Coventry City 1 Burnley 0
It is surely a good sign for Coventry manager Micky Adams that while his side are still struggling to find the back of the net with any kind of frequency, they have begun the climb towards the Championship’s top six.
And while it’s still not particularly pretty, the Sky Blues have found a formula that has made them difficult to beat as Saturday’s victory stretched their unbeaten run to five matches.
Burnley, despite their relatively small squad, were never going to be a pushover and were on top for much of the first half but as soon as Colin Cameron fired his goal on home soil for Coventry from the penalty spot the result was never in doubt as the Sky Blues boast two very enviable statistics this season.
They have conceded just 18 goals which makes them second only to Stoke City as the division’s most miserly defence. And on the ten occasions that they have taken the lead in a Championship match this season, they have gone on to take all three points.
They are stats which owe a great deal to the central defensive partnership of Robert Page and Elliott Ward who have become one of the most dreaded duos for opposition strikers.
Burnley’s Kyle Lafferty and Gifton Noel-Williams were the latest centre forwards to struggle to get any change out of the pairing at the weekend.
Ward and Page are hardly gifted with great pace but they showed against Steve Cotterill’s side that they can make up for that with strength, aerial ability and sheer determination.
But much credit for Coventry’s goals against column has to go to two of their unsung heroes.
Goalkeeper Andy Marshall was seen as a one-year stopgap when he signed in the summer as Adams hoped to secure the services of Tottenham’s Marton Fulop at the end of this season.
Fulop impressed during his loan spell last year and was seen as the ideal No 1 when his contract runs out at Spurs but Marshall has proved quietly impressive and another confident display at the weekend was further evidence that his signing on a free transfer was extremely shrewd business by City.
As well as his commanding of his area, he made two very good saves to help secure the three points.
One from Steve Jones when Burnley were on top in the first half and were threatening to take the lead and then he repelled an effort from Lafferty when the visitors were chasing an equaliser in the dying minutes.
Irish midfielder Michael Doyle also proved his worth again as he, along with Cameron, won the midfield battle by some distance.
Doyle’s passing is no more than average for this standard but his energy and his ability to break up the play have made him one of the first names on Adams’ team sheet.
It’s in the final third that Coventry have been struggling and it took a controversial spot-kick to help them break the deadlock on Saturday.
Burnley defender John McGreal was aiming to hook the ball clear but caught Dele Adebola in the process. So it was a tad harsh on Burnley but it was by no means the disgrace that manager Cotterill would have led you to believe afterwards.
Cameron coolly slotted home the penalty and that sparked Coventry into life in the second half.
That’s when Darren Currie came to the fore and whenever he is given the ball, the Sky Blues look as if they are capable of creating chances.
He fired a couple of shots himself — one which curled wide and the other forced a solid save from Danny Coyne.
And Currie created two glorious opportunities for others with his pinpoint delivery. He produced the moment of the match when he fired a quick free-kick cross field on to the toe of Leon McKenzie.
The #1 million signing from Norwich cut inside and his left-footed curler struck the crossbar.
McKenzie was another that impressed going forward in the second half but Coventry will want to see more composure in front of goal if they are to start believing it was money well spent.
Page then went close late on when he powered a Currie corner goalwards only to see Coyne make another impressive stop forcing City to settle for another victory by the odd-goal.
So Adams’ biggest Christmas wish must be to get his strikers firing on all cylinders — then a place in the play-offs would seem a very realistic proposition.
COVENTRY CITY (4-4-2): Marshall; Duffy, Page, Ward, Clarke; Currie (Hughes, 83), Doyle, Cameron, McKenzie (Kyle 90); Adebola, John. Subs: Bischoff, Virgo, Birchall.
BURNLEY (4-4-2): Coyne; Thomas, Duff, McGreal, Harley; Elliott (Branch, 75), O’Connor (Mahon, 78), McCann, Jones (Foster, 90); Lafferty, Noel-Williams. Subs: Sinclair, Hyde.
Referee: Mike Thorpe (Suffolk).