Feeble. Or fighting? Or frustrating?
By Anthony Chesher
If, like me, you have the pleasure of owning a thesaurus (that your girlfriend had kindly bought for such reports) in your house, pick it up now and look up "tame". For me, so much of yesterday appears under this heading. See how many of the available alternatives I can now utilise. For starters, after spotting the "un-threatening" sky-blue scarf in the back of a car window and homing in to obtain our parking space, we find ourselves just five minutes' walk from the ground. The time? Two o'clock. Now where's the fun in that? I want to have a long, unpredictable trek through the city centre, feeling slightly nervous, both at the upcoming match, and at the possible threats from the home fans. No such luck. Walk past a couple of sets of "subdued" Coventry fans and arrive outside the completely sky-blue clad Highfield Road. After dropping Webby's ticket off at reception, we descended the few stairs into the 1930s turnstile area and finally, into the ground.
What kind of a colour is sky-blue anyway?
The ground itself (first visit for Chesh & Co.) is distinctly "un-interesting" and has a certain ambience, one that suggests that things used to be a bit better. I know, we've said it all before with many a club that has had its glory days in the Premiership and now trudges along in the mush of 'Championship' mediocrity, but just compare this to Vicarage Road. Not in terms of the quality of the stands, or the capacity, though. Just put yourself in the position of having to do this every other week.
In Sky Blue.
Our ticket was printed over an image of Keith Houchen's 1987 FA Cup Final goal for the 'Ceruleans' (sorry, couldn't bear to use the S-B word again). When I had the yearning for a balti pie and hot chocolate, we came down another military-bunkeresque staircase to end up in what must surely be a village hall canteen (the absence of any kind of trace of Ladbrokes staff meant, at least, that we didn't waste our money on bets involving H scoring and Watford winning). It's very quiet; we get served almost immediately; on attempting to leave, we have to decide between one of three wooden doors to lead us back onto the huge platform that runs in front of our seats. I have written down "eerie" on my note pad, and although this doesn't appear under "tame" in my thesaurus, it continues the "languid" traits that we are very much getting used to.
A predictable lack of pre-match build-up ensues, a result of the "prosaic" attempts by the announcer, who sounds a little like Barry White. The highlight (aside from yelling abuse at Stephen "The Leech" Hughes, who is warming-up in front of us) is a set of purple-legged cheerleaders the other side of the pitch. At least Mr Webster, the referee and his two assistants seemed to be enjoying it. The final adjective in my title starts to set in as I sit down in Row F and mull over the injustice that Stephen Hughes is allowed to pursue his chosen career after taking so much for so little in his eighteen months at the Vic, but the "mildness" sets back in again as some "submissive" attempt at dramatic classical music drifts over the PA system when the teams arrive before us (I realise that this feature can be found at Vicarage Road as well, a fact that I know we all lament).
It is just before the game that we see the first hint of the yet-to-be-mentioned second adjective of the title. Webby, after finishing performing in a gig at two in Milton Keynes, dashes into his seat just before the whistle is blown, having smashed the land-speed record in the process. I am proud of the endeavour, and the five of us sing "Yellow Army" with renewed vigour.
Four minutes in, and a "prosy" back-pass gives us a corner, the result of which begins to show the "tepid" side of the Golden Boys. A couple of minutes later, though, and Richard Shaw's generally under-privileged football ability gives us another corner. However, we must wait. For there is a divot in the pitch. Sorry, friends, that should have been d***t. Such atrocities cannot be present on football fields as we know, and therefore the game must be halted. Three minutes later, and most of the crowd start getting their things together ready to leave. After all. There is a divot on the pitch. However, somehow and miraculously, the ground-staff show that fighting spirit and quash the source of our angst and the game may continue.
Words fail me.
As the corner is cleared and the ball falls to the left-foot of Mahon on the edge of the area, I feel relief for the Coventry fans as they will now see that not all that is "mild" today is to do with them. However, one man that is most certainly not "meek" is our Boris. He is, without a doubt, the guvnor. He is here there and every-blooming where at the moment, and the 'Orns enjoy most of the possession for the first half an hour because of it. Between a couple of "jejune" (scraping the barrel now) Coventry "bothers" (it would be too strong a word to call them "attacks"), he links up well with Helguson a couple of times, as does Devlin. After twenty minutes, a move reminiscent of H's goal in the 5-2 versus the Saints is put together, only with the shot rolling just wide this time. Couple of minutes later, Gav feeds Bruce through the middle, and a trademark hold-up-the-ball and then turn-and-shoot is fired straight at Steele. At this point, the bloke sitting to my left moves down to the row in front, obviously perturbed by my constant flitting between note-taking, singing, clapping, standing-up and then scrambling around on the floor looking for my pen. After another H chance minutes later, in which he was ultimately ruled offside, what many may call the turning point occurred.
After numerous stoppages already, we pause once more, whilst Richard Lee is stretchered off having saved well from Adebola. For me, along with Helguson, he has been the consistently good performer this season, and to see him go like this not only halts the flow of our pressure, but is very detrimental to the confidence of the players and fans alike. He departs to a standing ovation and is replaced with eighty-four year-old Alec Chamberlain, who apparently nearly didn't make the trip up here himself. Immediately though, the push continues. Another mazy dribble from JER-main results in a Gavin Mahon effort (do not adjust your sets) being turned around Steele's left-hand post. Between now and half-time we get a few more corners, some random Coventry midfielder balloons one into the inspiringly named 'George Wimpey' Stand and the Coventry fans - no, wait, the Coventry ticket holders - treat us to their first song of the afternoon on thirty-five minutes. Cute.
Then in the thirty-eight minutes of injury time we were treated to, it starts to go wrong.
After another superbly sliced effort from Stern John, a cross comes in that Chamberlain offers a "lean" punch to. The looping header that followed is all but over the line, before suddenly Alec uses up all that energy, pent up since May, to sprint and claw it away. Think to ourselves, "Well, that must be it now", forgetting, of course, that 'divot-scare' earlier, which means that Gary McSheffrey has more than enough time to be fed the ball just inside the area. A quick turn and shot, that Chamberlain perhaps saw late and couldn't quite push wide, therefore meant that we were trailing 1-0 at half time. Tame.
Half-time came and went, despite the efforts of a pastel-blue elephant, Shaggy and his little friends in front of the D-Drill Stand, where it seems fans in the lower tier are forbidden from sitting down. The highlights being trying out my new digital camera and the 18th Birthday announcement that my dad had subtly arranged for me (kept that quiet, didn't I?).
And so to the second half. And how eighteen was so nearly the magic number. On the 18th, on my 18th, with our in-form Icelandic cherub who happens to wear number 18. But how far away that hope seems now. A couple of minutes in, I chanced my arm and started a "Yellow Army" chant. Somehow, it managed to keep going well into the sixtieth minute. For the second time in the afternoon, I was proud. Proud of us, the fans, and us, the team.
This was the fight.
In the next fifteen minutes, we were the battling Watford that I have come to love in the latter years of my youth. Prateek asked me afterwards who was inspiring who in this period. To be honest, there's no way of knowing, but I do know that both fans and players were giving it their all here, and to (nearly) good effect. Amongst intermittent looped headers over the bar in this period (as well as the rest of the second half), we had the best chances of equalising, within sixty seconds of each other.
Fifty-four minutes, Helguson is through. Offside? I check: no. Heís still going. I check the linesman again: still no flag. Somehow H still hasn't shot, although by this point everyone in the ground can see where he's going to shoot. Seconds later, it's apparent that Luke Steele could also see this, as he parries the effort away. It falls slightly behind Bruce, who takes a couple of touches before firing just over from out wide. Having finally sat down in disbelief again, Ben thumps me to get up again as I see the ball ricochet out to Boris, whose trundling toe-poked effort is turned wide by the increasingly impressive Steele. Minutes later, Ardley is now through and it's three on two, but another looping header from Helguson clears the bar. After another, more powerful header from the Icelander is turned over, the siege slowly diminishes on both fronts.
Stephen Hughes shows us another textbook Coventry-midfielder-from-outside-the-box slice wide as the noise lessens. Even Boris has lost his command of the midfield, as the Watford fight-back takes on the footballing-form of the bland pastel-blue that decks out our surroundings. Now the only spark on the field is the Coventry number ten, McSheffrey, whose attempt at repeating his injury-time turn and shot fizzes just over. Then the final nail, as I see it. The Ashley Young Substitution. I don't know what it is, but he never seems to do anything anymore. At all. He's like Paul Okon, on the wing. Please Ray, next time just leave Bruce on. Just try it once perhaps. Anyway, don't want to moan.
From here, we see more Coventry midfielders slicing efforts wide than we do looping Helguson headers over. James Chambers has a random outburst of passion, sliding about twenty yards into McSheffrey's shins and getting a yellow card for his troubles, but the lack of noise from our section now allows me to think that it's perhaps just going to stay like this until the end. In the last ten minutes, there was at least some variety.
A JER-main cross ended up with Boris collecting the ball, delaying, delaying...delaying, before firing a back-heel out of the area and clear. Boris! Heís forgiven: he is Icelandic, after all. McSheffrey was clearly catching sky-blue disease himself, as he squirmed through Dyche and Cox, his early effort straight at Alec can be described as distinctly lukewarm. Coventry nearly then doubled their lead in similarly out-of-the-(pastel)blue fashion to which they obtained it. A random thirty yard volley that I confess I didnít see, clearing Chamberlain and bouncing off the top of the bar. The final chance of the game for the Orns came in the eighty-eighth minute, where we were awarded a free-kick on the line of the penalty area. The wall started off four yards away, as it was tapped to Ardley it was two yards away, and the veteranís shot only had to travel a few feet before slamming into shins of the ever-advancing defenders.
In the end, it was perhaps our "timid-ness" that prevented points returning to the Vic, in the lack of a killer touch up front, in the midfield, or something like that. My only real disappointment afterwards, though, was the way in which the previously inspiring noise from the great away support died midway through the second half. Why it happened, I don't really know. We mustn't forget what a huge part we can play in the outcomes of games. Let's stay yellow like we have been on recent Tuesday nights, and make sure we don't end up a poor pastel-blue like the wax statues of the D-Drill Lower Tier.