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FRAGILE CITY MISS A TRICK; Rally too late after defence treats County to two goals.

Byline: ANDY TURNER

Coventry City.....1 Notts County .....2 NOTTS County took to the field in garish orange and black narrow hoops looking like they had dressed up for an early Hallowe'en party.

Sadly for the home supporters, the Sky Blues had a bit of a nightmare as they gifted the Magpies two goals on a day when they failed to take the chances that came their own way and ended up chasing the game at the death.

Having taken a two-goal lead at Swindon the week before, albeit being pegged back to 2-2, Saturday's clash with promotion pushing County was always going to be a benchmark as to how far City have progressed.

But while there can be no disputing the fact that the confidence and quality has started to steadily return under Mark Robins, there is clearly still plenty of room for improvement particularly, it would seem, at the Ricoh Arena.

The manager kept faith with an unchanged side for the third consecutive match but made the full quota of changes allowed during the course of the second half, and admitted afterwards that it may have been game too far for some of his young charges, who are desperately trying to take on board a lot of information in a relatively short space of time.

Robins has not dramatically changed the style of Coventry's play in terms of wanting them to pass it on the deck in an entertaining way, so the transition from Andy Thorn's tenure shouldn't be too difficult for a group of players suited to that game.

But they have got a habit of making heavy weather of what is a simple philosophy to pass and move the ball forward quickly and effectively which, to be fair, they did on occasions and were unlucky not to take advantage.

Franck Moussa and David McGoldrick, for example, combined brilliantly down the right before feeding Callum Ball who forced Bartosz Bialkowski to parry before John Fleck shanked the rebound wide.

Jordan Clarke then played a neat one-two with James Bailey and sent in a teasing early cross for Ball who slid in but missed by a matter of inches.

But Coventry struggled to get to grips with County's extra man in midfield in the first 45, the visitors setting out with a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation depending on whether they were attacking or defending, and all too often found themselves passing sideways and backwards in a bid to move forwards, much to the frustration of the fans.

Bailey lacked his usual zip, (it was later revealed he was recovering from a stomach bug) and City got a better grip in midfield when Steve Jennings replaced the ineffective Carl Baker, adding some much needed steel and purpose, and making his case for inclusion against Brentford tomorrow after returning from a hip injur y.

But first blood had already been drawn by the time the Scouser took to the field on the hour, City slipping behind to the softest of goals from Andre Boucaud who was given clear sight of the net and far too much time to try his luck from getting on for 30 yards out. On first viewing it looked like Joe Murphy could have done better but Richard Wood - who played with a white Zorro-style mask to protect his bruised cheek and broken nose - insisted it had taken a deflection, an alibi that County manager Keith Curle corroborated in his postmatch analysis.

Replays suggested it was more of a bobble off the pitch, but that doesn't excuse the ball-watching that allowed the Luton loan player to score his first goal of the campaign and set County on course to stretch their unbeaten away record to 14 matches.

Their second goal was a good move from the visitors' perspective but shocking from City's as midfielder Jeff Hughes back-heeled a give-andgo ball from striker Yoann Arquin with Moussa failing to track his runner and Wood admitting his part in the 84th-minute strike that sealed the three points.

"It was a good finish but I gave the ball away and it's just not good enough - overall we didn't deserve to win," said the centre-half who pulled back a goal three minutes later when he got his head on the end of Fleck corner to set up an exciting push for a point in four minutes of added time.

"We played with a tempo and urgency in the last ten minutes but it was too late. In general we just didn't play with a good enough tempo and didn't pass it well enough and that's why we lost."

The returning Cody McDonald, who went on for Bailey midway through the second half, was unlucky not to snatch a late equaliser when he had an effort charged down and, with Ball a little off the pace, Robins must be tempted to start the No.9 alongside McGoldrick for only the second time this season.

Chris Hussey was another who injected a bit of pace and forwardthinking initiative when he went on for Jamie Reckord who has been keeping him out of the side ever since he arrived on loan from Wolves.

While the young left-back has more than held down his place in his seven games to date, proving neat and tidy on the ball and rarely giving it away, he is yet to prove a driving force in the opposition's half.

All of which left Robins with plenty of food for thought as he looks to exorcise the ghosts from this performance and continue his rebuilding job.

THE TEAMS Coventry City (4-4-2): Joe Murphy; Jordan Clarke, Nathan Cameron, Richard Wood, Jamie Reckord (78 mins, Chris Hussey); Carl Baker (61 mins, Steven Jennings), James Bailey (64 mins, Cody McDonald), Franck Moussa, John Fleck; Callum Ball, David McGoldrick. Substitutes not used: Chris Dunn (goalkeeper), William Edjenguele, Cyrus Christie, Stephen Elliott.

NOTTS COUNTY (4-3-3): Bartosz Bialkowski; Gary Liddle, Dean Leacock, Ashley Eastham, Jordan Stewart; Jeff Hughes, Andre Boucaud, Neil Bishop; Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Yoann Arquin, Francois Zoko (78 mins, Lee Hughes). Substitutes not used: Kevin Pilkington (goalkeeper), Alan Sheehan, Enoch Showumni, Gavin Mahon, Hamza Bencherif, Romello Nangle.

CLOCKWATCH 3 min: Arquin heads high over from Campbell-Ryce corner.

4: Fleck shoots low after a clever combination with McGoldrick but Bialkowski blocks with his foot.

18: McGoldrick's header from a Fleck corner is straight at the keeper. 20: Bialkowski gets down well to save Ball's shot after good work by Moussa and McGoldrick and Fleck volleys the rebound wide.

21: Campbell-Ryce drags a low shot past the far post.

27: Campbell-Ryce free-kick is straight at Murphy.

28: McGoldrick shot from Baker's low free-kick is blocked.

31: Ball can't quite get a touch to Bailey's low cross after superb build-up play by Baker and McGoldrick. 35: Murphy blocks at Hughes's feet. 38: Boucard tries his luck from 25 yards and the ball bobbles past Murphy into the corner. 0-1. 39: Bialkowski blocks Moussa shot with his knees.

53: Murphy catches Zoko's 20-yarder. 55: Zoko shoots well wide.

57: McGoldrick hits a free-kick into the wall and Bailey puts the rebound wide. 63: Liddle crosses from the right but Hughes can't control his volley and Murphy parries Zoko's header. 69: Fleck's fierce free-kick blocked by the wall.

85: Jeff Hughes's back-heel gives Arquin the chance for a 20-yard shot that curls past Murphy. 0-2. 87: Wood converts Fleck's corner with a stooping header. 1-2.

DISCIPLINE REFEREE: Phil Gibbs (West Midlands) BOOKINGS: James Bailey (41 mins, foul on Zoko), Nathan Cameron (75 mins, foul on Bialkowski).

MATCH STATS SKY BLUES MAGPIES 6............... Shots on target............7 9............... Shots off target ...........7 7...................... Corners ..................2 2...................... Offside................. 1 11...................... Fouls ..................14 2.................. Yellow cards ..............0 0.................... Red Cards ................0 Attendance: 11,882 (Away 1,356) STAR MAN JOHN FLECK Worked hard and again showed touches of pure quality

CAPTION(S):

PATCHED UP: Richard Wood and John Fleck needed extra protection to turn out for the Sky Blues.

STAND-OFF: Nathan Cameron gets to grips with Francois Zoko.

SUFFERING: Cody McDonald and Jordan Clarke rue a near miss after the Sky Blues had fallen behind to a long-range shot by Andre Boaucaud.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 22, 2012
Words:1359
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