The Lads started their life back in the Championship with a sort of acceptable draw. Having said that, we were treated (and I use the word advisedly) to a reffing display that out-rubbished anything we saw last season.
After a decent first ten minutes, he basically became biased to the extent that had he been involved in crown green bowling he'd have rolled round in a circle. A rare headed goal by Clarke, nodding in at the back post had us ahead for 70-odd minutes, but we succumbed to a late equaliser from distance and had to make do with the single point.
After the ups and downs of pre-season, I eased myself back into competitive spectating with Bishop’s Northern League opener against new boys Pickering Town, and was rewarded with a 6-0 win in the most enjoyable game I’ve seen at Heritage Park in a long while. Once that was over, I realised that the real thing was a matter of hours away, and the nervousness grew – I should be used to new seasons and new hopes by now, but it was like Christmas Eve as a bairn. Setting the alarm for a home game was a bit of a novelty, as it was early in two senses – a noon start, and in July. Well, at least we were in 14th position before kick-off, and we had that seemingly elusive new striker on board. Simms is a big ‘un, and if the Hearts video clips are anything to go by, looks more than useful and his arrival helped ensure smiles all round in the build-up to the game. All thoughts of summer attire were booted into touch by the rain, so it was back to the big coat for the commencement of hostilities.
As Sunday dinner wasn’t an option, it was a full English and an away-day style bag of sarnies before meeting up with the usual suspects on the bus, nervously awaiting the effects of the fuel price increase on the fare. Passing the road signs which read "good luck to the Lionesses", I found there was enough cash left, thanks to the surprise refund of the £7.50 from the club for the Bradford stream, and the bus fare remaining unchanged, for a couple of nerve-settlers around the town, where there was a large police presence - Ha'way, man, we're in a good mood, leave off! More familiar faces were greeted and memories of Wembley recounted as the positive mood increased.
I crossed the bridge a bit earlier than usual, as there were a lot of folks in anticipative attendance and the club wanted us in early. Usual coffee and catch-up in the Roker End café, and into the cauldron of noise that is the SoL to exchange the usual "alreet marras."
At this point, please allow me a small moan: our new away kit is smart as owt, but it's also the same colour as Coventry's regular one. Think on, folks - it's not the first time.
Gooch Barth Ballard Cirkin
Clarke Pritchard Embleton
..and a bench of Bass, O'Nien, Roberts, Simm, Wright, Alese, and Hume.
We set things away attacking the Roker, and looked lively from the off. With Embo occupying the right side of midfield, we didn't have the width that Roberts would have provided, but still kept ourselves on top. There were lively exchanges following the brilliant ship/flag/card display preceding the start, and when the ball came in from Gooch on our right on 11 minutes, it might have taken a flick on, but Clarke (probably the smallest player on the pitch) was at the back stick to bid home. Lovely stuff. For the rest of the half we threatened, we won corners...but the ref turned. Perhaps he had a bet on Clarke not scoring, but once he had, he invoked the unwritten rule that you can do what you want to Ross Stewart without being punished.
We had a couple of efforts off target, while at the other end we were doing a fine job of keeping Patto protected. When a Cov shot did get through, it smacked off the bar and the loose ball was fired into his own fans by a Cov forward. It was a matter of debate as to whether Patto tipped it onto the woodwork, but the fact is that had the shot been on target, he'd have saved it.
There was a single added minute and we headed into the break quite satisfied with the score and performance.
No changes for the second half, but it soon became evident that perhaps there should have been. The centre of midfield became overrun by blue shirts and we could have done with a big rough bugger in there to win it back. Unfortunately we don't have one at our disposal, and we were grateful for a Grigg-esque miss seven minutes in with Patto's goal gaping. Relief.
Having established a low bar in the first half, the ref lowered it and still managed to limbo his way beneath it in the second. A very obvious nudge on Clarke I the box - had it been a Premier game he'd have gone down rather than stumbled - was ignored, while an identical challenge at the other end resulted in a free on the edge. Clarke did well to weave into the box and roll it back, but the shot was above the keeper and he palmed it over the top.
On 72, Cov brought on three subs to add to the earlier one, and we replaced Embo with O'9 in an attempt to win some midfield battles. Which he sort of did, but we really needed to give their defence something to think about Pritch made way for Roberts, who produced some great stuff down the right but couldn't quite set up a chance.
Several more fouls on Stewart were ignored, the ref flashed his yellow card, and when the ball sat up nicely on the edge of our box, it was fired home with Patto having no chance. Six minutes to go...a bit of a sickener. In the four added minutes, Luke was booked on halfway, adding to the cards for Ballard, Evans, and Clarke. Somehow, Coventry escaped with a solitary card.
1-1. Not bad, not good, a tad disappointing - but we did climb to 12th. Man of the Match? Clarke...good going forward, tenacious tracking back.