The Championship – 18/8/2007
Wednesday 28th December 2005, and City have just beaten Ipswich 2-0 at a snowy Circle with goals from Nick Barmby and Craig Fagan under the stewardship of Peter Taylor. This was the last time we were as high as we currently are in the Championship, 15th place.
Of course, league tables count for little after two games, although when you consider that we spent the entire of last season in the bottom seven, it is quite nice to look at the current standings and observe plenty of teams below us. Guiding the Tigers to such giddy heights at a sodden Ricoh were: Duke; Ricketts, Turner, Brown, Delaney; Ashbee, Garcia, Marney, Elliott; Windass Barmby.
This meant a rare League start for Matt Duke as Myhill was demoted to the substitutes’ bench, while the widely anticipated decision to drop Danny Coles saw the Tigers retain the same defensive partnership of Wayne Brown and Michael Turner that impressed in the midweek win at Crewe. In midfield, Bryan Hughes was absent with a back injury, while Ashbee was brought back to partner Marney as City lined up in a pleasing 4-4-2 formation – evidently, Phil Brown does have the personnel to adopt this tactic after all.
We looked a lot tidier at Gresty Road on Wednesday for adopting this formation, and so it proved again in Coventry’s desperately soulless new stadium. A suitable venue for Iain Dowie’, who is carefully assembling a charmless collection of scufflers with a dismaying propensity for hurling themselves turfwards at the merest brush.
This made for an unlovely opening to the game, although Coventry had the better of the possession and territory. However, they lacked a cutting edge as Wayne Brown splendidly organised his team-mates at the back – one wonders if Dowie made a mistake by omitting the usually-excellent Adebola from his side.
Stuart Elliott had City’s first chance when he connected with a high ball, but his header sailed harmlessly wide. This appeared to calm City, who were adapting to the inclement conditions a little better than their hosts as the ball zipped around the terrific playing surface.
Leading the home side’s threat was Julian Gray, a superb player at this level and previously a serious menace to us, however Ricketts was manfully combating his threat and City looked tight on the flanks, vindication of Brown’s tactical switch. However, Ricketts did attract a caution for one late challenge on his adversary, a sanction that would later prove costly.
Coventry had a loud penalty appeal turned down when a cross from the right almost found Kyle, who was crashing to the ground under the attentions of Delaney. A reasonable claim for a penalty, although Kyle probably did his cause little good by making his tumble so theatrical, and referee Barry Knight dismissed his request.
Windass nearly scored for City with a header that home keeper Konstantopoulos flapped wildly at as we began to look slightly the better side, although as the half drew to a close only a brilliant covering challenge prevented Tabb from snatching the lead towards the end.
The second half started with the rain continuing to fall and with Coventry urgently seeking to raise the pace of their play, seemingly at the behest of the exasperated Iain Dowie. This paid swift dividends as the home side took the lead, a raking ball to the far post finding MacKenzie totally unmarked and his powerful header squirmed beyond Duke’s grasp. The City keeper was blameless, but one might reasonably wonder just how MacKenzie was in so much space – free headers were a dispiritingly regular event last season, and once more we trailed to one.
City were now struggling to stay in the game as Coventry swarmed forward in search of a second goal that would probably have proven decisive. However, this flurry didn’t see them create much in our area, and we nearly replied with a Turner header that flashed wide.
Back we came though, and shortly after the hour fashioned a superb equaliser. Ricketts wriggled free of his marker on the right with an adept turn and his excellent cross was thumpingly met by Nick Barmby – hardly the tallest man in the Coventry penalty area but his header was a firm one and Konstantopoulos could only shovel it into the top corner. 1-1, and the thousand or so City fans present capered in glee at this fine reaction to going behind.
Barmby had a chance soon after to give the Tigers the lead when he found a yard of space close to goal, but he mishit his shot and it was easily pouched by the Coventry gloveman. We looked the likelier to score, playing some slick and incisive football, but any chance of taking three points disappeared with 22 minutes left.
Gray again took on Ricketts, and the Welsh international appeared to grab at his shirt as his opponent headed towards the area. It appeared not to disrupt the Cov man’s run, but Mr Knight awarded the free-kick and decided the offence was worthy of a second yellow card and Ricketts had to leave. A trifle harsh, and a major blow to City.
This necessitated some immediate reshuffling by Phil Brown, who withdrew Elliott for Dawson to give us sufficient defensive cover while narrowing the midfield to keep things as tight as possible in the centre. McPhee then replaced Windass, who’d had a very quiet afternoon, the manager’s calculation presumably being to introduce some pace up front knowing that our primary attacking threat would now be on the break.
With Coventry huffing and puffing, seemingly under greater pressure since the advent of their numerical advantage, Phil Brown made his final change of the afternoon by replacing the tiring Barmby for David Livermore, adding a calming influence to the midfield. Sound thinking by Mr Brown, and he deserves the credit for getting the important decisions right.
With our midfield robust and defence sound, Coventry were making some poor decisions and this allowed us a great chance to win the game when Marney capitalized on a mistake to advance goalwards, however he didn’t catch his shot properly and the ball trickled harmlessly wide.
This was our final attacking thrust of the afternoon, and Coventy had much the better of the closing minutes. Doyle had a shot that Duke comfortably dealt with and Mifsud and the recently-introduced Adebola all firing shots at the City goal, however our hosts’ were attacking with little composure and this invigorated the City support further, electing not to waste time addressing their quiescent hosts by instead singing at other from the different sides of the away section – something that ought to be become a regular occurrence when faced with silent home fans.
Coventry appeared to realise that this was not to be their afternoon, and the referee brought proceedings to a close with the match becoming subdued and the Tigers were able to bring a point back to East Yorkshire.
A solid afternoon’s work. One suspects that most of us would have settled for a point, and this was one gained through a promising combination of hard work and decent football. Ashbee had one of his better afternoon, replacing the oafish charging around with a more cerebral approach to halting attacks. Marney kept possession neatly, while the defence looked solid apart from the aberration that presented Coventry with their opener. Wayne Brown appears to be a real leader in the defence, while Turner’s restoration to the side has tightened us up considerably. Up front, Barmby was very good, full of running and using the ball inventively, making up for Deano’s puzzlingly lethargic show.
Plaudits too for Phil Brown – following the slovenly defeat to Plymouth, he had a number of urgent alterations to make, primarily the dropping of Coles and the failing 4-3-3 formation. These have been done, and while some may still hanker after a change to the midfield personnel, we looked a lot better yesterday in all areas of the pitch. The visit of Norwich next week will see us looking for the top half of the table for first time since October 2005. (AD)