For 30 minutes on Saturday Coventry City were sauntering away from relegation, buoyed by ‘the new manager bounce’ and starting to play free-flowing football, they shoot themselves in the foot with an inept second-half display at home to Doncaster. From moving to six points clear of safety moment to just one by the final whistle.
The defeat served as a sober reminder that this relegation battle in League One is far from over. Certainties such as Crawley’s bottom placed finish and there only being five teams fighting for the coveted 20th position have been shattered in recent weeks. Wins are monumental, defeats are bitter pills to swallow.
It has been pretty depressing reading social media over the past few days, with many now casting aspersions over our survival prospects having previously been (half-)jokingly talking up our chances of making a late run to the play-offs. If you hadn’t the League One table to hand, you would have thought that we were in the bottom four and cut adrift already. Saturday’s performance reminded us of failings that have been apparent throughout the course of the season but as important as it was not to get too giddy after our back-to-back wins, now’s not the time to get too downbeat after our first defeat in four games.
Mistakes were made against Doncaster and they were pretty criminal. All seemed to result from the team playing ponderously on the edge of the area and being caught out by an opponent with an eye for the goal. Individual errors can be blamed but that was a collective failure from the team and one that everyone needs to take responsibility for.
As Tony Mowbray pointed out, those mistakes were being made directly in front of our own goal. The poor state of the pitch does not help at all, particularly if we continue to pursue a slow and ponderous passing style of play. The ball needed to be in Doncaster’s half more often and with Nouble playing like he was, Marcus Tudgay injured and the midfield simply disappearing in the second-half, we had no out ball to relieve pressure.
Those who were at the Fleetwood game remarked at both how much the team’s level dropped during the Doncaster game but also about how tired they were. That situation could have been managed better by Mowbray but despite nearly 40 players having represented Coventry City this season, a couple of injuries and fatigue have left him with few options from the bench. On Saturday, Odelusi was the only substitute who could have influenced the game and like many, he was sub-par.
As the game wore on, the limitations of the squad became more and more apparent. Mowbray probably could have made better substitutions but there was no-one to battle against Doncaster’s eventual domination of the middle of the pitch, there was no quality in the final third and the defence left their brains in the dressing room at half-time. It was self-inflicted and seemingly as a result of complacency with the intensity dropping gradually after the opening goal.
Experience is desperately needed to help the team manage being on top better but also to help us when we we are under the kosh. Let’s not forget though that as poor as we were, that was our first defeat in four games. Teams near the bottom of the table will lose more games than they win, even at this time of year. Only two of our remaining eight games are against teams currently in the top-half, teams less capable of posing us questions or punishing our mistakes.
There is the danger of playing against fellow strugglers at this time of the season is much tougher as they have everything to play for. Given our struggles at home this season, this has the potential to turn ugly for us. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, a big home victory is needed at the next possible opportunity to give us fans a reason to believe that we aren’t watching the recent history of our Championship relegation play out in front of us. But also we, the fans need to get behind the team at home games much better than we have been.
Whatever you think of the whys and the wherefores of the situation that we are in, relegation to League Two is unthinkable. Does blind fanaticism help a team on the pitch? Who knows? But surely it gives us a better chance of staying up if the atmosphere is less spiky at home games.
The high that we all got off those back-to-back away wins felt good, equally as strong as this feeling of gloom after that loss on Saturday. Perspective is needed, on all levels, we need to treat all games as ones that can be won and lost. The target needs to be getting to at least 53 points, winning gets us closer to that target, losing takes us no further away.
We are in a much better position to stay up than we were around 10 days ago. There are other teams in this relegation battle now and winning games back-to-back should give the players confidence that they can replicate that kind of form and level of performance for the rest of the season. Hopefully we can then forget that this awful season ever happened.