“Do you ever feel like you’ve thrown a wad of money down the tube?”
That is the question I posed to my Dad, at some point during the second half of our last home game, against Rochdale. Of course, his response was minimal but for a laugh; perhaps safe in the knowledge that it wasn’t him that had paid for his season ticket. Of course, I on the other hand had every right to be concerned.
We haven’t had the most convincing of starts to life in League One, that’s for sure. For the want of trying to sound less like a broken record; schizophrenic efforts from one half to the next, wayward finishing, and a soft defence, have all helped to quickly dull whatever excitement we had going into this season.
Thankfully, we managed to pick up an away win the previous weekend to this, away at Oxford – who had already comprehensively put us to one side in the Cowbell Cup this season. While it can be said that it wasn’t exactly befitting of being aired on Sky Sports (bereaving those of us who would otherwise have had better things to do on a Sunday afternoon, such as sod all), a win’s a win, after all. You’d have hoped that we could kick-start our season from that result, but a quick glance at the fixture list would’ve given your confidence a right good smack. With four promotion candidates to be played in the upcoming September and October fixtures – Sunderland, Charlton and Portsmouth being the other three – it was going to be a huge test of our resolve when the first of that quartet came to the Ricoh on Saturday. ‘Ey up, it’s Barnsleh.
Coventry City vs. Barnsley – 15/09/18
At first glance, Barnsley seemed like absolute units, at the front and at the back. Going solely off of this impression, I was worried that we were going to struggle at both ends of the pitch.
Amazingly though, it was us who had the first notable chance of the game. A quick passing move from the inside-right channel saw Luke Thomas slide a nice ball through the Tykes defence and to the feet of Conor Chaplin, who curled a nice effort over the keeper, but agonisingly wide of the far post.
As far as chances go, that was about as good as it got for us in the first half. Barnsley’s defence was otherwise resolute, and we found it difficult to make any real inroads towards their goal. Following a nice heel flick from Thomas, Dujon Sterling found himself to the right-hand side of the Barnsley 18-yard box. His cross-cum-shot was comfortably saved by Adam Davies.
At the other end, a complete horror show of a touch/back pass from Junior Brown left his namesake Jacob Brown through on goal with just Lee Burge to beat, but thankfully the goalkeeper came out quickly and saved well, to preserve what would be a rare clean sheet. Otherwise, Barnsley were not creating too many dangerous chances. They were able to get a few crosses in, but they couldn’t find anyone at all during the first 45 minutes.
It has to be said that despite the lack of decent chances, we were in control for long periods of the first half, and comfortable, too. A couple of sloppy passes were more often the culprit of a move breaking down, than their midfielders were. Furthermore, it seemed as though we were often too far apart from each other in the final third of the pitch. Often throughout the first half, Chaplin and Jonson Clarke-Harris were more than ten yards apart up front, meaning that Clarke-Harris had fewer options to knock it down to, and Chaplin would find nobody with his quick flicks. Of course, having seen this happen so often this season; as we went into half-time still goalless, it was becoming more and more likely that we would end up rueing our one good missed opportunity.
But then, five minutes into the second half, we had the ball in the back of the net. Conor Chaplin found himself with a fair amount of space on the left-hand side of the Barnsley box, and then proceeded to take the onrushing defender out of the game, and curl it in at the back post with his right foot. Cue madness in the stands.
And then, cue a different kind of madness. The linesman had flagged for offside. Difficult to tell from where I was sat, but the replay didn’t offer much help in diffusing any argument to that end. One thing that has been said, is that the linesman wasn’t even in line with the defence when the ball was played, leading to further furore for the home fans. Of course, it didn’t help the Officials’ case when said linesman was then substituted off for the fourth official, courtesy of a mystery illness. We’ll have to allow the benefit of the doubt, but it does rankle a little bit when the laws of the game state a decision should only be made, if those making the decision are 100% certain of it. How can the linesman be certain of a marginal offside, if he wasn’t in line with play in the first place?
One good bit of fortune to come from this, though, was that it riled up our players. We were desperate to get the goal we deserved, and continued to chip away at the Barnsley defence. Although overpowered at the beginning of the match, Clarke-Harris had started to win the majority of his aerial battles, and got a few yards nearer to his strike partner Chaplin, meaning that a lot of their quick flicks and first-time passes started to find their target far more often than in the first half.
Eventually, all of our hard work paid off. Michael Doyle floated a free-kick from the left wing, over to the far post and Dominic Hyam. Hyam’s header went back across goal to Brown, whose header went back across goal again, this time finding an unmarked Jordan Willis, who in turn headed it towards the goal instead of across it, and it went in. With ten minutes left (plus a whopping six minutes of stoppage time!), Barnsley didn’t seem able to mount any sort of comeback, despite some odd gifts of corners from the officials.
Full time: Coventry 1-0 Barnsley
I think that one thing that stood out for me, more than it had any point this season prior to this game, was the individual performances of the entire team, combined with our work-rate. We knew we would have to play well to get a result here, and it showed. Barnsley’s organised defence was tough to break down, and their ability to spread the ball to whichever wing was less occupied kept our defence alert. As far as individuals go, the standout performers were Lee Burge, Michael Doyle, and Conor Chaplin.
Burge had an excellent command of his area; an attribute that he has vastly improved on, since he was first thrown into the first-team spotlight. He also made two vital, match-winning saves: one, the aforementioned save from Brown’s error; the other a terrific dive to his left early in the second half, to keep out a curling effort from Mamadou Thiam. It is a huge confidence boost, for both the fans and the team, when you know that your goalkeeper can be relied on. It is also huge testament to the faith shown in Burge by the coaching staff, that he is starting to stand out as a key player in our side, and this is shown by his appearance in the EFL’s team of the week. There is still a vocal minority who would prefer to see Liam O’Brien in the starting XI each week, but for me, I certainly feel far more confident whenever I see Burge’s name on the team sheet.
Doyle was fantastic. How ironic, then, that a player who last season was often named Man of the Match despite others standing out more, was arguably overlooked for Saturday’s award in favour of Conor Chaplin. He broke up a great deal of moves, and, in a rare moment for the Captain, didn’t misplace a single pass (to my knowledge), for the entire 90 minutes. His much-maligned lofted ball over the defence was for once effective, thanks in no small part to the movement and pace of Chaplin and Thomas, who frequently found themselves on the end of such a ball. It must be noted, however, that such a performance from Doyle might only come in the circumstances he found himself in on Saturday; against a team that didn’t close him down as quickly, gave him time on the ball, and made very few runs around him. When everything is in front of where he’s facing, at this age, Doyle made things look very easy.
Chaplin was named Man of the Match presumably for how hard he worked up front (though not to discount the efforts of those around him, too), and the movement he provided, which often gave our wide players an option, and our midfielders an out ball. Unlucky not to score in the first half, and unjustly having a goal ruled out in the second half, he has quickly cemented himself as our main goal threat. If both he and Clarke-Harris can work on their final ball, perhaps a few others might join him in that category, too.
All-in-all, this was a big win at an early stage of the season. To end the unbeaten start to the season of one of the promotion candidates, with a clean sheet to boot, and secure back-to-back victories in the process, should be a huge boost to the team’s morale and confidence going forward into a tough period of fixtures. However, consistency is a very hard thing to maintain, as it requires both physical and mental capacity throughout the squad. You either have players that are better than the rest of the league, and as such can still get results despite not playing at your best; or you don’t. And if you don’t, you have to be expected to perform to your very best as often as possible, which is very draining if you aren’t experienced in doing so. I feel as though we fall into the latter situation. It’s one thing to get a result like we did on Saturday, but it’s a far greater thing to repeat this kind of performance against Sunderland, Portsmouth and Charlton. Only after those games can we come out feeling more assured of where we should be aiming for in the table this season, depending on our results.
Of course, there’s an away day at Bristol Rovers to get out of the way first, and I suppose there’s no better chance to demonstrate the definition of consistency, than to get a win at the Memorial Stadium this coming weekend. Onwards and upwards.