AN IMMORTAL Coventry City triumph at Wembley in resplendent sunshine is becoming familiar – in contrast to the most unlikely sources for the goals which sent the Sky Blues up for the first time in 51 years.
Nobody can ever recall solid, no-nonsense defender Jordan Willis – one of seven Coventry City youth academy graduates involved – masterfully and athletically shaping to shoot from the edge of the box after displaying the first touch of a top class international striker.
As he meticulously placed a sublime first-time shot into the far right side of Exeter City’s goal, there was suspended belief.
Regular fans had to pinch themselves several times after seeing the net bulge to send nearly 40,000 Coventry City fans delirious in the same end of the national stadium in this League Two play-off final.
The 49th minute goal -while a fair few Sky Blues fans were still queuing for beer and pizza – had followed a relatively lacklustre first half in which the Sky Blues’ pacey front-foot attacking flair seen in the dazzling 4-1 semi-final win at Notts County had been largely absent.
Exeter City, respected for their own attacking abilities despite muscular performances against Coventry earlier this season had resulted in honours even, appeared to have gone into reactive mode rather than taking the game to Coventry City.
Exeter seemed to counter-productively sit too deep from the kick off – appearing not to have acquired the knowledge of many Sky Blues fans this season that the best way to beat Coventry is to attack them.
It was not clear whether that wonderful passing, movement and finishing of Coventry’s televised semi-final performance had scared Exeter into back-foot tactics.
But they seemed to play much of the first half with an extra body or two in midfield to support the defence, and invited the Sky Blues to attack them.
Defending in numbers and deep, it made for a bit of a stalemate first-half. Coventry dominated possession and moved the ball around well at times in the heat, Marc McNulty and Jordan Shipley notably linking up well with good movement and taking occasional pops at the Grecians’ goal where 11,000 woefully outnumbered fans from Devon stood with all the defiance of a Roman army’s last stand.
Coventry’s passing game was sometimes lacking too throughout that dull first half, with passes going astray, while Exeter almost completely failed as an attacking threat.
Coventry City came forward with more urgency and purpose from the start of the second half.
Willis’s stunning opener had been preceded by an impressive move in the Exeter box when the gifted 19-year-old sensation of the season, Tom Bayliss, twisted and turned on the right byline and cut a precise pass back to 28-goal McNulty, the season’s other greatest revelation, to ping a first time shot that was instinctively beaten out for a corner by Exeter keeper Christy Pym.
There was no time for that unique Willis opener to sink in before Coventry took a giant step towards League One five minutes later, with a first-time deflected Shipley goal from just outside the box. It came after characteristically bright and skilful approach play from McNulty and the Scottish striker’s perfect pass from the right which meant Shipley did not have to break his stride.
McNulty delivered the same silver service to Jack Grimmer on 68 minutes after once more linking up well with Bayliss.
And if Willis’s goal in its greatness had defied the odds, what followed from the left boot of the Sky Blues’ right back was beyond the territory of delusional dreams.
A curling first-time shot, again from the edge of the area, hung in the hot north London air for what seemed like eternity – its promising trajectory raising 38,000 eyebrows and hopes – before with precision nestling right into the top left corner of Pym’s goal.
Three-nil up, it felt like ‘game over’ – even for those who had refused to believe 4-1 was a winning margin until additional time at Notts County.
Unlike the two-leg semi-final, this final saw no real turbulence or storms (despite meteorologists’ predictions), so sparingly had Exeter been as an attacking threat before that 19-minute wave of attacking purpose had blown them out of the proverbial water.
It was ‘job done’, despite Exeter finally coming into the game in turns of possession and meaningful chances.
Coventry goalkeeper Lee Burge – who had only the occasional crosses and set plays to deal with for most of the game – produced a good save from Ryan Harley and Matt Jay hit the post from 25 yards.
Exeter’s 89th minute consolation goal was quality too, with substitute Kyle Edwards breaking into the box from the left and curling a fine finish past Burge’s left.
There were no real nervous moments in five minutes of additional time as the party mood began early with strains of “We are going up” and what has become this season’s anthemic equivalent of 1987 FA Cup song ‘Go For It City’.. the “We’ve got Michael Doyle” ditty, featuring the world’s loudest of all ‘1-2-3-4′ countdowns.
The scenes as bounce-back promotion was confirmed will live in the memory – just as much as the 15 minutes of players’ celebrations in front of the 4,500 hardcore Sky Blues supporters at Notts County, who have backed the team throughout so much turmoil and ugly politics.
This time, the euphoric team was suitably joined by the besuited long-term injured including a jubilant and jumping Jodi Jones who could be an important feature in next season’s League One challenge.
Boss Mark Robins said after the game the club could not “rest on our laurels”, and must instead use the “momentum” created by hitting scintillating and stylish consistency of form just when it mattered most.
He added: “I think it’s a great achievement, it has been a really difficult season in a really tough league and I am thankful to get through.
“It’s a brilliant day for Coventry City and everyone connected with the club. I am so proud.
“It’s about uniting the club that was desperately in need of galvanising.”