Here comes the summer

3 years ago, Town players’ celebrations of a 1-1 draw down South were so epic, they made the pages of the Daily Mail. The hangover persists.

There are very few straws to be clutched after a hugely disappointing season which ended with a typically bloodless exercise in completion, but at least the point gained by a very late Edmonds-Green equaliser at Reading meant the campaign wrapped up with Town avoiding defeat.

The game itself featured a fine free kick by Koroma which gave Town the lead, a very promising full league debut by Scott High, a soft penalty given against the visitors and one denied Vallejo who had run half the pitch before being clipped then, ludicrously, booked, some poor defending for Reading’s second, a mixed bag of performances and Lewis O’Brien, yet again, at bloody left back.

It wasn’t the worst dead rubber game ever played, but the drama elsewhere was an easy distraction. Relief that Town were not involved in the nerve jangling horror as 3 sides jostled for the one survival place on offer was tinged with the fear and, for many, expectation, that it was simply being postponed for 12 months.

Occasional injections of energy by both sides provided some lift, but the lack of tension or peril was never far beneath the surface and tedious stretches of slow, unadventurous play were a regular reminder of the game’s fundamental banality.

Recently crowned player of the year, Jonathan Hogg, put in a curious performance with errors which led to the penalty and Schofield bailing him out with two good saves. In contrast, Vallejo played with a calm authority and signing him should be a priority in a summer crammed with priorities.

Koroma’s happy knack of scoring regularly is also key if Town are to progress away from flirting with relegation year after year. His free kick, which he curled in to the top corner to give Town the lead was a thing of beauty. High had hit the post moments before and was later to press very successfully, robbing a dawdling defender, before skying over the bar.

As ever, Town’s main problems were defensive. Hogg’s indiscretions were the main issue, though the penalty he conceded was harsh and coming just a few minutes after the opener, prevented the visitors gaining momentum and control.

Just before the half hour, Town were behind. Schofield made a good save to spare his captain’s blushes but the subsequent corner resulted in a deep cross which was met, unchallenged, by Meite who looped his header over Schofield and in at the far post. 

If the first 30 minutes had been relatively bright in the circumstances, the final hour of the season rarely bothered to pretend to be little more than an exhausted stroll to a finishing line yearned for by both clubs. Reading, whose stellar start to the season seemed certain to see them in the top 6, have collapsed in the past few months despite some genuine talent in their ranks and a pretty eye watering wages to turnover ratio.

For long periods of a dull second half, the hosts enjoyed swathes of possession while Town sat back and soaked up largely ineffective pressure. The appearance of Joao, who had destroyed them in the home game, was ominous but the Portuguese’s impact was restricted to a glancing header from a corner which flashed wide.

As the game drearily trundled on, Town began to show some flickering signs of life and finally ventured in to the final third with a faint, but noticeable, sense of purpose. It was no coincidence that Eiting had come on to the pitch, adding some desperately needed guile. Another substitute, Thomas, added some much needed purpose down the right which had been entirely barren while Aarons, who was woeful, had been there.

Vallejo’s long run from the halfway line to the box ended with the Spaniard being clipped, felled and then booked for non existent simulation. Town’s record from the measly 3 penalties awarded to them through the season suggested that even with an award, an equaliser was far from guaranteed.

The new found enthusiasm to chase a point included the appearance of Schofield in the area for a corner. Would that the club had shown as much urgency in 2021 rather than leave it until the final moments.

In the end, Town levelled through a clever ball played by yet another substitute, Bacuna, to yet another substitute, Edmonds-Green whose shot rather went through the Reading keeper. The influence of all these replacements cast something of a shadow over the team picked to start; Hogg owes nothing to the club and can be forgiven a dip in performance but Aarons and Holmes have a lot to prove. At least the latter works hard and energetically.

Falling short of the hastily adjusted target of 50 points, and miles away from the mid table progression which preceded the new objective, it is difficult to over state the size of the challenges ahead of the club. 

Patience and goodwill has all but expired, the promising first 4 or 5 months of Corberán’s tenure is buried beneath persistently puzzling tactics and repeated errors and there is little trust that recruitment will deliver the necessary transformation of a club steeped in disappointment and defeat.

With many departures expected, some tinged with sadness and many others with complete indifference, the opportunity is to rebuild, regain trust and create a new mentality. We can only sit back and see if the club is up to the job. If they are not, and the evidence doesn’t favour optimism, a much tougher Championship next season looks daunting.

There has been precious little to enjoy since Christmas and while it would be churlish not to acknowledge the injury difficulties which stripped an inexperienced coach of very important players, the worst defensive record in the division cannot simply be shrugged off. Horrendous capitulations at Norwich, Bournemouth and Blackburn did not have common causes; deliberately weakening the side on the south coast, overwhelmed by quality with little fight in Norfolk and a tactical disaster at Ewood Park suggest far deeper issues.

Yet another reset beckons, then, and the success of that will determine wether this horrible slog of a season can be consigned to history or be seen as a continuation of a long term and vertiginous decline. 

Have a great summer, and thanks for reading.

Safe, not sound

The collective paranoia surrounding that day in 2001 which condemned Town to relegation as an improbable series of results improbably happened casts a pall which refuses to clear 20 years later.

The victory at Forest a couple of weeks ago effectively confirmed Town’s championship status, logically if not mathematically, but the refusal to cement their position with supine performances since has simply added significant, perhaps immutable, pressure on a coach who fails to convince and a hierarchy labouring under a cloud of distrust.

It was fitting that the final point needed to scramble over the line was undeserved. The fundamental issues which have afflicted the club since the turn of the year were on full display, not least self inflicted defensive frailty which Coventry failed to translate in to a handsome victory.

From day one, with Stearman’s back pass handing Norwich victory, this season has been defined by defensive negligence leading to a shameful goals against record; more boobs than Razzle.

Yesterday’s culprit was Toffolo, who, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, decided that he could escape the attentions of 3 Sky Blues players without exposing the rest of the defence. His options were, admittedly, limited though one of them included clearing the ball away from danger which seemed the obvious choice to make.

In fairness to the left back, his poor decision making was punished, unlike the multiple attempts made by his colleagues to hand Mark Robins a victorious return to the scene of possibly the worst day of his managerial career. Town’s defending probably gave him flashbacks to that opening day drubbing by Bournemouth.

An evenly dull first half featuring two weak efforts by the home team and a fairly obvious penalty denied to the visitors when Keogh stopped a shot with his arm, was categorised as acceptable by Corberán post match, presumably on the basis that his team enjoyed decent levels of largely unproductive and painfully slow possession.

To be fair to Carlos, there wasn’t a great deal wrong with the left hand side of his team, the defence managed to navigate 40 odd minutes without handing chances on a plate to the opposition and Sanago proved once again that he isn’t a bad target man at times. Sadly, and remember that this was the coach’s choice, he completely exposed Rowe on the right hand side and received a quite dreadful performance in return. 

Compounding the decision to play him out of position, something of a Corberán feature, he paired him with Bacuna whose rare moments of brilliance never balance his lack of care, appalling decision making and staggering self indulgence.

The much maligned Holmes, who really needs to be taken off dead ball duties, including the increasingly ludicrous long throw which invariably falls short and never creates threat, did his best to spark life down the right but it was a losing battle.

Koroma, put through by O’Brien, should have produced a much better effort than the one easily saved and Keogh managed to completely miss the ball when presented with the best chance of the half, but Town’s lack of penetration on the rare occasion their approach play looked threatening epitomised a largely unremarkable first half. Comfort could be taken from the referee’s poor decision on the hand ball claim; at least they went to the break level.

Perhaps news that our hapless relegation rivals were again struggling to start to put together a sequence of wins which would have defied all logic, injected the carefree and apathetic attitude to fairly basic disciplines which allowed the visitors to dominate the first 20 minutes after the break.

Presented with a succession of chances as a more intensive press elicited all the usual errors, misjudgements and carelessness which has dogged this collection of players since Christmas, Coventry contrived to make hard work of putting their opponents to the sword.

Schofield, who endured a horror show at Ewood, made two excellent saves to keep Town in the game only for his colleagues to completely fail to sharpen up. 

Rowe’s nightmare afternoon came to an end after yet another error – how he re-emerged from the dressing room was puzzling unless he was going to be switched out left – only for Pipa, his replacement, to put Coventry through on goal with an errant pass shortly after his arrival.

Coventry were finally rewarded for their dominance when Toffolo’s ill advised slalom in to a brick wall released Shipley whose deflected shot wrong footed Schofield.

It would have been fitting for Town’s survival to be further tainted by a predictably ignominious home defeat, but Coventry managed to deliver a thoroughly undeserved equaliser for their hosts. 

An Eiting corner was fumbled by the keeper and half cleared by a defender to Ward who finally notched a goal after a quite horrible return to the club which has been blighted by injury and ineffectiveness. It was well taken.

In the end, the 47 points gained following the Forest victory was enough and the halcyon days of Autumn 2020 had delivered the points needed to slightly out perform two low budget opponents and two clubs clearly in financial crisis. It is no cause whatsoever for even the slightest celebration.

Support for Carlos’s continued employment is sketchy and perhaps founded on mistrust that Phil and Mark could make the right decision on a successor. The promise shown in the early months is also to his credit, though his tactics, selections and in game changes since have been puzzling to say the least.

It is difficult to view Town’s current trajectory as anything but downward (few would express any confidence that next season will be anything other than another grim relegation battle) and it demands a huge stretch of credulity to believe a turnaround in fortunes is just one summer away.

With just the festival of schadenfreude represented by the Derby/Wednesday death match to look forward to, a miserable season can be put to bed and not spoken of again. It seems unlikely that many will be tuning in to the meagre offering on show in Reading next Saturday, though it is the type of game Ward revels in so witnessing another pointless hat trick may be a draw.

Let’s see if Carlos survives the week (likely).