If a reminder was needed of just how important it is that Coventry City are back in Coventry and fans can actually be there to experience it, a last-minute come-from-behind victory was the perfect demonstration of just that.
It was an occasion that threatened to be something of a damp squib, with the Sky Blues struggling to get into the game early on and falling behind in the first-half via decisive counter-attacking play from Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson, which saw Lyle Taylor score the game’s opening goal.
There seemed little danger of Coventry City equalising, let alone winning, until Viktor Gyokeres calmly slotted past Brice Samba in the Nottingham Forest goal with ten minutes remaining. Having looked so comfortable, the away side looked to be holding on, with the Sky Blues eventually forcing home a winner in the final minute of stoppage time, with Kyle McFadzean bundling over a set-piece to send the newly-christened Coventry Building Society Arena into raptures.
We Have Our Football Back!
More than anything, this was a game about the fans. It’s been over 18 months since Sky Blues fans have seen their team in the flesh and even longer for those who found the thought of watching Coventry City play in Birmingham unpalatable.
There was not quite that sense of occasion as there was the last time Coventry City returned to Coventry, but this game ultimately served as a timely reminder of just why it is so important that this football club is back its home city. When the chips were down for the Sky Blues on the pitch, the fans provided the lift which seemed to turn the game on its head.
Specifically, there was a moment early in the second-half where the Nottingham Forest fans questioned the fervour of the Sky Blues’ support, the response was a 15-minute rendition of ‘Twist and Shout’. Buoyed further by the emotional return of Jodi Jones to the Coventry Building Society Arena pitch, the players summoned an extra level of intensity which put the team on the front foot and turn the game in their favour.
From a footballing perspective, it was probably arguable whether Coventry City truly did enough to merit the win. However, if ever there was a moment that demonstrated the ability of fans to metaphorically suck the ball into the back of the net it was surely Kyle McFadzean’s late winner, which crept over the line following a slew of determined Sky Blues’ stabs on goal at a set-piece.
This is a game that almost defies any attempt to rationalise where it was won or lost. After so long away from our football club, it would have been easy to forget what a difference being there actually makes. Football is back and it is ours again.
Intensity Is Key
Now on to a foolish attempt to rationalise that game of football!
The Sky Blues started off the game looking a more than a little stodgy, struggling to offer much of a threat to the Nottingham Forest goal. While Mark Robins’ changes in the second-half made a difference – with Michael Rose adding some much-needed composure at the back and Jodi Jones helping stretch the play from an unfamiliar left wing-back position – the improvement in the Sky Blues’ performance seemed to be more about intensity than personnel.
If there is one player who embodied that key change, it was Viktor Gyokeres in attack. The Swede struggled to get into the game in the opening 45 minutes, but seemed add an extra level of energy and desire in the second-half. Competing more adeptly with the opposing centre-backs both in the air and on the ground, it gave the team the foothold in the Nottingham Forest half that they hadn’t had the benefit of earlier on.
It made a huge difference to the performances of the midfield trio. Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer struggled to exert much of an influence in the first-half due to a lack of viable options ahead of them. With the team on the front foot for much of the second-half, Sheaf and Hamer could move the ball around with intent and tempo – with Hamer providing the former and Sheaf the latter.
Callum O’Hare had been the team’s biggest threat during the first-half, however, he was forced to do a lot of his best work over 30 yards away from the Nottingham Forest goal. In the second-half, O’Hare was able to get into more dangerous areas, underlined by the crucial role he played in both goals – getting into the penalty area for the first and winning the free-kick for the second, both through individual skill.
In a team that seems to be missing an element of pace and physicality across much of the pitch, it was evident in this game that this Sky Blues side biggest way of threatening opponents will be through how long it can sustain periods of intensity. This is a team that will have to work hard to create chances, but it was apparent in the second-half just how hard many of these players are willing to try in order to do so.
The game’s opening goal arguably epitomised what was missing in this current Coventry City side. At one end, the Sky Blues countered through Viktor Gyokeres, only for the Swede to run into traffic and give the ball away. At the other, Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson carried the ball with intent past the Coventry City midfield, advanced into the penalty area, and picked out a perfectly-weighted pass for Lyle Taylor to hand his side the lead.
This looked set to be a game defined by a lack of cutting edge and penetration from the Sky Blues. Nottingham Forest seemed comfortable containing a strike pairing of Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn, who they seemed to have the handling of physically, with little threat of either running in behind. With the wing-backs penned back in the first-half by Forest’s pressing, it was hard to see how Coventry City were going to threaten the opposing goal.
As brilliant as the eventual comeback was, the Sky Blues created few clear-cut chances throughout the game. Viktor Gyokeres’ equalising goal was the best chance that the team created, and even then it relied on an element of fortune of Callum O’Hare’s pass bouncing off a defender before it found Ben Sheaf, who played the ball into Gyokeres. The winning goal was wonderfully determined, but carried a similar element of scrappiness to it.
The area where this team is going to need to improve over the course of the campaign is being able to play through or behind opponents more reliably. It would only have taken a few deflections falling differently for this game to have gone a very different way, something which cannot be relied upon over a full campaign.
For now, that doesn’t really matter. Coventry City are back in Coventry and the season is off to the perfect start. It is a much better position to be in to have to improve on things with points on the board, rather than deal with the pressure that comes from waiting for that first win.
It was an occasion where all that mattered was winning. The Sky Blues did that. This is a day that will now go down in Coventry City folklore. Everyone involved, from players, to the coaching staff, the off-field staff, and, especially, the fans deserve credit for making this win happen.