COVENTRY CITY 1-2 NOTTS COUNTY
Even in just two and a bit seasons, we've seen our fair share of 'fallen giants' stumble into League One, punch-drunk and dazed by the whole indignity of having to realise Stevenage have a football team, let alone that they have to go there. Generally though, they've sorted themselves out - Southampton got over it and haven't looked back, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton found their way out last year and Sheffield United are in the process of doing so - whilst we were still in League Two, you can add Leicester City, Leeds United, Norwich City and Nottingham Forest to the ever-lengthening list of clubs who have come out well after the League One reality shock. Just call it the Broadhall Way Effect. Coventry, however, seem to be different. They're a club having an identity crisis, in a steeper decline than Bradford, Andrew Mitchell or the popularity of vintage recordings of Jim'll Fix It. It may seem a little bit perverse to blame this solely on a football stadium, and years of mis-management of at boardroom level have certainly had a huge role, but when building the Ricoh Arena they managed to completely miss the point.
We all know that stat about the Sky Blues having not finished in the top six of any division since dinosaurs roamed on the land where Coventry would once sit - so it's a surprise that anyone even supports them at all. That they do is certainly not down to any lingering hope of success, any of that would've been extinguished years ago. The thing is, and people will dispute this, supporting teams like Coventry can actually be quite cool. The appeal of growing up in a town or a city and going to support your local side every week remains massive to kids growing up - those same feelings of belonging that we get every single week when heading down to Meadow Lane. However, one sure fire why to end any of that is to go and put your ground near a motorway and a Tesco - in Coventry's case, half way to Nuneaton. It's not something isolated to this corner of Warwickshire, but i'm yet to see a club who are suffering so much from the fact that those put in charge of planning new grounds can't see that where a ground is matters so much more than what it is.
Football grounds should, like Meadow Lane, be lingering on the edge of the city centre - hemmed in by crumbling warehouses and council estates, within an overhit clearance of every kind of pub, greasy spoon café and newsagents selling cans of Red Stripe for a quid. Clubs like Coventry seem bemused that they can't attract crowds when they've pitched up and relocated to suburbia and become little more than a capitalist consideration, seamlessly being held up alongside Tesco, a massive Marks & Spencer and Decathlon (which apparently offers equipment for SEVEN HUNDRED sports). When I was sixteen I could've thought of nothing less appealing than having to jump on an overcrowded bus to the place where mum does the big weekly shop and my little sister goes to buy clothes to go and watch football - nothing could make attending football games seem more sanitised, less appealing and, most importantly, less fun. Even losing all the time.
.Anyway, the location might have been all wrong, but there was actually a game of football going on somewhere behind Pizza Hut, with Notts looking to defend their thirteen game unbeaten run on the road against a Coventry side who are trying to come to terms with the third tier being added to a never ending list of levels at which they're useless. Andy Thorn, a man who always looked to be overwhelmed by it all, with his face slowly eating itself so he no longer had to see, was sacked just four league games in - to be replaced by Mark Robins, reasonably successful at Rotherham and Barnsley and with as many new manager clichés to spout as times he's been credited with saving Sir Alex Ferguson's job. He's inherited a disjointed looking side, with some talented young players who may need longer to adapt to this level than they're allowed and some, like Carl Baker and Cody McDonald, who are yet to really be contributing what they should. For Notts, there was a defensive reshuffle, with Gary Liddle moving to right back and Ashley Eastham making his first start in the centre. Alan Judge wasn't fit enough to feature after limping off at Carlisle, so Keith Curle continued with a 4-3-3 system that saw Yoann Arquin, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Francois Zoko all start.
Notts started brightest and created the first opening when Campbell-Ryce managed to keep the ball in down the right and got away from Jamie Reckord, eventually forcing the ball back to Neal Bishop who saw his shot from six yards blocked. The hosts hit back as André Boucaud dallied on the ball in midfield, allowing John Fleck to play a clever one-two with half-arsed former Notts man David McGoldrick and hit a low shot that Bialkowski beat away. The pace was unrelenting and Notts came close again quickly when Jordan Stewart was freed by the tricky Zoko, but his low cross was inexplicably missed by Arquin when he seemed to have the simple task of poking it home from six yards. Jeff Hughes was also guilty of making no connection soon after, when Campbell-Ryce had teased the defence down the left flank. Callum Ball tested Bialkowski from the edge of the box, with the rebound sliced wide by Fleck under fine pressure from Eastham, whilst McGoldrick failed to make contact with a short free kick. Coventry then managed to miss an almost identical chance as Arquin's earlier one for Notts when Callum Ball failed to make contact with a firmly struck low cross. Ball then tested Bialkowski from the edge of the box, with the rebound sliced wide by Fleck under fine pressure from Eastham.
Jeff Hughes had a fine to chance to put Notts infront when he wriggled away from the defence only to find the angle narrowed by Joe Murphy, before Notts took the lead with a fantastic strike from Boucaud. Francois Zoko, who had given young full back Jordan Clarke a torrid time down the Coventry right, cut inside and laid it off for the man on loan from Luton who took a couple of touches before smashing the ball into the bottom corner from thirty yards. It was almost identical to Neal Bishop's goal at Milton Keynes earlier in the season and gave Notts a lead that had taken a long time to come in a game of numerous chances. Fittingly, the hosts attacked straight from the kick off, with Franck Moussa testing Bialkowski with a viciously swerving effort. Notts started to take more control after the break though, with Zoko twice coming close with efforts from the edge of the box within five minutes of the restart - the second oweing much to fine work from Bishop.
Notts were incrediblt close to doubling their lead on the hour mark, with Jeff Hughes latching onto a fine Arquin pass at the far post but lobbing his volley off target and Francois Zoko heading a follow-up effort goalwards that was somehow clawed out by Murphy. Coventry were trying to press but struggling to really create anything of note, with Leacock's fantastic last-minute challenge on substitute Cody McDonald summing up the way things were going for the Sky Blues. Notts seemed to have sealed things eight minutes from time, when Arquin played the ball into Jeff Hughes who cleverly backheeled the ball back into the path of the Frenchman, who deftly bent it home from the edge of the box. It was a goal of real quality and beauty from Notts, who deserved all three points having shown real control of the game after going infront. They were given a scare when Richard Wood headed in a Fleck corner with two minutes to go but survived four minutes of aerial bombardment from a physical Coventry side to claim all three points. It was actually an entertaining game, despite the backdrop of sky blue seats and seemingly utterly disinterested, joyless home fans. It's hard to blame them though, but Coventry may be finding the sort of level that their concrete boot of a stadium will tie them to.