Everyone wants to be remembered for something. Even the most humble seek a legacy that lives once they’re no longer about. It applies very much to sport. The 2008 miracle workers know that their place in City’s history is forever secure; that their names will always be recalled and placed among the uppermost reaches of our hall of fame.
The class of 2011 have now inked a smaller but still memorable chapter into our annals. Never, in 107 years of mostly mediocre stuttering, had City gone 14 away games without defeat. Now, stunningly and unexpectedly, we have. Even if it proves to be not enough to pinch a play-off place – which we fancy two successive home defeats has ensured – it’s been a thrilling and unforgettable experience…all the more so considering it’s come in the same season saw City rack up their 30th successive game on the road without a win. Nigel Pearson and his team are record-breakers, and we salute them.
As we entered the Ricoh Arena in search of a delicious slice of history, few were talking about the play-offs. That prospect, so enticingly real after the stirring victory at Nottingham Forest, receded dramatically following the damaging defeat to Burnley. All that really seemed left was the record, and hopefully another enjoyable day on the road with the Tigers.
Nigel Pearson kept mainly with the side that saw us get close-ish, the only change being the return of Nick Barmby to the bench in favour of Tom Cairney, meaning that on a grey Warwickshire afternoon City lined up: Guzan; Rosenior, Gerrard, Chester, Dawson (c); Koren, Evans, Harper, Cairney; Fryatt, Mclean. Accompanying St Nick on the substitutes’ bench were Oxley, Belaid, Hobbs, Amoo, Simpson and Garcia.
City began the game kicking away from the 1,200 City fans in a paltry crowd of just over 14,000…and goodness, what a peculiar atmosphere there was. Apart from a divvy with a drum, who gave up his dullard behaviour after about two minutes, there was barely a sound to be heard. This isn’t an exaggeration. With the stadium under half-full and a totally silent home support (think ours against Burnley, but much much worse), there was a disconcertingly echoey quality to the occasion. The players’ cries could clearly be heard, and even the City support was only sporadically roused into song. It was less end-of-season, more pre-season.
On the pitch, play proceeded in a desultory fashion. The two sides swapped long-range shots – Guzan caught Clingan’s 30-yarder, Westwood caught Koren’s riposte. However, City were looking the more assured side in possession, and a fine move involving more than half of the Tigers’ outfield eventually provided Koren with a heading chance that he directed wide.
Things crawled along. Coventry looked mentally on the beach, which ought to worry their supporters given that their points tally ended the day on 41 – certainly not enough to guarantee safety. Not that City were significantly better, but their intentions were good…and just after the half-hour, we scored.
A Guzan goal-kick was headed on by Mclean about forty yards from goal, which Fryatt won after fighting off two markers. He adroitly flicked the ball over one of their heads in an attempt to create a shooting chance, only for his strike partner to burst onto the ball and belt a superb 16 yard shot past Westwood. An excellent finish after strong play by Fryatt to win the ball and then awareness to delegate the shot elsewhere. City led, just about deservedly, and Coventry would need to work out how on earth to score past the Tigers’ fearsome rearguard in order to grab anything.
They would at least have a slightly re-arranged defence to contend with – Andy Dawson fell heavily after a collision with Aron Gunnarsson. He gamely attempted to continue, but was withdrawn a few minutes later in favour of Jack Hobbs. James Chester was repositioned at left-back as Gerrard and Hobbs were paired up to provide a formidably physical centre-half combination – always useful against an Aidy Boothroyd side, for Coventry weren’t exactly employing a Barcelonaesque tiqui-taca approach.
City had one more half-chance to score before the break when a loose ball fell kindly to Robert Koren, however he slashed his effort over. Nonetheless, City led at the break, a lead that felt pretty secure given the fragility of the opposition.
However, Coventry rallied at the start of the second half, having doubtless received a stern admonishment from Boothroyd at the interval. A corner from their right was swung in, and though Guzan appeared to be fouled play continued, the ball bouncing to Wood – he headed goalwards with the City keeper on the turf, but the covering Evans cleared off the line. The ball was half-cleared to Gunnarrson, whose optimistic thirty-yard shot bobbled well wide; Guzan hared after the referee with genuine unhappiness, but he was wasting his breath.
Mclean should have scored again when Fryatt charged down a slovenly clearance and collected the ball 25 yards from goal with only one covering defender. His pace took him goalside, but not entirely away from his marker, who did just enough to hassle him into a shot that Westwood saved. He ought to have scored.
It wasn’t great fare, but Coventry were now well in the game, and had two superb opportunities to score with ten seconds. A free-kick was conceded on the Coventry left and swung in menacingly by Clingan – Guzan pawed the ball to the edge of the area but left himself badly out of position, allowing Gunnarrson to steer the ball past him. However, three City defenders had thoughtfully retreated onto the goalline, including Hobbs. He cleared it, but Wood pounced on the rebound and headed towards goal…only for Gerrard to bound across the goal and head it away when the top-corner was the ball’s original destination. Brilliantly gutsy and committed defending all round. One sensed that Coventry realised they weren’t going to pierce the human wall of amber, and didn’t seem terribly fussed either way.
City enjoyed a largely untroubled fifteen minutes after this. Chester, filling in well at left-back, was joined Evans in Mr Tanner’s notebook, Garcia made a welcome return in place of Cairney, Barmby replaced Mclean, then Fryatt should have made it safe on 83 when he cut inside after receiving the ball on the left, but his curling shot whizzed a yard wide.
City were finishing the stronger, as they’ve tended to recently, and when Barmby released Fryatt on the right more danger lurked for Coventry. The City striker beat the onrushing Cov keeper to the ball and was completely wiped out for his troubles. As the City players appealed for red, Mr Tanner immediately and wisely allowed a glimpse of yellow to be seen before ambling over to calm the situation. Probably the right decision – though we know Fryatt is a master finisher, there was still an awful lot to do a long way out and wide of goal, and with a couple of defenders close-ish, more than enough reason to offer a stay of execution. It just wasn’t a clear enough goalscoring chance and, as he was all afternoon, the referee was correct. The free-kick came to nothing.
Four minutes were added, and Fryatt ought to have scored when Evans cutely fed him on the edge of the box, but his first touch was uncommonly heavy and Westwood skilfully smothered the chance.
No matter: Coventry hadn’t been a force in the game for some time, and as the Tiger Nation gloated “we are Hull City, we don’t lose away”, we notched yet another away victory: three 1-0 wins on the road in succession, and of course an all-time record to go with it.
It leaves us five points adrift of the play-offs, with nine games remaining. After the resignation of Tuesday night, suddenly it’s still – just – possible. It’ll require this unprecedented away form to continue, and to be matched at home, where City have been underachieving for months. That’s a tall order, with some strong opposition approaching. The odds remain against us.
C’est la vie. If there is indeed too much to do, then we’ll just have to wait until next season. And 2010/11 will always be remembered for this record breaking run, one that has made been a City fan on the road a real treat for several marvellous months. That alone is enough to celebrate, and deserves to be remembered forever.