Coventry City marked their Championship return with a 2-1 defeat against Bristol City on Saturday afternoon. The season-opening clash was the Sky Blues’ first appearance in the second tier for eight years, and marked a significant milestone in the club’s recent history.
Football – more specifically, the English Football League – has changed markedly since the West Midlands outfit last featured among the top 44 clubs in the country. Defeat at the hands of Dean Holden’s Robins is an unfortunate setback for Mark Robins’ side, but there remain reasons to be optimistic about Coventry’s prospects in the Championship.
Match review: Bristol City 2-1 Coventry City
Bristol City were forced to wait until the 82nd minute to find the golden touch against Championship new boys Coventry. Tomas Kalas, named Bristol City captain just an hour before kick-off, scored the winning goal for the hosts, nodding home Jamie Paterson’s corner from inside the six-yard box.
The hosts also opened the scoring, dampening the Sky Blues’ return to the Championship with a goal within 20 seconds of first whistle. Paterson gave Bristol City the lead for the first time of the afternoon, connecting with Nahki Wells’ low cross at the far post.
City responded brightly, equalising through Matt Godden just after the half-hour mark.
Robins goalkeeper Daniel Bentley made a number of key interventions, particularly in the first half, to prevent the visitors from taking the lead. Bentley’s one-handed save to prevent Leo Ostigard from scoring on his Coventry debut punctuated what was an entertaining first half.
Callum O’Hare and Gustavo Hamer were integral to Coventry’s largely impressive performance, occupying the positions behind lone-forward Godden. Summer arrivals Ben Sheaf, Ryan Giles and Tyler Walker were also handed their league debuts for the Sky Blues.
Robins rued his side’s drab start, telling reporters: "It was a poor start from us after 20 seconds. We ended up out of shape and out of position and I bet they couldn't believe their luck.
"After that we settled down and thought we played some really good stuff. The belief was there, we didn't play with any fear, the goal we scored was good and at 1-1 we had some really good chances.
"There are things to be disappointed with because we've given the point away, they've not really hurt us too much. They have aspirations for promotion and we're looking at it slightly differently. There's enough to take heart from."
Despite falling to defeat in their first Championship fixture since 2012, there are three clear reasons why City fans should remain optimistic about the Sky Blues’ fortunes.
Matt Godden’s goal-scoring run has continued
Since leaving Scunthorpe United at the end of his contract in 2014, Godden forced his way back into the Football League via a spell with Ebbsfleet United in steps one and two of the non-league pyramid.
Two seasons with Stevenage prepared the Kent native for his first major opportunity in League One, where he scored 14 goals in 38 appearances for Peterborough United. The former Brigg Town loanee arrived in Coventry at the start of last season, making an immediate impact by leading the Sky Blues to the league title.
Despite upholding a fine goal-scoring record since 2015/16, Godden is relatively untested in the Championship. The 29-year-old made just five appearances in the second tier for Scunthorpe, leading some to question whether Godden has the credentials to remain as City’s first-choice centre forward.
By scoring on the opening day of the season, Godden has made progress in silencing his doubters. With Walker providing fierce competition for a place in the Sky Blues’ starting line-up, Robins has a wealth of striking talent at his disposal. Coventry should have enough firepower to make an impact in the Championship.
Callum O’Hare is ready for the Championship
O’Hare made his switch to Coventry permanent in the summer, leaving Aston Villa at the end of his contract. A classic attacking midfielder, O’Hare was an integral part of the squad that guided Coventry to the League One title, contributing four goals and seven assists in 40 appearances for the club.
Following his unveiling as a City player in July, Robins revealed that O’Hare had been one of the Sky Blues’ main targets, adding: “We know what great attributes Callum has and the quality he can bring to the side, as he showed in his contribution to our League One winning campaign.
"He is a popular member of the squad, and I know fans will welcome his arrival.”
O’Hare bagged an assist on his Championship debut and was lively throughout Coventry’s trip to Ashton Gate. The 22-year-old midfielder has his best years ahead of him, is committed to Robins’ project and looks at home in the second tier.
If the former Villa youngster remains injury-free, O’Hare has the potential to become one of the Championship’s best young playmakers.
First impressions count - Robins’ system should work
Coventry were promoted to the Championship on a tidal wave of tactical innovation and intrigue. City’s unique 3-6-1 formation shot to fame last season, and it is already clear that Robins intends to persist with the tactic that helped Coventry earn promotion.
Despite falling to defeat on the opening day of the season, the West Midlands side impressed against Bristol City. The visitors out-shot and out-passed their hosts, despite many tipping Holden’s side to be in the ascendancy.
Simply put, City showed enough during their first outing in the Championship to indicate that Robins’ style of play should work once again.
After his side’s defeat against Bristol City, Robins said: “In fairness, we tried to get after them as quickly as we possibly could do and made bad errors of judgement that meant we were out of shape and position, and it was easy for them to put the ball in behind.
“The belief was there and we didn’t play with any great fear. Some of the football we played was really good and the goal we scored was a good one, and I thought we thoroughly deserved it. And at 1-1 we had some really good chances and passed the ball really well.”
The Sky Blues face Gillingham in the second round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday 15 September, before hosting QPR at St. Andrew’s less than 72 hours later.
Despite falling to defeat on the first day of the new campaign, City fans should take comfort from the quality of their side’s performance. Coventry won’t be pointless for long.