Coventry City 1 Derby County 2
Captain dropped, chairman in the press room before kick-off and the managing director having to urge fans to cheer with more enthusiasm. Have the wheels come off Operation Premiership?
It is always easier to talk the talk than walk the walk in sport and while much of what has been said about Coventry’s ambitions has been rooted in common sense, the words are not being matched by the all-important action.
The City hierarchy have backed manager Micky Adams with cash despite the club’s recent fiscal travails and the manager has, on the face of it, invested the money in the right areas but, as yet, it is not bringing benefits with the club now below halfway in the table.
But despite that and the fact that the recent home form has taken a severe dip, it is not all doom and gloom.
Adams was far from happy with the defeat at Stoke in midweek and decided to make changes on and off the field. Stephen Hughes has been axed as skipper while Don Hutchison was given an all-too-rare start.
City went into the game without a target man and with Jay Tabb reinstated on the right wing, while Clive Clarke continued on the left of midfield.
There is no doubt that the level of performance was a step up on the showing at the Britannia Stadium. The side had a more balanced look and certainly created more than it had on Monday — not a hugely difficult task — but they also encountered a far better team than they did in the Potteries. Billy Davies has constructed a hard-working, enterprising side that may well be in the shake-up come the end of the season.
Coventry could and should have taken the lead when Leon McKenzie, who has yet to score since his #1 million move from Norwich, set up Stern John who scooped a tame effort embarrassingly wide.
Jon Stead, rebuilding his career on loan after struggling to make the grade in the Premiership, was more dead-eye in the 12th minute. He was fed by the ever-working Steve Howard and managed to turn Richard Duffy on the edge of the area before rifling in a fierce shot.
When Coventry pulled level ten minutes later, it was thoroughly justified and well executed. Clarke’s cross from the left was headed on at the near post by Elliott Ward and John was able to direct the ball home.
The home side, while playing well enough, needed to step up a gear in the second half and it never quite happened. John directed a shot wide after a fine build-up involving Hutchison and McKenzie, but again there was never enough potency.
The game was settled 17 minutes from the end when Howard, who had worked tirelessly all afternoon, directed in a glancing header.
Coventry were clearly frustrated after showing such an improvement without achieving anything for their effort.
They were annoyed that strong claims for a penalty had been ignored by the referee when they were 0-1 down but that is really missing the point.
They need to be more concerned at the lack of home form but also not too downhearted, because the general performance was better. The changes were overdue but clearly seem to be the way forward.
New skipper Robert Page was balanced enough to realise that, despite his anger with the officials. He said: "We are very frustrated. There has been a lot of talk and publicity about players going down. Leon got the ball past the defender but he is as honest as the day is long and tried to stay on his feet.
"We are bitterly disappointed with the result because it was one of our best performances of the season."
COVENTRY CITY (4-4-2): Marshall; Duffy, Ward, Page, Hall; Tabb (Adebola 85), Doyle, Hutchison (Cameron 86), Clarke; John, McKenzie. Subs: Gonzalez, Andrews, Birchall.
DERBY COUNTY (4-4-2): Bywater; Edworthy, Leacock, M Johnson, (Moore 56), Boertien; Bisgaard(Smith 58), Oakley, S Johnson, Barnes; Stead (Lupoli72), Howard. Subs: Grant, Bolder.
Referee: L Probert (Gloucs).
Attendance: 19, 701