Plastic Candy Sticks
Coventry United 0-5 Sunderland (Women’s Championship)
It’s just gone 7am Sunday morning and the wife’s waking me up to go on a dog walk. As I blurry eyed check my phone for the time an email comes through which asks me to attend a football game today, in Coventry, at 2pm.
It was all a mad rush following the Leicester game yesterday, to find a Christmas tree before closing time at B&Q. I finally relax in front of the box as Argentina beat Australia in the World Cup and Tyson Fury beats Derek Chisora in the boxing. I end up going over Basford United U18’s midweek National Cup exit to Kidderminster Harriers with the lad well past midnight, the video on his phone streamed on the big TV, watching intensely the re-run despite the odd buffer and some amateur camera work, sipping whiskey and Madri analysing every miss placed pass.
It's 9am, we meet up with some friends in Radcliffe-on-Trent and discuss the form of Notts County who won on Saturday at Scunthorpe and England, who are playing later today against Senegal, as our dogs run around an enclosed field in the cold. I’m back for eleven but the Mrs heads out, she’s after some more decorations as the tree still looks bare, I’m outside putting plastic candy sticks into the ground before cooking a quick bacon cob and venturing away at midday to watch Coventry United against Sunderland Ladies in the Barclays Women’s Championship.
Coventry are bottom and like Leicester who I watched the day before, are without a point having conceded 32 goals from nine games, they are facing Sunderland, a position above them in the table with just four points themselves, it already looks like a six pointer so soon in the season.
I know little about either team, Sunderland of course have incredible pedigree (although not so of recent years) in the men’s game, but I’m unfamiliar with how the opposite sex has fared since establishment in 1989. Coventry United I read up were only formed in 2013 as a semi-Phoenix after Coventry City were kicked out of the Ricoh Arena and forced to play in Northampton. The women’s team were formed in 2015 and have climbed up the pyramid in super quick time towards the second tier of English football.
It’s an hour door to door so needing to be at venue for 1pm, I’m gone by midday, down the A46 towards Leicester and shortly on the M1 coming off at the M69 before hitting the Coventry Eastern Bypass.
It’s all changed since I’ve last been here, I take a wrong turning off the Stivichall Interchange and head up Leaf Lane north towards Coventry city centre, the inner ring road is a nightmare as my sat nav fails to pick up the underpasses and overpasses, eventually I’m on a roadwork covered Butts Road driving completely past the ground until backing up on myself and noticing the venues car park only when I’m pulled up at an Esso Garage which is exactly opposite where I need to be.
There’s plenty of space in the car park but it’s a whopping £5 charge today. I begrudgingly chuck my pounds in the meter and stick the ticket on my dashboard then head up to the turnstile where I’m ripped off some more, £10 entrance cash, or I can purchase a ticket online for slightly less.
I ask the turnstile operator ‘Is it for your Xmas fund’? as I walk through, asking ‘where can I get a coffee’ I’m directed beneath the main stand through a corridor past the gents.
Butts Park Arena is a modern stadium opened in 2004, it has just one large blue and white seated stand, impressive looking, you feel they started to build the venue with best intentions for something spectacular but ran out of money to finish the rest.
As I walk into the clubhouse and await the man behind the counter to pour me a coffee, I can’t help noticing the pictures of England international rugby players on the walls, the unobvious home of Coventry Rugby Club they have had several internationals of years past, one of which Danny Grewcock, I remember from his days of playing for the British & Irish Lions.
Out of the dark and gloomy lit clubhouse and into the open air of equally dim Sunday afternoon in December, Americano in hand, laptop bag over shoulder, I head up for the media tables at the back of the stand, to fill in some paperwork and check the two teams for the day.
As I’m handed a teamsheet, perched from my position high above, you can look down on the artificial surface, feint markings of a football pitch with predominant rugby markings painted in white, the view is most unspectacular beneath the cloud, a raised train line to the left with the odd passing double carriage heading in and out of Coventry station, a huge block of flats to the right with a solitary England flag tied to ones balcony, I can however keep an eye on my motor down below, safely sat alone fully paid for in the car park.
As the teams come out there’s a quirky dressed long haired bloke on the tannoy crying to the crowd ‘give us a shout if you’re from Sunderland’… and ‘make some noise if you love Coventry’ he’s trying to rally the 200 strong support base into frenzy but as the game kicks off, one way traffic results in an opening goal for Sunderland and sighs already from the home side spectators, of ‘oh no not again’.
The opener is soft, a free kick played into the box prodded home by Emily Scarr with just two minutes on the clock before an injury to Brianna Westrup holds up play for several minutes as she’s replaced by Abbie Joice.
Not to be deterred from their positive attacking start, Scarr then makes it two for Sunderland with just thirteen played, cutting in on her right foot and letting leash from range into the bottom corner, it looks like it’ll be a long afternoon for Coventry.
I want to feel that Coventry aren’t as bad as the score line suggests, their goalkeeper however struggles to kick the ball to the centre circle which is a concern considering their national league second tier status, Mia Smith does make a couple of good saves as her goal is peppered quite often, the home side have moments themselves, but lack the cutting edge up top, they lack a decent centre half at the back, but right back Esther Morgan looks like she can play higher, on loan from Tottenham she runs through opponents and is a solid competitor who links well at times with number eight, Mary McAteer.
Sunderland themselves have one significant difference in armour, Emily Scarr is clinical in attack, she’s sent through by Abby Holmes who carries the ball forward before slotting in the striker, for a hat-trick, the third player I’m told to score a first half treble v Coventry this season.
At half time the tannoy guy is at it again, some local school kids are taking penalties on the pitch as he describes every softly hit spot kick which fails to reach the line as a 'Panenka'... His choice of music is good, indie rock, but you sense he wants to go more down the heavy metal route, he's had to dilute his play list to accommodate the young and predominantly female clientele.
Coventry make four changes at the break but within two minutes of the second half Sunderland increase their lead after neat play by Jessica Brown. Emily Scarr then gets her fourth after Tyler Dodds shot cannons back off the crossbar straight to the striker who puts home into corner. The later stages are a procession with much needed minutes given to a couple of Sunderland subs, it's a big but routine win for the away side who'll no doubt fend off any relegation concerns with that one, it's a telling tale for the home team though who's destiny looks obvious, the tannoy guy tells me 'I had Mike and the Mechanics ready if we'd won, but I'm left with playing Taylor Swift' I tell him "you'll probably need a decent playlist of sombre songs for a few more defeats to come".
Emily Scarr impresses in front of goal and shows a predatory unforgiveness like a female Harry Kane. Abbie Joice who comes on in midfield for Sunderland really impresses me with some neat ball play. Abby Holmes and Emma Kelly are solid dependable competitors at the heart of the Kestrels beat.
For Coventry, Esther Morgan as mentioned is a player that didn't deserve to be on the end of a five nil drubbing. Freya Thomas off the bench, wearing number ten shown some neat touches with a bit of guile in the second half, perhaps if the Red and Greens can get the best out of her, they might get a point or three this season?
The gap between second bottom and bottom is probably three or four players, Coventry are a goalkeeper, a centre back, a centre mid and a striker short of being a good side, that can compete at the level.
Luckily Sunderland have those, whilst not being exceptional, they have competent and decent, solid players who are well drilled and good enough to get points off others, along the way, they'll be ok, without setting too many milestones this season, at least they won't go down, but Coventry however, almost certainly will.
Coventry United: Mia Smith, Megan Alexander (Olivia Rabjohn 46), Jodie Bartle, Fran Orthodoxou (Anna Wilcox 46), Mary McAteer, Keeley Davies (Ellie Butler 78), Meesha Dudley-Jones, Katy Morris, Merrick Will, Ebony Wiseman (Simran Jhamat 46), Esther Morgan (Freya Thomas 46).
Sunderland: Claudia Moan, Megan Beer, Grace McCatty, Brianna Westrup (Abbie Joice 7), Abby Holmes, Neve Herron, Danielle Brown, Jess Brown (Nicki Gears 77), Emma Kelly, Tyler Dodds (Holly Manders 77), Emily Scarr.
2pm Kick Off. Sunday 4th December 2022, Butts Park Arena, Coventry (att 227).