The Thursday Preview: Coventry Vs Southampton
“There was no hope left. No one even shouted at the players.”
Conversation over post-match drinks with a Coventry-supporting friend on Tuesday night was dominated by such sentiments. Toning down my personal delight at City’s 3-0 capitulation at Millwall, I murmured in sympathy. The draining away of hope among the Sky Blues in the Den’s North Stand was not dissimilar to the feeling elicited by Millwall’s own winless run in September. However, it was clear that my drinking partner’s words were not the usual melodramatic whinging of a fickle supporter. They hinted instead at a wider malaise at the club.
Two wins in 15 tells a story in itself. And the fact that those results came against minor rivals Derby and Forest will be of little comfort to the Sky Blues, who looked distinctly short of confidence once Darius Henderson had scored the first of Millwall’s goals. Manager Andy Thorn, in keeping with his recent tendency for harsh criticism, was moved to denounce the team’s second-half performance as `amateurish’. While the comments might seem a little excessive after the heat of the moment had subsided, Thorn’s exasperation was perhaps understandable, for Cov began the game well with Gary McSheffrey hitting the bar and Cody McDonald finding the upper tier from inside the penalty area. Sammy Clingan looked composed in a deep holding role, doing his level best to implement Thorn’s favoured patient, modish style.
Patience is a virtue, it is often said, but it is a wasted one if the ball doesn’t cross the halfway line. Much of Coventry’s first-half possession, though, was strung out between Clingan and the back four – much to the home fans’ chagrin. Both Carl Baker and Gary Deegan failed to offer any progressive thought or intent ahead of their captain, leaving the front triumvirate of Lukas Jutkiewicz, McSheffrey and McDonald isolated. By the time Thorn changed the personnel and shape, the game was already lost. As was clear from Thorn’s comments after the match, some senior members of the squad are not doing the business, which exposes the source of Cov’s problems. Despite the promise shown by youngsters such as Cyrus Christie, Conor Thomas and Gael Bigirimana (none of whom played on Tuesday, it must be noted), the club’s lack of funds has left the squad short of depth and the aforementioned young players will find it tough to reach the level required while playing in a struggling side. And make no mistake, Coventry are struggling: 1-1 draws at Doncaster, Leeds and Reading have been followed by defeats to clubs Cov could reasonably describe as rivals in Barnsley, Burnley and now Millwall.
None of which will prompt a spike in optimism at the Ricoh this weekend, given the identity of the visitors. Many sides have been tipped to challenge in a highly competitive Championship this season, but Southampton have been the only one really to impose themselves on the division thus far. Saints’ players have continued a storming run that began prior to their promotion from League 1 last year: a streamlined Rickie Lambert has picked up where Grant Holt left off and leads the goalscoring chart with nine, while Adam Lallana has confirmed the good notices he attracted in the third tier with some incisive and cultured forward play. Nigel Adkins appears to have made some good calls in the off-season, keeping faith with the best performers from the previous campaign and adding just a dash of Championship quality in the likes of Danny Fox and Jack Cork. Some outstanding results from the opening day have imbued the side with confidence, and Nigel Adkins’ side have been as comfortable on the eye as any other in the Championship this year, taking early leads in the majority of games and dominating opponents on home turf.
Where Cov’s fans may take heart is in Saints’ away form. Despite being an irresistible force at home, performances outside of Hampshire haven’t yet reached the same heights, with just two wins and draws at Reading and Derby from their most recent travels. Match reports suggest that Saints have found it difficult to play with their usual attacking abandon in these contests. Disappointingly, though, for any Sky Blues experiencing premature visions of victory, Saints haven’t lacked for goals on the road,having scored in every league game so far. I predict more tear-filled beer glasses after the final whistle, as the attacking potency of this Southampton side should be too much for Coventry to bear. 0-2 to the Saints.