Saturday 9th January 2010

Coventry City 3 Barnsley 1
Coca-Cola Championship
At: Ricoh Arena
Kick-off: 3-00 pm
Admission: £25; Programme: £3
Attendance: 15031
Weather: very cold, clear sky
Duration: first-half: 47:23; second-half: 51:11

I was pleased to find a game that was on, especially at the stadium I hadn’t previously visited!

After days and days of sub-zero temperatures and snow blanketing the whole country, it had become clear by Thursday that the most of today’s professional and non-league programme would be wiped out.

When leagues like the Wessex, Sussex County, Midland Combination and Hellenic called off their entire programme, it fast became clear that my choice would be a League game or an afternoon in front of the TV. Coventry City, with undersoil heating, were very positive about their game going ahead so I decided to book a seat online for collection at the stadium.

By their own admission, Coventry didn’t play well and were fortunate to bag all three points against a decent Barnsley side. The Sky Blues scored twice in three minutes against the run of play just after the midpoint of the first half and secured the win with a late third after Barnsley reduced the deficit soon after the restart.

The M6 was very quiet for a Saturday lunchtime all the way down to junction 3 and the Ricoh Arena, visible from the motorway, was just over a mile south on the A444 towards the city centre – not as close as Bolton but very convenient just the same. I’d printed off a map of ‘park and walk’ stations and opted for Car Park 1 (Christ the King) on Wheelhouse Lane off Winding House Lane, at a cost of £5.

On the way down, it was mentioned on the radio that today was probably the worst Saturday for postponements since 27th January 1995 – I failed to find a match that day by the way.

I found the Ricoh Arena an impressive stadium with a single tier stand of some 48 rows of sky blue seats running round three sides of the ground. The exterior of the west side of the stadium was different with a large exhibition centre and casino. The stand in front, aka main stand or telent Stand, had two tiers with a narrower upper tier, and this side of the ground also featured press facilities and hospitality boxes. One continuous level roof covered all four sides of the Ricoh Arena.

One thing I observed in the corridors underneath the stand was that the refreshment outlets were all cashless. Fans pay with smart cards which can be topped up – I only I’d found out in advance how the system worked then I’d have obtained a card and had my much-desired hot drink. I remember reading that Bayern Munch’s Allianz Arena also uses a similar system.

Just two places and two points separated Coventry (17th with 28 points from 24 games) and Barnsley (15th with 30 points from 22 games) in the Coca-Cola Championship table. The visitors arrived at the Ricoh Arena on the back of an eight-match unbeaten run in the league stretching back to the end of October. Coventry had won three of their last four league games, losing their last league game 2-0 at promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest.

The odd snow flake started to fall around 2-30 pm but didn’t come to anything. Teams were first announced and displayed 16 minutes before kick-off and some pre-match entertainment came in the shape of seven cheerleaders who performed a routine in the centre circle. The announcer also thanks the fans for making the effort through the snow and ice to get to the game.

“Welcome to the Ricoh Arena, home of the Sky Blues,” said the announcer around the time the teams emerged. The reading of each name in the Coventry line-up was greeted with an enthusiastic cheers from the home fans.

Teams turned around after the toss and Coventry got the game underway attacking the end fans housing their fans in the Coventry Evening Telegraph Stand.

Most of the early action was down the end furthest from me in front of the Jewson Stand as Barnsley made the better start. Bobby Hassell’s header forced a save out of Kieran Westwood and Stephen Foster later headed against the bar.

Coventry survived and, from their first corner, Leon Best fired over.

On the back of the programme, I’d noticed as ‘Lucky Kick Challenge No.’ and around the 20-minute mark came the announcement of the five lucky winners. The closest number to mine was 3386 though I felt that the winners would have to do something at half-time to claim a prize. As for what I don’t know and I headed for the warm of the corridors at the interval.

Returning to the action and Coventry took the lead against the run of play in the 24th minute. Stephen Wright crossed deep from the right to the far post where Freddie Eastwood headed home.

The Sky Blues made it 2-0 three minutes later. Michael McIndoe’s corner was headed out to Sammy Clingan volleyed home from 15 yards out.

Barnsley reduced the deficit in the 49th minute as half-time substitute Adam Hamill made an immediate impact. He delivered the cross from the right which unchallenged Jonathan Macken who headed past Westwood at close range.

Three goals and all in the goal nearest to me – good choice of seat!

Hamill and another sub Iain Hulme both went close to netting a Barnsley equaliser.

An injury-time third goal sealed the win for the Sky Blues and lifted them above Barnsley into 14th position. Luke Steele palmed away Clinton Morrison’s initial shot and Morrison headed home when the ball was hooked back into the area.

Game over and the scoreboard encouraged fans to ‘Let’s all sign together’, which quite a few did!

In the end Coventry’s game was one of just nine Premier League and Football League games played over the weekend. Just one non-league game in England went ahead – St Stephens Borough 2 Edgcumbe 3 in the Cornish Guardian East Cornwall League Division One.

Sportbox Stats

BBC Highlights

1-0 Freddie Eastwood (24)
2-0 Sammy Clingan (27)
2-1 Jonathan Macken (49)
3-1 Clinton Morrison (90+2)

Coventry: none
Barnsley: Bobby Hassall (YC, 39), Ryan Shotton (YC, 62), Carl Dickinson (YC, 90+1)