept away. We're going back to League One. Biamou's season was ended due to injury with about half an hour to go, and we also saw the last of Marc McNulty until August, and he's made it absolutely certain he'll still be in sky blue in League One.

The Grecians still had a chance to have some impact in the dying minutes, Burge tipped Matt Jay's effort round the post and Kyle Edwards scored a beauty after brushing off Ponticelli in the last minute. No one was really worried, just maybe a bit of a "surely not" from one or two. Stockley nearly scored deep in injury time which really would have made us sweat. However, and it gives me immense pleasure in saying this, the referee blew the full time whistle and confirmed Coventry City's first promotion for 51 years.

Full Time - Coventry City 3-1 Exeter City


WE'VE DONE IT. WE'RE GOING UP. I KNEW IT'D HAPPEN ONE DAY. Everything about the day was so so incredible, this season has had it's ups and downs but it's finally been made worth it. It's easily been the best I've had in my life when supporting the City, and I'm even more glad I've got all of these reports and other little posts to look back on, even if this one is a bit late because I wanted to go into more detail...

We're not quite done for the season just yet, I should get a season review out next week or so, which I hope I'll go into big detail with. I may also do a couple of bits and bobs after that over the next few weeks but due to the extended season, the first game of pre-season is basically only a month away so the boys will be back kicking footballs again very soon. I'm looking forward to the Alicante tour just as much as next season being completely honest...

My Man of the Match - Jordan Shipley - Once again, it could have been any of them, and it was very tight between Shippers and Sparky, but what's edged it for me was that in a tight, quiet first half, Shipley stood out. He even capped off his stand out Wembley performance with a goal, even if it was a bit lucky, it's possibly the best feeling I've ever had celebrating a goal. Plus, he recognised me at the end from being involved in this wonderful photo at Notts County. See you all in League One. x