Stoke City 2-3 Coventry City: Two substitute strikes move Sky Blues in touching distance of safety
STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Jacob Brown of Stoke City battles for possession with Leo Ostigard and Liam Kelly of Coventry City during the Sky Bet Championship match between Stoke City and Coventry City at Bet365 Stadium on April 21, 2021 in Stoke on Trent, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Strikes by second-half substitutes Maxime Biamou and Viktor Gyokere helped secure a 3-2 win for Coventry City in what was a thriller at the Bet365 Stadium.

This win could prove to be vital for the Sky Blues as it moves them into 16th place, eight points clear of safety with only three games to go.

In what was a quiet first period, a Tyler Walker strike just before the break handed the visitors the lead.

A well-hit strike just before the hour mark by Jacob Brown levelled up the scores before Biamou restored Mark Robins' side advantage from close range.

The lead did not last for long though as only moments later  Sam Clucas blasted the ball into the net from a tight angle.

However, it was the visitors that did have the final say when a low driven effort from the left by Gyokere arrowed into the bottom corner meaning that safety for Coventry is all but guaranteed.

Story of the game

Going into the game, the Potters made four changes, one of these being Angus Gunn, who came in for regular number one Adam Davies and he was called into action for the first time on eleven minutes when he poked behind a dangerous cross from the left by Sam McCallum.

Two minutes later, the Southampton loanee nearly was the architect of his downfall when he fumbled a  Julien Da Costa cross from the right into the path of Matt Godden and he appeared to bring down the forward, but nothing was given.

The follow up then fell to Gustavo Hamer, but his first-time shot was blocked away to safety. 

Robins’ side then started to get a grip on the game and Gunn was forced into a smart save as he did well to come across and tip over a whipped Hamer free-kick from the left.

A few minutes later the hosts carved their first opening of the game when Tommy Smith found room down the right and delivered in a pacy low cross that narrowly evaded the advancing Brown at the back post.

That moment seemed to spur Michael O'Neill's side on as debutant Connor Taylor, who was substituted on for the injured James Chester, was so close to grabbing his first goal for the club,

However, Ben Wilson did brilliantly well to claw the youngster's powerful header from point-blank range away after he got on to the end of Nick Powell's nod on.

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Then really out of nothing, a minute before the break, the Sky Blues broke the deadlock when on the counter-attack Callum O'Hare fed Walker inside the area who had the ability to strike the ball first time past the diving Gunn.

At the interval, with O'Neill clearly not happy with the first-half display, he made a double change with Steven Fletcher and Jon Obi Mikel coming on to the field and it was the Scotsman that nearly had an immediate impact.

Inside two minutes of the second period, he latched on to a long ball, but when through on goal, he took one touch too many as the ball ended up dribbling out of play.

With the introduction of Fletcher, Stoke did look much more likely when going forward and the striker did have another chance six minutes later when he was found by a Smith cutback, but on the stretch, his effort was deflected behind.

Then not long before the hour mark after a much-improved display, the Potters did get the equaliser they were searching for through an excellent Brown strike.

The forward capitalised on to the fact that Hamer failed to clear his lines and his first-time strike from the edge of the area arrowed into the top corner leaving Wilson with no chance.

After the equaliser, the away did respond well and should have regained their lead when Hamer found Walker in behind the Potters defence but his volley was parried away down low by Gunn, when maybe the better option was to square the ball to Godden.

A minute later Hamer this time fancied his chances but his driven effort was straight at Gunn.

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The game really did start to burst into life as on the 66th-minute mark Stoke went up the other end with Powell who found Fletcher inside the area, but again he failed to find the target as his header clipped the crossbar.

Two minutes later the Sky Blues did find the goal that they really deserved, but O'Neill will have been extremely disappointed of how his side conceded it.

A long throw from the left was flicked on by Leo Skiri Østigård and substitute Biamou was allowed to wander over to the back post and unmarked he had the simple task of tapping the ball home.

This advantage did not last long though as the home side equalised for a second time and it was through another wonderful strike.

A cross from the right by Smith came all the way out to Clucas, who on the half volley, smashed the ball into the top left-hand corner to send the game level once again.

Six minutes later Coventry had another penalty claim turned down when O'Hare went on a mazy run and thought he was felled by Danny Batth, but like in the first half, the referee instantly waved the shouts away.

It seemed to not matter though as Robins’ side went ahead once again a couple of minutes later and it came by the hands of another substitute.

Gyokere, who had only been on the pitch for 12 minutes, was handed space on the left-hand side and his low effort whizzed past both Taylor and Gunn and into the bottom right-hand corner.

With time running out and Stoke looking for a late point, Fletcher thought he scored with four minutes to go when he was found at the back post from a Rhys Norrington-Davies free-kick, but his header from close range was excellently parried away by Wilson.

The hosts did push men forward in stoppage time as they looked to salvage a point but brave and resilient defending from Robins’ outfit saw them over the line in what proved to be a crazy evening in Staffordshire.

Successful season back in the Championship for Sky Blues

With this victory moving Coventry eight points clear of the relegation zone, it makes it very unlikely that they will make the immediate drop back down to League One this season.

Due to this being the case, it must be seen as a great achievement by Robins from the Sky Blues board as at the start of the campaign they were seen as one of the favourites to finish in the bottom three.

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However, the fact that it is likely that they have managed to earn survival is something that Robin’s must be given huge credit for and it arguably allows there to be a foundation to build on going forward for them to try to re-establish themselves as regular members of the Championship.

From tonight’s performance alone, it can be seen to why they will end up achieving survival for another season as at a place which is tough to come, Coventry showed bravery and imagination and they did not let the equalisers get them down.

They just kept coming back for more and that is what eventually earned them a valuable three points.

Need to end Potters bad form to end season on positive note

While this proved to be a huge result for Coventry, for Stoke it extended their winless run to four games with their last victory on the road to Bristol City at the start of the month.

Since then the Potters have only managed to pick up one point and in what has been an improved season compared to the last two, O’Neill will want to make sure that they pick up a couple of positive results in the last three games to end a decent campaign on a high.

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If they fail to do this and they slip further down the table, the impressive work on the field that was present at the start of the season could have been forgotten about and it could go on to be viewed as another disappointing season for Stoke.

Star Player- Gustavo Hamer

The 23-year old, who joined the Sky Blues in the summer from PEC Zwolle, looked very comfortable in midfield tonight and alongside O’Hare, he was always looking forward to bring the attackers into the game with his forward-thinking runs which consequently created space in wide areas.

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The midfielder was not afraid to have a go from range either as the confidence that he obtains in possession was clearly showcased at the Bet365 Stadium.

Out of possession Hamer was also brave and was not afraid to close down the space, especially late on, something which along with the spirit from the rest of the team helped Coventry seal the three points.