Crewe Alexandra suffered their second away defeat but certainly pushed the current League One leaders all the way in an entertaining encounter at the Ricoh Arena.
The Railwaymen worked their socks off to remain in a game that looked to be slipping away from us, twice coming from behind thanks to a wonderful goal from Brad Inman and a tidy finish from Marcus Haber in the second half.
Crewe had to dig in defensively at times and it took a half volley from Jim O’Brien to put the Sky Blues ahead for a third time on the night with seven minutes remaining.
The Railwaymen were left aggrieved by the Sky Blues’ opening goal as a poorly positioned referee blocked Brad Inman off at a corner to allow John Fleck a free run at the loose ball before Inman produced a moment of brilliance to draw us level.
The Sky Blues re-took the lead on 51 minutes through the impressive Adam Armstrong but a really spirited Crewe hit back just two minutes later with Haber collecting a cross from David Fox to dispatch past Lee Burge. It was Coventry’s turn to complain to the officials as they felt Haber had wandered into an offside position.
It took another shot from Jim O’Brien to seal the points in the final ten minutes of a high tempo game.
Ryan Colclough came into the Crewe Alexandra starting line-up for the first time this season. The wide man, who has been used as an impact substitute in our first three games, was Steve Davis’ only change to the side that lost at Scunthorpe United at the weekend with the club’s Finnish forward Lauri Dalla Valle dropping down the substitutes’ bench.
There was an unfortunate 15 minute kick off delay at the Ricoh Arena due to crowd congestion outside of the Stadium. Coventry City’s first opportunity to strike at Ben Garratt’s goal came after nine minutes after the Alex captain David Fox had been adjudged to have tripped James Maddison 20 yards out. The impressive youngster picked himself up to execute the set piece himself, but he could only bend it over our crossbar.
A couple of minutes later, the lively Adam Armstrong bundled his way past a couple of Crewe interceptions but from a tightening angle could only screw his low shot wide of Garratt’s far post. George Ray was also forced to block a shot on the run from midfielder Ruben Lamerias. From the resultant 14th minute corner, the Sky Blues took the lead but Crewe were left to feel almighty annoyed by the part referee Tim Robinson played in it.
Maddison’s corner was headed out to the edge of the box by Jon Guthrie but as Brad Inman went to apply pressure on the ball his path was blocked off by the official. Inman was forced to go around the bad positioned referee and couldn’t get there and John Fleck had a free passage to run onto the loose ball and strike forcefully past Garratt. The Crewe players, led by captain Fox quite understandably made their feelings known.
There was a touching moment from both sets of supporters as a minute’s applause occurred to remember the sad passing of the teenage Coventry supporter Jayden Parsons. The Alex fans showed their class by holding up the banner inscribed with RIP Jayden in the away section.
A Coventry side brimming with confidence then saw Maddison and Fleck try their luck from distance before the lively Armstrong was tripped right on the edge of the penalty area by Ray. Maddison dragged his shot wide of the post following a short free-kick.
After the pure frustration of conceding a controversial goal, Crewe did begin to muster some attacks of our own. Some good approach play from Colclough off the right flank, created a half chance for Billy Bingham and his low shot from 25 yards was a yard wide of Lee Burge’s post.
Garratt was then forced to push away an ambitious effort from Jim O’Brien as the Alex fought hard to keep a foothold in the game. Maddison, who was picking up dangerous positions in the pockets in between our defence and midfield shot just over the crossbar.
Although the Railwaymen had spent much of their time defending, a moment of magic from Inman just after the half an hour mark drew us level. Inman, who seems to thrive at the Ricoh Arena, showed a deft touch before curling an unstoppable shot past a stunned Burge from the left hand corner of the 18 yard box. It was a goal of the highest quality with the ball dipping over the Sky Blues goalkeeper.
Almost immediately though, Garratt was called into swift action again as O’Brien struck a great effort from 30 yards himself, but the Alex goalkeeper adjusted his feet to tip it round for a corner. Turton also got a toe to a shot from Armstrong that was probably always rising over the crossbar.
With five minutes of the first half remaining, Lamerias shot inches wide after he evaded a couple of challenges inside the box and the first half ended with danger man Maddison clipping a shot just past the far post.
Crewe started the second half with a scare made of our own making. We surrendered possession far too easily from our own thrown in deep in the left hand channel and the grateful Armstrong quickly fed O’Brien, who really should have hit the target.
Barely 60 seconds later, the Sky Blues did take the lead on 51 minutes following a solo run and finish from Armstrong. He glided into the Crewe penalty and dispatched confidently past a helpless Garratt. It was the on-loan striker’s 5th goal of the season.
A spirited Crewe hit back just two minutes later though and this time it was Coventry’s turn to question the decision to allow the goal to stand. Fox clipped superb ball into target man Marcus Haber and the big Canadian brought it down on his chest before placing it past Burge. The Coventry back line protested that Haber had received the ball in an offside position.
Colclough then demonstrated his skill with a tidy turn on the edge of the box and the Academy graduate forced a fine tip over from Burge. Colclough had certainly caught it sweet.
Maddison and Armstrong continued to cause anxiety in the Crewe back line and Guthrie had to produce a timely sliding tackle to prevent the on-loan Newcastle star from grabbing his second goal of the evening.
Coventry made their first change of the night on the half mark with Lameiras making way for Jacob Murphy.
Inman nicked possession from Chris Stokes after Haber had fought Reda Johnson in an aerial battle but he just couldn’t return the ball to the Canada International and Johnson retreated to clear. Colclough then tried to wriggle his way past three defenders but was just crowded out before he could get a decisive shot off. He had another forceful run that saw him drift past defenders before his shot was blocked.
On 66 minutes, Garratt produced a stunning save to deny Armstrong from inside the six yard box. Nugent flew in with the teenage striker to put him off as he reached Murphy’s low cross first but Garratt somehow got enough on it to deflect it back against the forward and win us a goal kick into the bargain as well!
Steve Davis introduced Dalla Valle on 73 minutes for the hard working Colclough. That was soon followed by a double substitution with the fresh legs of Cooper and Atkinson for the tiring Haber and King.
Ray made a splendid block to deny our former loanee Stokes from making 3-2 after his forceful run into our box. Garratt was also brave to halt a run from Murphy. Armstrong also curled one into Garratt’s mid-drift.
At the other end of the pitch, a low free-kick from Cooper only needed a decisive touch inside a crowded box, before the Sky Blues took the lead for a third time. With Crewe unable to get out and pressurise the ball, Jim O’Brien struck a half volley from the edge of the box and the bounce took it past Garratt with seven minutes left on the clock.
Crewe pressed looking to force home a third equaliser on the night but that genuine chance never really fell in the closing stages.
Crewe: Garratt, Turton, Ray, Nugent, Guthrie, Fox (c), King (Atkinson, 83), Bingham, Inman, Haber (Cooper, 78), Colclough (Dalla Valle, 74)
Unused Subs: Richards, Saunders, Baillie, Wintle