The Warwick men’s firsts can be forgiven for thinking that, for 2014 at least, it simply wasn’t meant to be. It didn’t take long for it to become readily apparent that the contest against Coventry, one of the stand out fixtures in the Varsity calendar, was going to be anything but a stand out contest, with a series of unfortunate incidents souring the match from a Warwick perspective.
Dubious penalty awarded in Coventry’s favour? Check. A Warwick own goal? Check. And a blatant red-card for a Coventry player not being given? Check.
In truth, however, these incidents only temporarily distract from what was a very assured Coventry performance, and what was, ultimately, a poor display from Warwick. Equally poor was the weather, the strong wind serving as a third opponent of sorts, causing great problems to the team defending the Pavilion end. Warwick attacked this end of the Cryfield pitch in the first-half but failed to make the advantage count.
It took less than ten minutes for Coventry to open the scoring, through their diminutive attacking midfielder Sebastian Heß, a technical and yet tenacious gem of a player, deployed by the away side in an offensive trequartista role. The number 10, operating at the peak of a five man Coventry midfield, caused Warwick problems throughout the game by running the channels with great skill, frequently collecting the ball in Warwick territory before seeking the Coventry wingers, who played exceptionally narrow throughout.
If his overall performance was assured and polished, his opening goal was less so: a rather tame side footed effort from the edge of the box which eluded the Warwick ‘keeper Dan Bosma. Coventry, playing into the wind, seemed content to defend this lead, and invited some Warwick pressure upon themselves throughout the first half. Unfortunately, the home side were unable to effectively use their majority share of the possession.
Warwick’s Alex Roberts, playing as a second striker, offered a somewhat languid threat throughout this period; despite demonstrating good positional awareness he unfortunately spurned a couple of decent chances, shooting straight at the Coventry ‘keeper in the 18th minute, before unluckily failing to connect with a rebound from skipper Tom Murray’s fantastic turn and shot- the goal at his mercy- in the 24th.
Attempts on goal after this flurry were at something of a premium for Warwick. Coventry were comfortable holding their rivals at arm’s length and forcing them to play in a dis-jointed, staccato rhythm. All the while Coventry offered a tangible threat on the counter attack, with the long-legged Sivi Bau, a lanky forward who possessed a deceptively delicate touch, offering a perpetual threat on the counter attack. Kevin Buckley, criticised by a number of Warwick players at the final whistle, should also be offered praise for the manner in which he attempted to let a detached half flow.
In the second half, Coventry abandoned their intent to play on the counter, instead using the weather conditions to their advantage and dominating the midfield. Bau frequently dropped deep in pursuit of the ball and his link-up play with both Heß and Smith was exceptional, with the three frequently finding a worrying amount of space down the Warwick flanks. Impressive, too, was Coventry’s Luke McDonald, and Warwick’s Ben McParland did well to prevent him from swinging in more crosses from the right-hand side.
Coventry seemed comfortable playing the ball out from deep and using their wingers in narrow positions to allow them to flood the midfield. This tactic paid dividends in the second half, with their expansive midfield forcing Warwick into hitting a number of long passes from central positions. In truth, this was the most notable difference between the two teams, with Coventry constantly spotting short passes where Warwick saw only speculative long balls.
Despite a few maundering runs from deep by right-back Matti Harrison, as well as a vocal appeal for a free-kick after Tom Murray was bundled down just outside of the box, Coventry’s second goal, the result of sustained pressure on Bosma’s box, was somewhat of an inevitability. The nature of it proved controversial, however, after referee Kevin Buckey awarded Coventry what seemed like a rather soft penalty following a handball from McParland in the box.
From the touchline, it looked like McParland’s hands were only partially raised, and he can well consider the penalty and subsequent booking to be harsh. Coventry’s Luke McDonald, eye-catching throughout, cooly sent Bosma the wrong way, chipping the ball high into the right hand corner of the goal.
Warwick attempted to rally but again they were made to rue the decision of the referee; a free kick from deep inside the Warwick half was pumped into the box by Scott Staniland, and Perry Campion misjudged his clearance, heading the wind-assisted cross toward his own net. Coventry’s Troy Smith may well have been the man to get the final touch, as he attempted to bundle the ball over the line, but the damage was done. 3-0 to Coventry, and another goal the Warwick defence will have been disappointed to concede.
This third goal took the sting out of the contest, and the sense of competition was sadly replaced by one of pettiness, the worst incident of which came when a Coventry substitute, already on a yellow card, made a late, dangerous foul on a Warwick defender. James King, one of the two linesman, flagged instantly for the foul but in a moment of bitter comedy, the referee missed both the challenge and the flag, continuing play whilst all the while King flagged furiously.
The final whistle came not long after this incident, prompting a demoralised Warwick side to trudge off toward the Cryfield Pavilion whilst the Coventry squad celebrated with a recital of the club anthem, ‘Twist and Shout’. Whilst the game more than definitely had its talking points, few of these were to do with the actual football. The game was a poor one- both in terms of the final scoreline and the performance from Warwick- and, in truth, regrettably, Coventry were good for their 3-0 victory, and 4 points.
Goals: Sebastian Heß 7′, Luke McDonald (pen) ’78, Own Goal ’80.
Officials: Mr K. Buckley (Warwickshire), Mr J. King, Mr N. Gibbins.
Warwick Men’s 2nds- 4 v Coventry Men’s 2nds- 0.
Warwick Men’s 3rds- 3 v Coventry Men’s 3rds- 4.
Warwick Men’s 4ths- 2 v Coventry Men’s 4ths- 1.