COVENTRY City’s chances of securing a League Two play-off spot were boosted on Tuesday as rivals slipped up – although hopes of automatic promotion have slipped away after defeat at Notts County.
The Sky Blues go into Saturday’s game at Crawley Town in seventh place after both Swindon and Mansfield could only muster mid-week draws, to leave both a point behind the play-off spots having played a game more than Coventry.
Mark Robins’ men will want desperately to return to winning ways in Sussex with five games left, after two disappointing defeats.
The 2-1 defeat at fifth-placed Notts County last Saturday in what was billed as a traditional ‘six pointer’ followed the 2-6 home defeat against Yeovil Town.
The match at Meadow Lane in Nottingham was a predictably close and cagey affair which seemed likely to be drawn or won by the odd scrappy goal.
Coventry City were set up to be a tight unit, with Liam Kelly returning to central midfield alongside skipper Michael Doyle and the more attacking Tom Bayliss playing out of position on the right, where the influential academy graduate has been left effective.
While Coventry City controlled possession and much of the match, defensive mistakes at crucial moments proved costly.
In contract, the Notts County defence looked strong and well organised when they needed to be, notably in response to quality delivery into the box from the returning Jordan Shipley on the left.
Striker Jonson Clarke-Harris added muscle and more threat to the Sky Blues in the second-half after replacing Max Biamou, but Notts County took the lead on the hour when Jonathan Forte was left unmarked in the box from a corner.
Sub Jordan Ponticelli equalised with five minutes to go, diverting a shot with an audacious side-flick from six-yards, prompting an explosive celebration among 4,000 travelling fans.
Forgetting the well-worn maxim that you are at your most vulnerable when the opposition have scored, Forte grabbed his second and the game’s winner a minute later with a scuffed shot, after defenders failed to clear in the box.
Robins said after the game: “I am disappointed. I am saying the same things week in week out. We should not be giving them goals from set-plays. We were masters of our own downfall.
“We worked so hard to get back in it having had the best of the game’s play.
“The opening goal put us on the back foot and I thought that we dealt with that okay. We were still pressing. We were committing people forward.
“I don’t think there was anything between the two teams. This has been a notoriously difficult place to come this season, but once we had the equaliser it only looked as if it was going to go one way.
“Then a stupid bit of play where we should have seen the ball out. Liam Kelly has tried to clear the ball and it has hit Jack Grimmer and everything was open on the inside for their man – but then it comes off a part of Jonathan Forte’s anatomy and bobbled in over the line. It was poor.
“For me today is a disappointment because we are not ready, and we do not look like we are ready.
“I believe in my players, but we make the same errors every game. We have five games to sort it out because there is a big summer coming, regardless of what happens.
“The players have got to step up and the last five games have got to be cup finals. Today was one of those games and we could have gone above them, but we have lost ground.”