REALITY HITS SKY BLUES
High-flying Walsall put an end to Coventry’s wonderful start
HUGE downpours followed this sunny scorcher – so it was appropriate Coventry boss Tony Mowbray spoke of dampened expectations after being toppled off the League One summit.
Dean Smith’s soaring Saddlers deservedly ended the Sky Blues’ 100 per cent start to the campaign in this tasty early-season top-of-thetable derby.
And Mowbray admitted defeat might have been a handy reality check for his side after more than 2,000 travelling fans made the short journey in expectation of a fourth straight win.
Mowbray said: “We showed some fighting qualities, pulled a goal back and were pushing strong at the end to try to get an equaliser but it wasn’t to be.
“But that’s ok, you are going to lose matches in a season and to have started with three victories, we’d have taken that before we kicked a ball.
“It’s been hard on all the teams because of the programme at the start of the season. It’s time to take a big gulp of air and hopefully we’ll find the quality again over the next few weeks.
“We’re a bit off where we need to be yet and we need to dampen the expectation a little bit – as you could see, we lose one key player and the squad is a little bit thin.”
That ‘key player’ was early injury
victim James Maddison and, the odd occasion apart, City struggled to carve out chances without him.
Mowbray added: “Maddison going off took a little bit of that fluency away from us because he’s been very good the first three or four games of the season.
“I think he would have helped us but Walsall gave us some problems that we didn’t really find the answer to.”
In a game billed as a shoot-out between two of the league’s in-form strikers, Walsall’s Tom Bradshaw and City’s Newcastle loanee Adam Armstrong, defences were surprisingly on top in a tight first-half.
Coventry had the first chance as Maddison’s replacement Jacob Murphy, on loan from Norwich, was denied by a wonderful fingertip save from Saddlers ‘keeper Neil Etheridge.
Walsall winger Milan Lalkovic had a strike from the acutest of angles cleared off the line at the other end by Jordan Willis but it took until the 40th minute for the deadlock to be broken.
It was a wonderful goal too as a multi-man move ended with Sam Mantom threading Anthony Forde through for the wide man to coolly fire past Ryan Burge. A thrilling second half was far more open and Bradshaw bagged his fifth goal in five games, hooking home from ten yards after Burge parried from Lalkovic.
Immediately, Armstrong lashed a 30-yard free-kick against the bar and Murphy pulled one back with a stunning strike into the top corner from 25 yards.
But those were rare moments of quality for City and Walsall should have won by more, full-back Andy Taylor shaving the post from distance and Kieron Morris poking wide after a fabulous solo run.
However, a Walsall defence excellently marshalled by James O’Connor and Paul Downing comfortably held out.
And it all left Saddlers boss Dean Smith positively buoyed after seeing his unbeaten troops climb to second in the table.
Smith said: “Our aim is to win the league – that is our aim at the start of every season.
“It was a big win but we know how early it is in the season. All it does is give us a lot of confidence and belief going into our next games.
“There were a lot of really good performances out there.We were so good on the ball at times.
“Our defence had to be at it because Coventry had some really good players but we kept Adam Armstrong quiet for the most part.
“Sometimes you have to hold your hand up and their goal was a wonderful strike but our reaction to it was really pleasing because we just got back on the ball and passed it again.”
Tom Bradshaw of Walsall went close several times before scoring
Tom Bradshaw celebrates after putting Walsall 2-0 up & Jacob Murphy (R) celebrates his first goal for Coventry STAR MAN JAMES O’CONN