A draw away from home is rarely a bad result, and today's was, at the end of it, about fair. After a first half as scrappy as a bag of bacon bits, we got on the front foot in the second, scored, and should have converted at least one of the two really good chances we created immediately after that goal, but allowed the equaliser and somehow prevented a Sky Blue second after McLaughlin was rounded.
Back on track after last week’s emphatic win, today was the season's first chance of a really big awayday, thanks to the Sky Blues giving us 5,000 tickets, and what with us not liking their former chairman Jimmy Hill very much, the atmosphere was always going to be a bit special. While some folks have been telling us to wind our necks in and stop going on about the attendances – not Stefan Schwarz, who posted that picture that put us so high up in the attendance chart that included European Leagues and said nice things about us as well – but let’s put it into perspective. Stewart Donald appealed for us to turn the Rico Red and White, we responded, and we took more fans than nearly half of the division had as an average home attendance last season. Charlie’s latest attempt to get more folks back to the match, by “doing a Quinny” and having a go at illegal streaming of matches in pubs, upset some – mostly those it wasn’t aimed at – but the simple truth is that if it’s legal, it’s not a problem.
Also, during the week, a crowd of 45,000 turned up for the Liam Miller tribute match in his home town of Cork, which featured two former Sunderland managers and nine former players – one of whom scored, and way back was on the end of a horrific tackle at Coventry’s former home, suffering a badly broken leg. As this isn’t a quiz, he was Colin Healy, the managers were O’Neill and Keane (who also played), and the other players were Kenny Cunningham, Graham Kavanagh, Louis Saha, Kevin Kilbane, Wes Brown, Ian Harte, Andy Reid, and Andrew Cole. A great show of appreciation.
On the good news front, Max Power was available, so naturally enough pre-match discussion was about who, if anybody, would make way for him, and if the rest of the team would remain unchanged. The main suggestions were Honeyman and Catts, but as the former is captain, that seemed unlikely, and perhaps Ross would see the protection Catts could afford the defence as an ideal way to start the game, with Max as a later introduction. While he is far from the only player this season to produce quality long passes, he’s the only one who does is frequently. There was plenty of time for such discussion, as most of the buses set off early to make the most of the limited time for cocktails produced by the half twelve kick-off, and we’d phoned ahead a few days ago to book ourselves into Dhillon’s Brewery, hidden away not far from the ground. A very different pre-match experience, which was basically a factory unit with a bar, some decent music, cracking beer, and fans of both persuasions happily chatting - including at least one who genuinely believed that Jimmy Hill did absolutely nothing wrong.
An unchanged line-up:
Flanagan Loovens Baldwin
Gooch Catts McGeouch Hume
We kicked off away from the end we filled, towards an end empty for a Jimmy Hill banner. Strange, and we'd hardly got going when Loovens went down with what looked very much like a 34-year-old hamstring, and he was off inside two minutes. There must have been enough time for Ross to decide that a flat back four was the way forward against Coventry, as Matthews was the replacement. A couple of breaks down the right apart, we looked pretty disjointed despite Maguire's patient promptings, and Cov were no better. Maguire hit one from distance that the home keeper did well to parry, and Honeyman couldn't control his follow-up effort, sending several ball-children scurrying into the empty stand to retrieve the casey.
A Coventry attack was thwarted at the expense of a corner on our left, and when it was whipped in, two Blues went for it and clacked heads. The nutter eventually regained his senses and got to his feet, but the nuttee was lead from the field not knowing if he was in York or Cork. Catts was perhaps a little unlucky to be adjudged to have fouled an opponent on halfway and would have probably have been left to carry on regardless if he hadn't given the ref an earful. Yellow card. A string of passes by both sides were short, and in chasing a Sky Blue one, Hume showed his inexperience by putting in a tackle he didn't need to and twanged something. After a couple of periods of treatment, he was replaced by Oviedo on 37, as yet another enforced change interrupted what little flow there was to the game.
A City corner wasn't dealt with, and McLaughlin did well to go left to keep out a goal-bound effort, and we tried to guess the amount of added time. None of us got close to the eight that were announced, and they were taken up with more of the same scrappy stuff, although we did win a corner only for Flanagan to get under the ball and head wide. A clean sheet after 53 minutes was not that bad an outcome.
No more changes for the second half, and at least we were attacking the goal in front of our fans. We'd only been going a few minutes, with a new-found urgency and shape to our play, when we piled forward, Matthews fired in a low cross from the right, and there was Catts lurking on the edge of the box to place a right-footer firmly to the keeper's left. Whoop whoop! Here we go, and we really should have nabbed a second in the minutes that followed, but Maguire and Honeyman passed up shooting opportunities. City tried to hit us on the break, but McLaughlin was cool and determined, going down bravely at an attacker's feet and leaving him in a heap, and we made our final change as Power replaced McGeouch on 67. He'd barely had a touch before we went all sloppy down our right and allowed a cross to be made - and it was put away to level things.
Five minutes later, Gooch knocked it past the full-back, beat him for speed, and whacked in a cross that went right through to Oviedo. The shot was low, hard, and exactly what was needed, but the keeper got down well to stop it. Gooch didn't get up, had treatment, but would have been subbed had we not used them all. After a second period of treatment, he moved to centre-forward, where he could at least use up a marker as he hobbled about. As we entered the final ten minutes, they brought on Jodi Jones, which seemed to lift the home crowd -apparently, he's been out for ages and they like him a lot. He did prove a bit of a pest, cutting in from both wings, but it was us who created a couple of chances, with Power going just wide, then Oviedo setting up Honeyman, but the keeper was at it again.
As four added minutes were announced, we failed to stop a long ball down Coventry's right, McLaughlin did what he could as the attacker bore down on him but was rounded. As we resigned ourselves to defeat, Baldwin flew across the line to hoof it clear. Close, very close, and it should have been a goal. Coventry had a couple more efforts which didn't trouble McLaughlin, and Maguire piled forward and urged roars from the visiting fans. 1-1, which he got, and overall probably the fair, if not correct (from our point of view, anyway) result.
Man of the Match? Probably McGuire, as the one player who stood out as a constant threat in a game where his teammates just couldn't get their passing game going. We showed in little bursts what we were capable of, but not often enough, and we obviously suffered because of the enforced changes. Maja was well marshalled by the home defence and passed up a chance to enhance his reputation when he decided to leave Power's through ball to the keeper when sticking his boot in was perfectly within his rights. All of this was discussed at length as we waited for the buses to set off, entertained by dafties of both sides chucking things at each other as the Polis kept the local youth on the far side of the path. Lots of that stupid bouncing up and down with arms outstretched and hoods up, followed by running like Hell when the Polis finally snapped and moved forward. Well, it kept us amused for five minutes. Videos available on request, commentary by Danny Dyer.
At least we didn't lose, and, as I said at the top of the page, a point away from home isn't a bad point, disjointed performance or not.