The mood is changing in NR1. It was evident from the moment On The Ball City was sung louder and prouder than it has been for quite some time. A whiff of optimism has returned.
Buoyed by the support, City sprung onto the front foot from the off. When the attack broke down with an over-ambitious back heel, Coventry struck back, only for City to deliver a long ball behind the Coventry defence for Josh Sargent to chase – regrettably slightly too long for him.
A penetrating Borja Sainz run led to a Christian Fassnacht shot straight at keeper Collins, before Ben Gibson repeated the long ball to Sargent. This time the American was on the end of it but the angle forced him wide and he could only win a corner.
For 15 minutes, City bossed the show, restricting the visitors to occasional half-breaks. Finally, Coventry managed a short period of sustained possession, but City dropped deep, took a breather and stifled and threat on their goal.
Five minutes later, it was City back in possession again as the game entered a temporary lull from the frenetic earlier pace.
A poor ball by Shane Duffy played Marcelino Nunez into trouble and he was forced to take a yellow card for the team to prevent Sakamoto from getting a run on the defence.
Then Angus Gunn played a ball to Sakamoto, but the midfielder could only return the compliment with a cross gratefully grasped by the City keeper.
City then began to turn the screw once again. A slick move down the right ended with a Gabriel Sara shot straight at the keeper. Then a move down the left, a Fassnacht through ball and another corner for City.
Another quick move saw Liam Kitching pile through the back of Sargent, earning him a yellow card.
There was then a cameo between Sainz and Sakamoto, the Spaniard showing his grit and determination to win the ball, and then barging Sakamoto over, before apologizing for his misdemeanour. Sainz seems to be relishing the physicality of the Championship and appears to be much more in control of his emotions since his red card at West Brom.
Gunn was called into meaningful action in the 38th minute. An ill-judged Sara back heel gave Haji Wright a run on goal and Gunn saved well at his near post.
At halftime, City had enjoyed nearly 60 per cent of the possession, the only black mark being a failure to really test Collins.
Alas, it was not to continue. City really struggled to get their game going in the opening minutes of the second half. In the opening period, they had won nearly every ball in midfield, but all of a sudden they couldn’t make an impact. Kenny McLean gave the ball away leading to a van Ewijk cross that beat everyone.
From the throw, Duffy lobbed an awful ball to McLean who could not get any power on his header to clear the ball. Callum O’Hare got into the box, evaded the challenges and fired the visitors ahead.
It was nearly two. Sakamoto had a shot blocked before City composed themselves and attacked in numbers. The move broke down and Coventry took a quick free kick and Wright broke the length of the pitch only for Gunn to save his shot with his outstretched boot.
Wagner switched things uncharacteristically early. On 56 minutes Ashley Barnes and Onel Hernandez replaced Nunez and Fassnacht and it only took three minutes to make a difference.
Sara started the ball out of defence with a floated ball to Dimi Giannoulis. The Greek returned the ball and Sara played a give-and-go with Barnes. The Brazilian’s cross from the left was met by Barnes once again but his shot was blocked before Sargent lashed the ball home on the volley.
City then took control. McLean drove out of defence. A quick exchange of passes before Jack Stacey hit a woeful cross straight to the keeper. Then Stacey and Hernandez worked an opportunity well on the right, but the Cuban’s cross evaded everyone.
Coventry broke, but the move was brought to a premature halt by a resolute City backline. Minutes later, City won the ball at the back again. McLean played a lovely through ball to set Sargent through on goal only for Kitching to bring him down from behind again. Referee Ward had little hesitation in producing an uncontested straight red.
Sara stepped up for the free kick, curling a shot over the wall but off the crossbar.
City then camped on the edge of the Coventry box, but with the visitors’ defence well set, they made little progress.
Mark Robins then made changes, bringing on the muscular Palmer who immediately took the game to City, muscling through the defence and bringing another excellent save from Gunn.
City looked slightly unsure for a while, unsettled by the Coventry attacks, but then they started to move the ball quickly again and make the most of their man advantage.
The crowd were urging Hernandez and Stacey forward as City broke down the right, but they checked back and waited for others to join the attack, Hernandez laying it off instead to McLean, who floated a ball across the field to McCallum, who had come on for Giannoulis.
The former Coventry man played the ball inside to Sainz who turned the ball to Barnes. The City substitute then teed the Spaniard up for a delightful curling shot past Collins.
City then played the ball around, teasing Coventry and ensuring that the game lasted with little further incident. Sydney van Hooijdonk came on for the final five minutes to an excellent welcome and got involved straight away, drawing a foul deep in the corner for the final move of the game.
So, eight unbeaten at Carrow Road and one point off the play-offs.
The most notable thing from the game was that almost all of Coventry’s chances were as a result of City giving the ball away, rather than their own creativity. The City midfield seem to understand their roles out of possession better – Nunez battled back superbly at times, and Sainz joined in with relish.
If, as a team, they could reduce the unforced errors, they could really make an impression.
So an impressive result. Another Sainz screamer. Ipswich lose. England win in the Rugby – only the cricketers prevented this from being a perfect Carlsberg day!