We deserved that I think.
It may have been a manic sort of start and a mistake-ridden opening period, but we turned it around in the second half and looked composed for large periods, and a genuine threat when on the attack.
The pre-match concern about the pitch was a valid one, as the wings showed signs of lying water from the off, causing both sets of players constant issues in judging the bounce and speed of the ball. One minute it’d skip off the surface twice as fast it ought to; the next it’d inexplicable lose all power and stutter along the ground to its destination like it was made out of velcro. These were miserable conditions to match a fairly miserable place.
We conceded an early goal which was mostly down to our inability to adapt to the erratic reaction of the pitch, but also a result of the differing levels of alertness between the two teams in those opening moments. Scunthorpe came out of the traps fast, and we simply couldn’t handle it. The goal was a free header at the back post, and being so close to the action at Glanford Park you got a true sense of the simplicity with which Sodje was able to nod the ball home. Things were really jumbled in that opening period – this didn’t look a like a team that was fresh with new ideas from a new manager. This looked like a team that was confused.
However, after riding the early storm and keeping Scunthorpe down to the single goal, there was a very noticeable return to a concerted build-from-the-back strategy. Quite how much influence Pressley was able to have on the squad after just one training session is debatable, but the team seemed to be under instructions to bring the ball out of defence, which considering how they’ve approached things during Carsley’s brief tenure gave all signs of being a request from their new boss.
This direction presented itself in different ways as the game wore on; in the first half it felt little more than a return to the Andy Thorn illusion of possession, with each pass becoming more and more of a struggle. There were clear instructions in play which meant we planned to keep possession even if this meant going backwards – always a risky move for a Coventry City side and one that our “forward”-thinking fans are always quick to show their dissatisfaction about. You know me, I appreciated the approach and was happy for them to persist, although I can kind of see why there’s an irritation from other fans when we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. The play wasn’t as fluid or natural as it should be, and whenever we did find ourselves in advanced areas, there was little care or quality in the final pass. That’s always going to agitate the support, especially when you’re behind. There was an apparent lack of conviction, especially from the right-hand side between Baker and Christie who were having a hesitant time of it. But we ploughed on with the possession game, and as half time neared, began to control the match more.
The goal was Baker doing what Baker has been doing most of this season – cutting in, a drop of the shoulder back, then getting a shot away. It took a deflection and nestled past the keeper, although being at the opposite end of the ground I struggled to have any idea how it found its way into the net. It also didn’t help that the goal was given to McSheffrey by the guy running the unsettlingly audible PA system, confusing the lot of us.
It was a real boost to take the game into half-time knowing we were back level. We’d gained an element of control and returned for the second half with far more composure. Moussa epitomised this and was open to receiving the ball all over the pitch and happy to carry it until a sensible pass presented itself. It wasn’t passing for passing’s sake – the purpose was there, and we were stretching the game. Baker continued to have an iffy performance with very little coming off for him, while it was McSheffrey on the left who showed a renewed engine and directness. Sure, he made mistakes too and misplaced some passes, but these were at least mistakes borne out of a desire to take the game to the opposition. He was a threat, while Baker seemed to it know things just weren’t coming off for him and felt a little more reserved.
Leon Clarke worked his buttocks off as the loan striker, and while on the end of a few seemingly close offside calls – including one for the disallowed header – he kept himself pinned to the deepest defender and was a genuine target in the centre for our crosses. He challenged for most balls in some way, which considering his nature as quite a “choosy” striker about which balls to go for, was a noticeable highlight. He got his back in well and bullied the defenders in the same way he did to Richard Wood in the reverse fixture at the Ricoh. The horrible tasks of chasing the ball across the back line and relentlessly closing down the dodgy kicks of an Andre the Giant goalkeeper were performed with regularity, and he didn’t seem all that knackered by doing it either.
The goal came from more good work from McSheffrey down the left, a swinging ball into the centre and a precise header from Clarke who you just knew was going to get on the end of it. There was no offside flag this time and the ball nestle in the same corner as the Scunthorpe opener – cue a half-hearted jog to the front of the stand and vein attempt to encourage Leon into celebrating with us/get myself on TV. Unfortunately neither plan came off as Clarke showed the exaggerated level of sentiment that you will only see when a player scores against a former club (of 90 days)… The one time you really want him to be a bastard too.
We were more than deserving of the lead. We remained focused on our task until we finally achieved it. The control appeared to wane a little afterwards as we seemed content to see the rest of the game out, all apart from a couple of opportunities to break which we were unable to convert into proper chances.
Scunthorpe were able to put us through a couple of nervy moments, and we should certainly be grateful to Joe Murphy for a spectacular flying save late on, which actually went ignored by the Football League Show in favour of a “save” which technically didn’t exist as it was accompanied by an assistant’s offside flag.
Basically, we weren’t going to mess this one up. Scunthorpe had some tidy players, especially on the flanks, and had the appearance of a team with the potential to create, but it just didn’t really click for them on the day. We stuck to our guns and didn’t panic, and were rewarded with yet another victory on the road – to the delight of the freezing Sky Blue Army and a jubilant fist-pumping Steven Pressley.
Joe Murphy – 7: Bit scrappy to start like the rest of his teammates, but pulled off a stunning save near the end and showed solid hands and top-drawer concentration on what was a dangerous surface.
Cyrus Christie – 6: He was in the game a lot, but stuttered through large periods. As seems to be his natural pattern, his most influential moments came in the second half and is always capable of some nice wing-play, but as he demonstrated, these moments will be scattered amongst a range of hesitancy and blind-alley running.
Aaron Martin – 6: Certainly a more dominant performance than Swindon, from both open-play and set pieces. He committed to the passing approach even though he didn’t seem particularly comfortable being the starting point. Looked a little slow to react to his own touch at points, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt – the pitch was a bugger for someone as gigantic as him.
William Edjenguele – 6: Returned to the side in place of Cameron and the first 10 minutes aside (you’re starting to notice the theme), he actually made me feel pretty relaxed about our defence. I have absolutely no idea what Brian Laws is talking about with regards to him karate-ing someone down. I don’t doubt that he probably gave someone a bit of a chop – it’s what he does – but we were so far way and attempting to focus our vision through the distraction of a net, I ended being blissfully unaware of any such incident.
Carl Dickinson – 6: Pretty reliable in his general play – it’s his enthusiasm which seemed to get the better of him at times, and we’d have all been going mental if they’d scored from the daft free-kick he conceded right at the death. Was happy to take the initiative and move forward whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Carl Baker – 5: He scored, but there were just too many mistakes this time around for it to be classed a good performance. Even so, given what he’s done for the team this season, not worthy of some of the inane criticism which led me to give the angry Vs towards the back of someone’s head when he scored.
James Bailey – 5: In the same way as Baker, he had a contribution through his pinpoint ball to McSheffrey for the winner, but just wasn’t as influential as we all know he can be. Had a decent strike in the first half, and seemed to get a bit more involved in the scrappy side of the game than he has been, but we expect so much more.
Steven Jennings – 7: Much better from him. Like Moussa, he was happy to keep the ball in tight areas, and keeping the ball ticking over took priority over trying any buck-passing direct ball if ever he felt some pressure. Enjoyed the battle.
Gary McSheffrey – 7: He had a good game. Some people don’t fancy him, and will only focus on mistakes, but he really did balance those with some effective moments and put in quality crosses from the left hand side.
Frank Moussa – 8: Man of the match, for me. Carrying the ball holds no concern for Franck when he’s on form. He went searching for the game to ensure he could have an influence. Some may wonder why he was dropping so deep, but I took the positives from that and showed how confident he was feeling. The most reliable first touch in our team.
Leon Clarke – 7: He ticked every box. Held the ball up, ran his widths, brought others into play, competed aerially and grabbed his goal. Not sure where all this discontent is that everyone keeps talking about – he’s a key part of our team nowadays, and I think everyone knows it.
John Fleck – 5: Kept himself composed and helped to hold possession when it came to him. Gets a 5 because he didn’t really get into the game that much rather than a sign of any poor play, although he was a little too keen to double up with Dickinson when he really should have been tracking his runner.
Jordan Willis n/a: Some appearance money for the lad.