COVENTRY CITY 2-0 SUNDERLAND BY KEV MONKS
At 5.35pm on a warm August Saturday evening,the whistle was blown and another term started at Highfield Road and by the end of the game,City were top of the league.
It is a term unlike any other, in fact it's an end of an era according to shirts donned by the players and many in the crowd,myself included.
This season looks likely to be the last at Highfield Road that the first team will play there. (I'm still holding out that the club will use the ground as a training ground and venue for reserve/youth/ladies matches when the owner who capitalised on another Bryan Richardson knock down sale decides to build on the Ryton training ground next year).
But the end of an era is not confined to just to an historic ground which is more a part of Coventry than say that ridiculous arch next to Pool Meadow bus station, it could be the end of an era for the Mike McGinnity regime.
After replacing Eric Black and bringing in Peter Reid, Mike McGinnity along with the faganesque Graham Hover and current MP for Coventry North West Geoffrey Robinson, who might own the majority of the shares but is no stranger to scandal, took much flak and offered to resign if the club were not in the top six at the end of the season.
A double edged sword if ever there was one, whereby failure on the field could be seen by some as success off it.
I have to admit an admiration for Peter Reid for taking on the job, knowing full well that he is working for a sack happy Chairman and has little or no money at his disposal to get in the players he would have liked.
Reid and his assistant Adrian Heath, whom I found approachable and friendly during the pre-season tour of Germany,started with a side that included new boys Louis Carey,Stephen Hughes and Eddy Johnson.
Against his former side Sunderland and at home in front of the Sky cameras, you would have thought that Reid would have gone for a more attacking formation than just playing Gary McSheffrey up front on his own.
Now, apologies if I have made mistakes in this match report. I tried to comprehend what MC Stuart Linnell was saying and could not get the team line-ups properly,something I had no problem with in Germany and for the second game running the scoreboard was not working.
After a minute silence for the late CCFC Webmaster and programme designer David Jones, City were straight on the attack when Gary McSheffrey turned his marker and fired a low shot which Sunderland's Estonian keeper Matt Poom pushed away for a 96th second corner. Gudjonsson took the kick and centred for Eddy Johnson to head over.
Seconds later, City attacked again when a Michael Doyle free kick was half cleared by Poom and fell for McSheffrey to shoot wide.
With former Sky Blue Gary Breen marshalling the Mackems defence, Sunderland whose support of around 2,200 prompted a very large turn-out of police,some in full riot gear, attacked in the fifth minute down the wing nearest to where their fans were housed.
Stephen Elliot went towards the West Terrace and suddenly went down, he claimed that Calum Davenport was the miscreant and the Sky Blues defender was given a warning by referee Mr Beeby.
Seconds later, the City supporters sweltering like the players in the heat, were intimating that people up north are dirty, (mind you for a team managed by Millwall reject Mick McCarthy what do you expect?), when John Oster in a clear act of retaliation smacked Michael Doyle. Then in the 12th minute,Elliot got his revenge by fouling Davenport.
Sunderland regained possession and Julio Arce broke down the left only for Scott Shearer to confidently deal with the threat.
After Graham Barrett had been flattened by Oster,it was another ten minutes for the next attack which saw some good approach play by City find Michael Hughes who fired over.
The visitors quickly sent the ball up the other end,but Steve Staunton was equal to it,stepping across and sending Graham Barrett on his way. The Irishman moved into the middle of the pitch just outside the penalty area. However,just as he was about to shoot,in came a covering defender who put him off and the chance was wasted.
Eliiot nodded wide a Stephen Wright cross in the 25th minute and this was followed two minutes later when Scott Shearer caught a free kick form the visitors.
With referee Mr Beeby happy to accept that shirt tugging is permissible under the laws of the game, some of his decisions could be seen as being rather benevolent to the away side and a foul on Richard Shaw which left the veteran City defender with a head injury did not receive any punishment despite the referee having a far better view than I did.
The injury allowed the players a water break which considering the heat was a good thing and something I positively encourage at all levels.
Now whilst many City fans in a crowd of 16,460 might have welcomed the signing of Bjarni Gudjonsson, I have to admit that after seeing him in pre-season matches that I have been less than impressed with him and he proved why I don't always enthuse about his performances when he wasted two crosses in the 37th minute and then raced through on goal,five minutes later only to fire across the face of the goal and out for a goal kick.
Louis Carey is another player I am not 100% convinced of so far and on the stroke of half-time,he hit a poor free kick, from which Carl Robinson had received the first yellow card of the game, that Poom caught with some ease and then tried to find Gudjonsson on the wing only to send the ball off the pitch and into the Main Stand.
With some quite useful, very young penalty takers providing the half-time entertainment, there were no changes at the interval.
The second half started as poorly as the first and I was worried that I was going to have to pad out this report with my verdict on the curry I had in the Monsoon down Gosford Street after the game to celebrate a good friend's birthday (8/10 and good it was too, for those interested).
With City attacking the now shaded West Terrace, a 47th minute cross from Steve Staunton missed everybody and was retrieved by Gary McSheffrey who centred for Michael Doyle to hit a low fifteen yard drive which Poom dived to his right to beat away for a corner.
Gudjonsson sent over the ball and Poom made a superb point blank save to smother a close range Eddy Johnson shot.
Johnson, who is dating Caroline from last years Fame Academy, saw his header deflected two minutes later for City's second corner of the half. Gudjonsson again took the kick and sent over a ball which was always a defenders and it was no surprise that the visitors cleared away the danger.
Sunderland won a corner in the 51st minute at the East Stand end when Carey succumbed to pressure. The ball was nodded back across the penalty area and Elliott rose to flick a header into the arms of Scott Shearer.
McSheffrey won City another corner before Mick McCarthy replaced Elliot with Kevin Kyle. The big striker had been on the pitch for a matter of seconds when him and Gary Breen were berating Poom for a poor flap which put the Mackems in trouble.
This rollicking affected the former Derby custodian as an attempted clearance fell for Graham Barrett to hammer the ball back towards goal. Poom atoned for his error by getting back and gathering the ball and prevented City taking a lead which at that point,they deserved.
Richard Shaw was always in control and in the 55th minute made a superb saving tackle to stop Kyle from getting in a shot.
As mentioned in my match report from the 0-0 draw against Norwich, Peter Reid is a 60 and 75 minute man when it comes to making substitutions and it came as no surprise when Patrick Suffo and Tim Sherwood were introduced to the action.
Personally I would have taken off Eddy Johnson at that point,who had been quiet and ineffective,but what do I know? Reid decided otherwise and it was Gary McSheffrey who had done plenty of running with little or no service who made way for the former Cameroon international.
The switch which also saw Tim Sherwood make his first league start since Boxing Day (or St Stephens Day for our Irish readers).
To his credit,Suffo was trying to make the most of a rare appearance in the first team also due to injury and did well in the 64th minute to reclaim the ball from a combination of Wright and Poom but could not do any more with it.
One of the reasons that Tim Sherwood was signed was for his tough tackling and no-nonsense approach and in the 72nd minute,a blatant forearm smash flattened Arce but only produced a yellow card from Mr Beeby.
After another change by the Mackems management and with the home supporters exchanging in some good natured banter with the Sunderland fans which saw one visitor slated for wearing a pink shirt and his sexuality questioned, Bjarni Gudjonsson went to ground trying to get a free kick. Mr Beeby was having none of it and waved play on allowing Arce to break down the left and send over a ball which Shearer had to move to catch.
Some of the City fans had been singing for Andy Morrell for a fair few minutes and in the 78th minute,they got their wish when the former Wrexham striker replaced the hapless Gudjonsson.
All around me there was the expectance that this was all going to end in a goal less draw, a result which I would have accepted as an opening day defeat is never the best way to start a season. However, with seven minutes left the game took a dramatic change.
Andy Morrell picked up on a through ball and went down the right wing, he cut in and tried to shoot. The ball hit the incoming George McCartney, bounced off his stomach,hit his hand and went away. Morrell screamed at the referee who was quite near the incident for a penalty and it was given.
Now my partner Rachel had bet on Graham Barrett on being the first goalscorer and she was not best pleased when Patrick Suffo took the ball off the Irishman and put it down on the spot.
From my vantage point, I could see that Poom was leaning slightly to his left. I pointed to the right of the goal for all I was worth. Now I don't know whether Suffo had seen my instruction but he blasted the ball into the net,they way I had indicated and gave City the lead.
The City fans went berserk,causing stewards and police to rush around like maniacs as the Sunderland supporters either sat or stood with their heads bowed,cursing the referee.
To be fair,it was a harsh decision but how many times have City been on the wrong end of decisions like that?
Sunderland tried to fight back winning two corners. The second of which was easily cleared. Some good work followed and the ball was played out to Carey on the right.
The newboy from Bristol City cut inside, looked to shoot but spotted Suffo on the penalty spot. He found Suffo who hit a shot which Poom went to his left to parry. The Estonian had pushed the ball furthered than he intended as it went out of his reach and landed nicely for Eddy Johnson to lash into the net from three yards.
Again the celebrations were raucous. Then some bright spark announced that City were top of the league, (top of the Championship is more politically correct but who cares) and heightened our enjoyment of this late victory even further.
Ok,there are 45 more games to go but for a few hours,it is something to celebrate.
HT CCFC 0-0 SAFC FT CCFC 2-0 SAFC
Att 16 460
Goals Patrick Suffo (83 mins pen)
Eddy Johnson (89 mins)
Booked Robinson (45 mins), Sherwood (72 mins)
Man Of The Match - Richard Shaw was superb and just beat the equally excellent Calum Davenport as man of the match.
Shearer,Carey,Davenport, Shaw, Staunton, Gudjonsson (Morrell 78), Hughes (Sherwood 63), Doyle, Barrett, McSheffrey (Suffo 63), Johnson. SNU: Marriott, Whing