By Gerry Prewett.
Having found the net in an impressive 3-0 defeat of Cheltenham Town in mid-week, Bristol Rovers travel up the M5 to take on Coventry City at Birmingham City’s, St Andrews. Having not been able to negotiate favourable terms with their landlords the Sky Blues once again relocated their home venue.
The front pairing of Tyler Smith and Jonson Clarke-Harris was certainly effective in the mid-week game and there is no doubt that they will cause headaches for many Division One defences this season. Whilst Rovers were deposing of Cheltenham, Coventry put in an equally notable performance to end Exeter City’s Cup dreams.
The Sky Blues got off to a dream start at St Andrew's when Jordy Hiwula gave them the lead in the second minute. The forward showed great composure to curl a first-time shot past Jonny Maxted and into the bottom corner after a brilliant bursting run from Fankaty Dabo.
Coventry doubled their lead in the 23rd minute when Zain Westbrooke's free-kick was met by Matt Godden at the near post and the striker glanced a header past Maxted and into the net.
The third goal came five minutes later. Godden burst down the right and crossed towards Westbrooke, who failed to make a clean connection but his shot fell kindly for Hiwula to squeeze the ball in from a tight angle. 3-0 before half-time and effectively game over.
Exeter got one back in the 81st minute after Pierce Sweeney met an inswinging free-kick from Jack Sparkes, glancing his header over the onrushing Ben Wilson and into an empty net.
But Coventry were not finished as in the 88th minute Amadou Bakayoko's diving header made it 4-1.
Mark Robins spoke after the game, saying, “I thought the first half was really good. We started off brightly and deservedly took the lead early on. I thought the finish from Jordy (Hiwula) is the one that I’ve been looking from him for a while, because he didn’t need to take a touch, he just hit it first time and struck it really well into the far corner which gave us that bit of a confidence boost just at the start of the game.”
“We seemed to grow in confidence and we got a real foothold in it and went two up. Another really good goal and then we got the third one. All the goals were well worked and with Jordy getting two, that was a really good start. Matty Godden’s header from the free-kick was a really good header and again, from a set-play at the end to round it off, 4-1.”
“The only disappointment for me was the goal. We didn’t want to concede a goal and to concede like that was poor but, all in all, I’m pleased because we haven’t been into the second round a lot in the last few years. I think confidence will certainly grow from the result, as four goals is brilliant. I think the performance on the back of it was really good, too.”
“For me, the important thing is to come through unscathed as well as going through and we’ve played well. We actually played really well in the first-half. Going into Saturday that’s going to be important as we come up against a strong side in Bristol Rovers.”
It’s an indication of the respective recent histories of the two clubs that there had been a hiatus of 52 years in competitive games, between 1964 and 2016 and if statistics that old mean anything at all, the teams are well-matched, in 43 games, there have been 17 Rovers wins, 16 to Coventry and 10 draws.
The very first game took place at Eastville on 10 October 1908 and Coventry went away with a 3-1 Southern League win, the return game on 13 February 1909 ended up 2-2. Most of the Southern League fixtures were close results with the exception of a 4-0 home win for the Midlanders on 4 March 1911.
The first League meeting took place on 18 December 1926 as Rovers went down 2-1 at Eastville, Bill Culley scoring for Rovers and a Jimmy Heathcote double for the away team. The return fixture ended up 2-2, Fred Herbert hitting the net twice for the home team and Tom Williams and Ernie Whatmore scoring for Rovers.
Prior to the 2016-17 meetings last time the club’s clashed was back in the 1963-64 season as the Sky Blues embarked on their run under Jimmy Hill to the First Division. That season Hill’s team did the League double over Rovers but in the only ever Cup tie between the teams Rovers ran out 2-1 winners at Highfield Road.
Last season’s visit to Coventry was a real war of attrition for Rovers midfield and defence with Jack Bonham making a string of saves to thwart the Sky Blues but the Gas had chances to snatch the points late on. Liam Sercombe and Tom Nichols were both denied by Coventry goalkeeper Lee Burge in a frantic finale.
Bonham denied Liam Kelly in the first half and Luke Thomas, Tom Davies, Jordy Hiwula and Conor Chaplin in the second period.
Sky Blues new signing, from Peterborough, Matt Godden will be looking for more goals after scoring in that mid-week victory over Exeter, “I’m delighted to get my first start for the club and my first goal as well, which is always pleasing. To get into the next round was the objective at the start of the night and that’s what we’ve done.”
“I try and bring a bit of everything to the team and work hard, and I’m delighted with getting on the scoresheet and being heavily involved with the third goal.”
“We can be devastating at times going forward with the pace and the ability we’ve got as a team and the way we pass the ball around we’re going to create a lot of chances. It’s up to the front three/front five, to put the ball in the back of the net. That’s what I’ve come in for, to add competition to the boys that are already here.”
“It’s up to me when I get the start and get the nod from the gaffer that I get my name in his mind for Saturday’s game and upcoming games. It’s good to get on the scoresheet tonight, especially on my full debut and hopefully that’s the first of many.”
Robins said of Godden, “I don’t think he needs to prove anything to me; his record is there for all to see and I also think that he is going to improve. His work rate is there and he gets himself in between the posts, but when he gets the chance you can see that he takes it.”
“He hit the target with a great left-footed strike that came over his shoulder, not many players that we’ve got would have attempted it I don’t think. Hopefully they can see these things and learn from them.”
Speaking about his squad’s fitness before this weekend’s game Robins went on to say, “They’ve all come through OK, nothing that the physio has told me about so hopefully everyone will be available for selection on Saturday.”
“Dom (Hyam) was fine. He needed that game to dust the cobwebs off and I thought it was a good night’s work in the end. I was looking to try and get minutes in the player’s legs; I was trying to give people an opportunity and obviously go through. We’ve managed to get all of those things."