Taken to the cleaners…
A funny thing happened on the way back to the station. Not that funny as it happens..to me, anyway.
And not quite the stuff of musicals (for those old enough to remember the quasi reference), but one that did sum up what we had witnessed a few minutes earlier.
Having decided to make a quick exit from the ground, grab a bite to eat and then catch an earlier train home, my son and I headed for the Metro Centre rail link which was little further walk from the ground than Blaydon Station but the better choice because it has more regular transport links to Newcastle and a selection of eateries from which to choose.
It’s a bit like Merry Hell, but newer and full of geordies rather than yam yams…
To get there we had to cut through a car park with a relative high roof, open at both ends and exposed to the elements.
And to the natural world.
A pigeon obviously took exception to me, and ‘shat’ on me from a great height…
…which is, to put it crudely, was exactly what had happened to Cov during the course of the their National 1 match against Blaydon a little earlier that afternoon.
The game was always going to be decided on which team would adapt better to the appalling conditions ona pitch that by the end of the game was almost as bereft of grass as Coventry were of ideas.
The conditions were very poor.
But they were poor for both teams and Coventry seemed to find the mud and rain far more of a problem that Blaydon.
One Blaydon supporter expressed great surprise as to just how just how weak Coventry were in comparison to the team that gave Blaydon such a mauling as recently as mid-November, ‘nilling’ them back at the Butts and scoring 38 points in the process. 210 supporters watched the game in all…and perhaps the lack of atmosphere didn’t really help Coventry’s cause…perhaps they would have responded better to a louder, more raucous crowd.
Another supporters did, however, concede that there was a correlation between the improvement in Blaydon’s recent results and the wetter, colder weather. The muddier the pitch, the better they play.
And they did play well.
At least in comparison with what they were up against.
The left hand photo was taken towards the end of the warm-up, the right hand one mid-way through the second half. Intermittent driving rain meant handling was never gong to be easy, and so it proved to be.
Strangely though, I enjoyed the game and although it was deeply frustrating to have travelled a fair distance to see such a poor performance, I didn’t leave the ground feeling anything other than disappointed that Cov had underperformed so drastically and hadn’t made the statement that I’d genuinely believed they would.
They had let themselves down just at the moment when one or two of them needed to pull something special out of the bag. Players who might have hoped to have been metaphorically waving their CVs in the direction of Rowland Winter after the game and demanding that he sit up and take notice, might now well be joining the growing list of players leaving the Butts come April.
James Tincknell appears to be the latest to leave, having packed his bags and jetted off to play his rugby in Australia…
The locals, as friendly and welcoming as you could wish, were quick to comment on the size of the Coventry team, especially the forwards, but this was one occasion where size certainly didn’t matter and the Coventry players looked ponderous and static at times whilst Blaydon were quicker in thought and action for much of the game.
It wasn’t that individuals played poorly for Cov, or that any one area of the game let us down, it was more a case that, on the day, we just seemed to lack the quality to create something special, something that would mean Blaydon would have to change their game plan and worry about what we were doing, rather than just concentrate on doing the basics a little better than we were.
And that’s all they needed to do.
Coventry continue to suffer an inordinate amounts of injuries and the match day squad, already down to the bare bones, was further hampered by the loss of Hodgson before half time. With only one back on the bench, Coventry couldn’t afford another injury to the three quarters.
So guess what?
Within a couple of minutes of the restart, Scott Hamilton was forced off, clearly in a lot of discomfort from a leg injury (hamstring?), and Scott Morgan had no other option but to play Loti Molitika alongside Callum MacBurnie in the centres for the remainder of the game, which was a good 47+ minutes. There was a surreal moment when the players stood confused, seemingly unsure as to who should go where, but they regrouped and given the disruption to the backs, they did a decent job in holding firm for the second half, despite having little to offer in attack. Fair play to Loti – he coped well with the experience.
As Hamilton’s fitness is so questionable at the moment anyway, you would have thought that a plan would have been in place should he struggle when he came on.
I thought Callum MacBurnie coped well on his return and he did have one run in the second half that reminded me of just how much he had been missed this season. With Rob Knox breaking down again in training, it seems it will be a while yet before we see the two of them pairing up again in the centres.
It’s hard to be too critical, though, when the team is being held up by bandages and tape – rather like Matt Prices ankle before Devlin Hope replaced him.
There was a lot of effort out there on the pitch yesterday (I thought Pailor, Wright, Oliver and Brown amongst others all put in a decent shift). And I imagine there will be some aching bodies…and they played right up to the final whistle (the 52nd minute of the second half!). But it just wasn’t enough and other than a 10 -15 minute spell early in the second half, we really didn’t put Blaydon under a great deal of pressure, even though we were chasing the game from as early as the end of first quarter – by which time we had conceded 3 tries and had Ben Thomas yellow carded, with just a Hodgson penalty to show for our efforts.
Blaydon were able to play to their strengths and our weaknesses, using the driving maul to good effect and they always looked dangerous when they had a lineout or scrum in our 22. It needed someone in the team to take control and change the direction of the play, but no one seemed able to step up to the mark.
Both teams kicked a lot, hardly surprising given the weather and the state of the pitch, but the there was a massive difference in how effective the two teams were when doing so. Blaydon’s kicking was more accurate and precise and you could clearly see what they were doing…they kicked long and deep and forced the Cov players to turn and run back, never easy in such heavy conditions. Their chasers were quick and invariably we were put under pressure and conceded ground.
When we kicked, more often than not we seemed to kick directly into the hands of the opposition. Rarely did we kick into space, enabling the Blaydon receivers to have the time to kick the ball back with interest.
When we did get the ball and were able to retain possession, we tended to move the ball laterally across the pitch, unable for the most part to penetrate the Blaydon lines of defence. It was all a bit ponderous and with Blaydon growing in confidence, it never really looked as if it was going to be our day once we went 19-3 down.
We did pull one try back, another Matt Price effort from a lineout and drive following a couple of minutes of pressure and a long advantage which ended up with us dropping the ball over the Blaydon try line. Other than this, there were very few occasions we got close to scoring again.
Fortunately, Coventry have got two weeks to regroup as it’s another blank National 1 weekend coming up. With the transfer deadline now over, Coventry must have real concerns about getting a team together for the next game, at home to Cinderford on 19th March. Unless some of the injured players in the back division have recovered well enough to return to the team, Coventry are really going to struggle now that Sam Smith is at Broadstreet and Ryan Hough pulled a hamstring in training on Thursday.
One of the less memorable matches this season, then.
No faulting the team’s effort, but there was little skill evident and Blaydon were far more canny than we were. If Winter needed to give a reason as to why he feels it necessary to make wholesale changes in personnel for the start of the next season, sad to say, yesterday the players handed it to him on a plate. At the next Members’ Forum, show the first 20 minutes of the Blaydon game and ask the question:
Are performances of this standard good enough to get us promoted, or even get us into contention for promotion?
And the brutal truth is, no they are not.
Scott Morgan looked a forlorn figure at the game yesterday, standing as he was on the opposite side of the pitch to the main stand. What he must have been thinking is anyone’s guess.
Have the players let him down? Not in effort, at least – I don’t buy into players not giving it their best out on the pitch – but they are lacking in confidence and have been found wanting in skill and creativity as a team on too many occasions this season for it to be down just to bad luck and injuries.
Sad to say, this is the end of the road for many of the current squad.
But it is as it is and as such I’ll just enjoy the remaining few games for what they are, a chance to see some players who won’t be returning next season and hopefully enjoy some decent rugby into the bargain. A win against Cinderford is going to be important given they had a good win against Fylde yesterday. The last thing we want to do is give them a bit of momentum by losing to them in two weeks time. I think we’ll be safe even if we don’t win, but we can make it a whole lot harder for the teams below us if we take the 4 points.
Final thought – I genuinely expected a positive reaction on the pitch yesterday to all the speculation surrounding the new DoR’s appointment. I thought there was a point to be proved and sadly it wasn’t…or at least not the one I was hoping for. The players had the chance to make a statement and they didn’t take it, or at least Blaydon prevented them for doing so.
It was a long way to travel yesterday, a very long way. But for me it was worth it because I left home believing that the squad was good enough to be riding much higher in the table and that injuries and uncertainty about the management of the team were the root causes of Coventry’s poor performances this season.
However, I returned home knowing that actually, whilst loyalty to the team and to the players is always a good thing, remaining faithful to the dream had been hiding the cruel truth…
…namely that this squad just isn’t as strong as I’d believed (and in fairness to me, been led to believe) and that significant changes need to be made if the club wants to make a genuine push for the Championship in the next couple of seasons.
So despite the defeat, and the manner of it, not a wasted journey at all…
Even if it does mean that I now have to get my coat dry cleaned….