Mowbray’s uphill battle, Bradford’s FA Cup distraction and the role of fanzines

Tony Mowbray

Tony Mowbray

Coventry City are a club in decline. With uncertainty at boardroom level, limited funds, increasingly apathetic supporters and a squad lacking in quality, those running it are faced with major challenges. It may seem surprising, therefore, that Tony Mowbray, who had been a Championship manager at Middlesbrough for 3 years, would choose to go to a club riddled with debt, and in danger of dropping into England’s 4th tier.

If he didn’t know what he had let himself in for when he took over on 3rd March, he will now. A 1-1 draw with Bradford City at the Ricoh Arena means that Coventry have picked up a disappointing 1 point from Mowbray’s first 2 home games in charge.

It was a mixed performance from the Sky Blues on Tuesday night. After performing sloppily in the first 10 minutes, they slowly grew in confidence and began to apply pressure. John Fleck made some good runs forward from midfield, right-back Aaron Phillips provided width while forward Frank Nouble was often at the heart of their attacking moves.

Bradford started at a high tempo, and created a good chance for James Hanson to score just 3 minutes in. However, this was their 10th match in the space of 31 days, and it was perhaps understandable that they were unable to sustain their early gusto. The Bantams have performed admirably in the FA Cup, but 3 league wins from 11 since the turn of the year suggests the run has affected their energy levels. In the first half, they continued to drop deeper and deeper, they were slow to attack loose balls, and had no game plan other than to pitifully lump the ball towards the towering but often isolated figure of James Hanson. They rarely threatened the Coventry rearguard.

Frank Nouble

Frank Nouble

The home side’s first half play gravitated towards the right hand side of the field, and this was reflected in the opening goal. Following a marauding run, Aaron Phillips passed the ball across the box to allow Frank Nouble to slide in and score. Having missed a good chance earlier on, Nouble had redeemed himself and his goal gave the 8,000-odd Coventry City fans something to cheer about, as they left for a half-time beverage.

After the interval, however, those fans were to endure a more sobering contest. Tony Mowbray made the decision to take off the impressive Phillips for centre-back Andy Webster, and move Matthew Pennington to right-back. A few minutes later, he took off the quiet Sanmi Odelusi for forward Dominic Samuel, while hardworking midfielder Jim O’Brien came off for another forward, Nick Proschwitz. Although Mowbray has stated that the decisions to take off Phillips and O’Brien were influenced by fitness concerns, the fact that he allowed 4 forwards on the pitch with Coventry winning invites scrutiny, because his substitutions damaged the balance of his team.

On the right side of an attacking trio in what became a 4-3-3 formation, Dominic Samuel did not track back enough. Although Pennington defended stoutly and was rarely beaten for pace, the absence of cover in front of him meant that Bradford had space to swing countless crosses into Coventry’s box.

Mark Yeates

Mark Yeates

Tony Mowbray can be criticized for his substitutions, but by contrast, Phil Parkinson must be praised. The half-time introduction of wide man Mark Yeates made a huge impact for Bradford. The Irishman caused problems for Coventry, and it was his bright runs inside from the left, as well as perhaps Parkinson’s team talk, that seemed to spark life into this jaded Bradford side. Yeates scored a wonderful free-kick with 21 minutes to go, and rather than fire Coventry up, that goal served only to deflate them.

The lack of composure, strength and leadership in the Coventry team were becoming obvious problems. Not once in the 2nd half did they press Bradford in their own half, and rarely were they able to keep the ball, which limited them to only counter-attacking opportunities. The combination of Samuel, Proschwitz and Nouble looked very imbalanced. They all wanted to stay in the final third and move towards the central areas, and this resulted in a lack of both width and midfield support. Coventry would have done better if they had a winger prepared to track back to help alleviate pressure, and then carry the ball forward. Instead, they had 3 goalscorers at the top end of the pitch, waiting for the ball to come to them, while Bradford continued to flood the attacking areas.

With the score level, both teams might have pinched a late winner. On a Coventry breakaway, German striker Nick Proschwitz missed the target from inside the penalty area, with the goal gaping. And, at the other end, an impressive header from James Hanson was held expertly by Coventry keeper Lee Burge.

Jon Stead

Jon Stead

That stop meant that Bradford were forced to settle for a draw, which meant they were to remain 1 point outside the League One play-off places. The fact that Jon Stead, an unused substitute on the night, did not play may have hindered the Bantams. With Stead in the starting line-up, Bradford have scored 41 goals in 25 games, compared to 19 in 17 before he joined. Stead’s experience, strength and aerial ability have made him an asset at Valley Parade, but at the age of 31, Parkinson has needed to manage his game time effectively. When both players are fully fit, a front duo of Stead and Hanson will cause plenty of problems for the less physically capable defences.

For Coventry, the desired honeymoon period is yet to take shape, after 2 slightly underwhelming results. Tony Mowbray now has the task of galvanizing a club that, at the moment, looks in disarray. In the unofficial Coventry City fanzine, Twist ‘N’ Shout, articles consistently referenced the sense of apathy among supporters. Underneath an amusing front cover featuring the title Elvis Has Left The Building, the consensus among fans regarding departed manager Stephen Pressley was mixed. Some admired his passion and loyalty, some criticized his recruitment strategy and media approach, while others felt the quality of his management was hard to judge, given the club’s overall plight.

These are difficult times for Coventry City, and the ones suffering most are undoubtedly the fans. They are the ones who stand by the football club, and they are the ones who have the greatest emotional connection. In that sense, it is surprising to see the current decline of football fanzines. Some may say that this is a reflection of the digital age, yet many attendees will pay at least £3 for a programme. Very often, a programme consists of statistics, advertisements, and notes from people who work for the club. Although these people may be well meaning and want the best for the club, they will not put their own position in jeopardy by being openly critical of those they work with.

'Twist 'N Shout'

‘Twist ‘N Shout’

At a much cheaper price, fanzines offer a greater insight into the situation at a football club. They are written, not by people who earn money from the club, but by people who pay money to be involved. The fans are the people who care the most, and have no reason to say anything other than what they truly think. Because of this, fanzines should be given more credibility than they currently have. In spite of all Coventry’s troubles on and off the field, a section of their fans, albeit an ever-decreasing one, have valiantly stuck by the club. These are the people whose voices must be heard. However, it remains to be seen whether those voices will be heard by the owners, who have the power to sell up, and give the club the brighter future it deserves.