The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Lee Cor­den

COVEN­TRY City leapfrogged Gilling­ham into the top spot in League One af­ter a stun­ning fin­ish to the first half.

Tony Mow­bray’s side started the game be­hind the Gills in the ta­ble but by the time ref­eree Mark Brown had blown for half-time, there was no ques­tion that City would be sit­ting pretty come 5pm.

And how pretty they were to watch once again.

They dom­i­nated the open­ing pe­riod and, iron­i­cally, took the lead im­me­di­ately af­ter Gilling­ham’s only ef­fort on tar­get in the first half. Cody McDon­ald saw his header cleared off the line and City broke to open the scor­ing through Ja­cob Mur­phy in the 34th minute.

The on-loan Nor­wich man added his sec­ond and third in a blis­ter­ing spell that also saw Ben Turner – in his first game since re­turn­ing to Coven­try on-loan from Cardiff – header home.

The visi­tors were left shell­shocked at the break while Mow­bray ad­mit­ted he had to keep his play­ers calm in or­der to make sure they got the job done. It meant the sec­ond half was a lit­tle less easy on the eye and Gilling­ham man­aged to re­store some pride as Bradley Dack cracked in a consola- tion.

De­spite the re­sult and the po­si­tion at the sum­mit of the ta­ble, Mow­bray is de­ter­mined to keep his play­ers’ feet on the ground.

“I was top of the ta­ble at Mid­dles­brough on New Year’s Day two years on the bounce and fin­ished out­side the play-offs,” he re­minded them.

“It’s a long, long sea­son. Let’s not get car­ried away, let’s keep­ing work­ing hard in train­ing.

“We’ll leave no stone un­turned about the next game and that’s com­ing very quickly.

“I was pleased with the in­ten­sity and the con­cen­tra­tion lev­els of the team. Let’s not kid our­selves, Gilling­ham are a top team. Af­ter 17 games, they’d done two points per game and were top of the ta­ble and my job was to try and in­spire our play­ers and get them in the right frame of mind.

“Ob­vi­ously we do the tac­ti­cal stuff and work on team but I thought when they left the dress­ing room be­fore kick-off, they were ready for a proper foot­ball match and that proved to be the case.”

They were more than ready. John Fleck, Ryan Kent and Mur­phy all had chances as Coven­try pro­duced wave af­ter wave of at­tacks.

Gilling­ham fi­nally found respite

just af­ter the half-hour mark when Dack de­liv­ered a cor­ner which McDon­ald headed goal­wards only for Jim O’Brien to head clear.

Coven­try had left three men for­ward and they broke – at pace. They were helped by an er­ror by Ad­edeji Oshi­laja whose un­der-hit back-pass be­came a per­fect through ball for Mur­phy who kept his com­po­sure, rounded the keeper and fin­ished.

Gilling­ham were stunned and Mur­phy again led the charge with a speedy run to win his team a cor­ner in the 36th minute. Kent de­liv­ered and Turner used his strength to get to the ball first and header home.

Just four min­utes later and Mur­phy was clean through again – this time set free by O’Brien – and the out­come was ex­actly the same as he cruised past Stu­art Nel­son and fired into the empty net.

There was no let-up as this time Chris Stokes turned provider as his low cross from the left was helped into the net by the un­stop­pable Mur­phy. The Ri­coh crowd – the big­gest of the sea­son – could barely be­lieve what they were see­ing.

The half-time whis­tle gave Gilling­ham the chance to re­group and they did man­age to steady the ship in the sec­ond pe­riod even though the dam­age had been done.

Coven­try were con­tent that the three points were in the bag and even Dack’s 63rd-minute goal from the edge of the box never looked like chang­ing that.

Gills man­ager Justin Ed­in­burgh said: “It was a mad 12 min­utes in the first half – we had been com­fort­able up un­til that point. We had al­lowed Coven­try to have the ball but they weren’t hurt­ing us at that stage.

“We got one cleared off the line and then they go down the other end and score the open­ing goal.The mis­take in the build-up cost us that goal and that really de­flated us.

“Some­thing we have to learn very quickly is to stay in the game when we have con­ceded a goal.”

PIC­TURES: Will Kilpatrick

TRE­BLE-SHOOTER: Ja­cob Mur­phy slots in the first of his three goals for Coven­try. In­sets: Mur­phy makes it two, top, and earns the match ball

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