Massey winner ends Coventry’s play-off hopes

colchester celebrate

Coventry 0-1 Colchester –

Prior to kick-off at the Ricoh Arena on Tuesday night, there was an atmosphere suitably subdued for a game between two teams with fading aspirations. 180 Colchester fans forewent the England-Holland match to see their team battle to keep alive their survival hopes, while play-off chasing Coventry had lost eight of their previous 12. Prospects look grim for both clubs and in the first few minutes a Colchester fan shouted to his players ‘Don’t let the atmosphere get to you!’, his ironic humour echoing throughout the stadium.

That supporter need not have worried. His side recorded a deserved 1-0 victory thanks to a Gavin Massey tap-in, in a sturdy defensive display. It was clear, in the first 15 minutes of the contest, that Colchester had not come for a point. They looked to play on the front foot early on and did so to some success.

Their players looked comfortable on the ball and distributed it into wide areas well, academy graduate Alex Gilbey pulling the strings in midfield. Massey went on a couple of dangerous runs down the right and on one occasion, his cross was turned over the bar by Coventry right-back Martin Lorentzson.

The hosts dropped too deep and failed to impose themselves. Their rare exciting moments tended to follow the work of Jodi Jones, who made some quick, penetrative runs in from the right flank. Had Coventry got the ball to the former Dagenham winger more often, they might have had more joy.

Unlike Jones, Coventry’s other attacking players, namely Joe Cole and Marc-Antoine Fortune, lacked pace and energy. In the early stages, Colchester could get away with having a very open defence, because the opposing front line did not press high, nor did it pose a threat on the counter.

The U’s were rewarded for their control with the opening goal. Elliott Lee had combined well with George Moncur early on and the former beat Lorenzson for pace, just keeping the ball in play before drilling it across goal for Massey to ram home. His opener sparked celebrations from Colchester fans, who jovially sung the ‘Great Escape’ theme tune with, perhaps, a hint of sincerity.

After the opener, Cole and John Fleck had efforts at goal before Tom Eastman came out of nowhere to produce a heroic block on Jacob Murphy’s shot. The Sky Blues were unable to sustain the intensity of their play, although a brief spell of pressure won them a penalty shortly before the interval. Murphy stepped up, against the team he was on loan at last season, but Elliot Parish guessed the right way and palmed his spot-kick to safety.

Coventry started the second period on the front foot and had a couple of long-range efforts through Fleck and Jones. A few minutes into the second half, it looked as though it would take some last-ditch defending for Colchester to hold onto their lead. In fact, that was not the case.

Colchester’s midfield spent most of the second half dropping deep, next to the 18-yard box, Chris Porter often being the team’s only player in the opposing half. The striker, who has not enjoyed his most successful campaign, must have had no more than 10 touches in the second half. Porter became very isolated due to the shortage of bodies committing themselves forward. The closest the visitors came to a second was when Gilbey set the impressive Moncur away, the former West Ham midfielder forcing a smart low save from Reice Charles-Cook.

The Sky Blues did not look like a team that was fighting for a play-off place. For much of the second half, they showed little attacking endeavour. Cole had a few efforts at goal but otherwise slowed approach play down while Romain Vincelot occupied the number 10 role, an unnatural position for the Frenchman. There was a flat, disjointed feel to this Coventry team.

A group of Sky Blues fans had called for the introduction of Ruben Lameires, who came on for Murphy with half an hour to go. The Portuguese playmaker, however, made little impression and did not solve the clear lack of pace, which had been the team’s problem all evening. Marcus Tudgay offered nothing different to Fortune. Like the Frenchman he replaced, Tudgay naturally moved into safe pockets of space to collect the ball, rather than look to run in behind and offer a direct goalscoring threat. Striker Adam Armstrong provides raw pace as well as composure in front of goal and Tony Mowbray will eagerly await his return from England Under-19s.

Mowbray’s position at Coventry has come under scrutiny, confirmed by the chorus of boos that followed the full-time whistle. What the 52-year-old has on his side is the initial work he did to take Coventry to safety last season and into play-off contention this term. The former West Brom manager could be given more time due to the lack of transparency upstairs and it seems doubtful that the board would want to pay out the final 15 months of his contract.

There is no doubt, however, that he has made major errors in the last three months. Bringing in seven new players between January and March implies a lack of trust in his squad and destabilizes the first team, just when consistency was needed. With so many loanees, it appears there are not enough players who are directly impacted by the results. This has led to a lack of leadership and passion on the field, a cause for supporter frustration.

Colchester manager Kevin Keen will be revealed as a miracle worker if he keeps the Essex club up this season. Astute defensive additions and a record of nine goals conceded in seven previous games offer flashes of promise for the U’s, who had been leaking far too many goals before then. In all probability, the damage is already done and Colchester will be playing fourth tier football next season, yet hope springs eternal. Colchester target the Great Escape – should Coventry’s current form continue, so will Tony Mowbray.