Old Elthamians ask the right questions as Cov almost run out of answers
Who knows what tomorrow brings
In a world, few hearts survive
All I know is the way I feel
When it’s real, I keep it alive
The road is long, there are mountains in our way
But we climb a step every day
Love lift us up where we belong
Joe Cocker – Love Lifts Us Up
Well, the good news is that yesterday down at Old Elthamians Jon Sharp was parading the latest in Coventry’s ever-increasing range of designer giftware – a Cov brolly, a lapel pin badge and a very natty Cov phone cover.
All three are now on my wishlist to Santa who, so Sue tells me, has a direct line to the Coventry club shop where they will be available shortly.
I’m not sure which brand of phone Jon uses, but if it is a Samsung, then happy days.
Indeed, if there is a Cov cover for my phone, then I might buy one myself and wrap it up and give it to my grandson for my Christmas present anyway – just in case Santa’s satnav isn’t working too well or I haven’t been quite as good as I’d hoped this year.
Back in the mid 80s and for some time after, most clubs used to have their own pin badges which Sam used to collect when he was old enough – every away game always necessitated a trip to the club shop.
So welcome back the label badge.
It’s about time Cov broadened its range of merchandise – and just before Christmas, too.
Could be some happy daddies,and mummies on Christmas day – not than I’m hinting Sam, Charlie, Holly, Laura or Amy…
But if any of you are short of an idea…?
And so to the game…
…which wasn’t Cov’s finest performance of the season, for sure.
But from a spectator’s perspective, it was great entertainment. Not necessarily comfortable viewing, but both squads gave it their all out there yesterday.
The quality of the rugby wasn’t always out of the top drawer and, more often than not, the middle drawers wouldn’t open fully either.
But hearts were on sleeves and, in the end, the game could have gone either way.
But, hey…that’s 11 wins on the bounce now this season.
Still top of the table and with only Darlington of the three teams immediately behind us able to narrow the gap, and then by just the one point, well it could have been a lot, lot worse.
Blackheath in fifth remain close enough to still be in contention, 14 points behind.
Before the game, OE had wisely suggested their chances of winning the game were pretty much negligible and even prayers wouldn’t be sufficient for the win, but many Cov fans had maintained that this would be a much tougher game than was being suggested elsewhere.
And so it proved. Much tougher.
OE have won all but one of their home fixtures this season for a reason and against Cov they showed exactly why.
They really raised their game as Cov managed to lower theirs from the lofty heights of some of their performances this season. Our mistakes or OE pressure?
Both, I guess.
It was probably a little closer than even I thought it would be, but OE had come up with a game plan that asked all the right questions of us..
…in the end Cov very nearly ran out of answers.
The last 10 minutes or so of the game were definitely Cov’s finest…as good as anything we’ve seen from them this season defensively.
Pinned in their own half and for much of the last 5 minutes in their own 22, Cov’s defence did what it has done most of the season and held firm.
To their credit, Old Elthamians went through phase after phase, moving the ball laterally across the pitch first one way and then the other, but in doing so failing to break through the solid line of blue and white jerseys. They did what we had failed to do for much of the game and retain the ball – they were disciplined and forced Cov to dig deep on several occasions.
Horatius couldn’t have done any better than Cov did out there yesterday.
I don’t know how many phases in all that last play went through, probably 15 or 20 but it seemed like twice as many to the hoard of Coventry supporters who were willing the ref to blow for time, having already played several minutes over the 40 by then.
Eventually, Cov’s defence proved just too strong and forced OE into the knock on. Game over.
The relief was palpable.
From the Cov supporters, anyway. So tense had I got that whilst tweeting what was unfolding in front of us, I’d even sent out the wrong score…although I still had Cov winning, fortunately!
Games are won and lost on small margins.
In those final minutes of the game, had just one player lost concentration and missed a tackle, given their proximity to the line, OE would have been over and the result almost certainly reversed.
It wasn’t until the referee blew for an OE infringement deep into injury time and the Cov players, mistakenly believing the game was over, almost to a man shouted with relief, that you realised just what the players were feeling, too.
Two of the toughest games we’ve had this season have been against Old Elthamians and Bishop’s Stortford, two of the teams that won promotion into National One at the end of last season – and Caldy pushed us hard last week as well.
Of all the teams in the league, for those three teams playing Coventry is the pinnacle of their season. Ours is the scalp they want most, as arguably do all teams, other than those involving local derbies.
Yesterday, it showed.
Mark H, who was standing next to me, remarked that OE were running on adrenaline for much of the game, and he’s absolutely right. For long periods they were in our faces, competing well in all areas especially in the line-out, where in the first half in particular we lost a number on our own throw – a real contrast to the week before.
They appeared to have done their homework on us and at the breakdown there often appeared to be two men on Jack Preece to clear him out on their ball and as a result we stole very little opposition ball.
When we aren’t as effective as we normally are, it’s usually because we aren’t accurate enough in what we do. Yesterday was no exception, with too many handling errors and lost ball under pressure. It took us a long time to put a decent number of phases together and we did it far too irregularly to threaten their line enough.
On the couple of occasions Cov were incisive, they cut through the OE defence, led once again by James Stokes. The second try, scored by Tom Kessell, my man of the match for what it’s worth, was a corker, started in our half and created as Stokes powered through two tackles wide out on the right and then an off-load which found Kessell who raced away to score under the posts.
Apart from the try, in a messy game where too many mistakes were being made, Kessell had a very solid game, nothing showy but controlled and controlling.
Lespierre, though, was pretty anonymous for much of the games, other than a couple of decent runs, one in each half. The first was halted by a James Stokes (corrected) tackle that saved what looked to be a certain try.
OE tactically seemed a bit naïve at times – especially in the second half. On two or three occasions they had options out wide on the right, with one or two man overlaps, but were either too slow to get the ball out or just chose a different option. Each time Lespierre would have been given the kind of room that he is more than capable of exploiting. Not sure what that was about, really.
Rob Knox will have been pleased, though…I imagine he was determined to prevent Lespierre getting his name on the score sheet for the 12th time this season and further extend his lead at the top of the National One try scorers’ table. By all accounts, good friends off the pitch, but adversaries on it.
Very much one nil to Rob on that front.
And despite the couple of runs Lespierre had, it was James Stokes who shined.
The midfield remains a concern for me – Fenner, until he went off injured, and Knox were strong in defence, but we lacked a little bite there on our own ball and we don’t look like we’re going to create the gaps for the wings and full back to exploit.
There will be others who comment more on the game itself and on the more technical aspects of the play, so I’ll leave that side of things to those more in the know. Safe to say though, despite all the territory and possession OE had in the second half, I thought the second 40 was the better for Cov, too.
The replacements seemed to make a difference, we tightened things up in the lineout and our decision-making also looked better. Another strong cameo, too, from Luc Jeannot who came on and work his socks off, especially in defence. Tolmie carried the ball well and the lineouts improved , although maybe that’s not just down to the hooker’s throw!!!
The referee took some criticism from the supporters, at least the Cov ones anyway, for failing to take action other than to award a penalty, for a number of high tackles on Cov players. There was no word to the player committing the offence (although the captain was spoken to quietly a couple of times) and by the fourth (all in the same half) there was a good deal of frustration.
When James Stokes was went high on Lespierre, I think many of us who were right in front of the incident felt that perhaps it was a penalty, but there was not intent and no injury so, as it was Stokes on Lespierre, we had to defend his case…to be fair to Dom, he made nothing of it, either.
There was a decent crowd at the game – any attempt to guestimate is going to end up making me look stupid, again, but my back’s broad, so I’ll go for around 475-500. There were a few more watching the development team (who lost heavily apparently but more changes on the morning to an already weakened team didn’t help their cause. I think they only had 3 on the bench?).
Cov took a good contingent of supporters down to Old Elthamians, perhaps 150 odd. I’m not sure what the OE supporters made us as we made all the noise for most of the game – the setting and nature of the ground probably doesn’t lend itself to vociferous support, so it might have all been a bit surreal. Their supporters were very gracious in defeat, despite probably feeling that they could have had more from the game.
Initially, they were very quiet but as OE came back into it after Cov had taken a 14-3 lead, they began to realise that their team was very much in the game and there was some good natured banter between the two sets of supporters.
However, even I had to draw the line when ‘Come on Wasps’ was shouted out on more than one occasion, something they obviously found very amusing…???
By the end, they were biting their nails just as much as we were and when the whistle went there was just as much a sense from them of ‘We gave them a hell of a run for their money’ as there was ‘If only’ and ‘We could have won that’.
The ground is picture perfect, especially with the autumnal reds and yellows in the trees lining one side of the pitch. I understand the pitch is going to be turned around 90º in time for next season and there’s a 4G AstroTurf planned, too. It does need some investment on the facilities really, described as being Spartan even by its own support.
I actually enjoyed standing pitchside, as you get a far better feel for the pace of the game than you do up a stand.
However, it would be a problem for some supporters of an age or who aren’t too steady on their feet. Or, indeed, if the heavens had well and truly opened.
It is something of a leveller, in that whilst OE will be used to the atmosphere and the lack of stands or any seating area at all, teams like Cov will find it all rather strange and no matter how professional you are, it must be hard to adapt to.
For some players it was a case of last season Premiership/Championship stadia and crowds as high as 20,000 plus, the next Old Elthamians. But Cov is in one of the junior leagues now and if it is to progress from National One, it has to prove itself adaptable.
11 out of 11 suggests it is doing just that…
Are we downhearted?
Not at all. Winners are grinners, even if for some of the game it was very much a forced smile on many of the faces of the Cov faithful.
We remain top of the shop…
The Cov support was great again to day, and in fairness the players responded…
Love lift us up where we belong
Where the eagles cry on a mountain high
Love lift us up where we belong
Far from the world we know, up where the clear winds blow
The eagles can be heard crying off in the distance, not quite as far as away as they were 11 games ago, but there’s still a mountain or two to climb. The ‘used to bes’ are far less common now and are probably at The Ricoh, looking over their shoulder at what they’re missing:
Some hang on to “used to be”
Live their lives, looking behind
I hope they’re happy where they are, but there’s always room at the BPA for another prodigal son, daughter or family.
Come and see what you’re missing…
A lot of others already have and are staying put.
Plymouth in two weeks time…
Bigger than Moseley, this one.
Come along and see the CovDog unleashed once more…
Love a good power ballad…
But I’ll make an exception of this…Joe Cocker, alongside Jennifer Warnes, of course.
Always the officer and gentleman, me