COVENTRY City registered their first 5-4 away victory in their 136-year history with a mesmerising display at Sunderland in front of 36,000 people including 2,600 away fans – with remote hopes of the play-offs still technically alive.
While errors and bad luck threatened to undeservedly let the Black Cats back in the game, Mark Robins’ men played the automatic promotion contenders off the park with wonderful passing movement, speed and that vital component that has been crucially missing for much of the season – clinical finishing.
It left commentators including former Sunderland and Coventry City FA Cup winning legend Nick Pickering – working for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire – purring as Coventry as an attacking force appeared to belong to a higher level than their position just outside the League One play-off spots.
City now go into the Easter fixtures – at home to bottom club Bradford on Friday and away to promotion contenders Portsmouth on Monday – with four games to play and still eight points behind sixth-placed Doncaster, who they play on the season’s last day and who have to go to Sunderland on Friday.
It was Sunderland’s first home defeat of the season, and it left their fans blaming their defence and manager Jack Ross’s static 4-4-2 tactics against a Coventry side known for counter-attacking pace and quality away from home against the league’s better sides.
Coventry’s loanee from Wolves, Bright Enobakhare, ran the show with superior touch, trickery and his mercurial ability to set up others with a perfect pass.
It was Enobakhare who fittingly scored the first goal, a wonderful cool finish after fine interplay with Jordy Hiwula.
His brilliant one-two with Brandon Mason on the left, step over then slide-rule through-ball for Hiwula to score the third also typified his masterful performance – he was simply too hot to handle.
Sandwiched between was an equally cool finish on the break by lone striker Amadou Bakayoko after another defence-splitting pass from Luke Thomas, who was also back to his best with his pace, trickery and industry.
Given their first-half superiority, Mark Robins’ men only had themselves to blame for the sides going in 3-3 at half-time.
City goalkeeper Lee Burge – so often the saviour for his side with his shot-stopping – again demonstrated his susceptibility to the howler by dropping a clanger, an easy catch unnecessarily punched straight to Sunderland’s Charlie Wyke on 41 minutes who couldn’t miss.
That was followed by a good Sunderland goal in first-half added time where Brandon Mason – who had another exceptional game – perhaps could have done better from a cross from the left and Will Grigg beat Dom Hyam to the ball inside the six-yard box.
But Coventry responded in the second half with more brilliant attacking movement, from which Jordan Shipley – in for the injured Tom Bayliss – finished another flowing counter-attacking move with a sweetly angled shot into the bottom right corner from 25 yards.
After a second deflected goal for Sunderland, from Max Power on 69 minutes, had brought the home side level once more, substitute Conor Chaplin completed yet another impressive speedy counter-attack with quick feet inside the box and a great finish off the top-right angle.
It was a delirious distraction from the club’s worsening off-field and stadium problems, and from incidents inside and outside the stadium by a small minority of Coventry and Sunderland fans.
Robins said: ‘’Sunderland haven’t been beaten here all season, so we came here going for the win, it was a magnificent counter-attacking game, but not just that we had excellent build-up play, quick play, individual skill, good finishing and good composure, that’s the attacking part.
“Defensively, I don’t want to talk about, but attacking wise, it was just outstanding.’’
‘’Enobakhare is just unbelievable, you could see today he was ready for the game.
“.. At the end of the day, they’ve had a lot of games, have an unbelievable squad, to be fair to them they’ll be feeling it at this part of the season, but again no-one has won here this season apart from Coventry City and that is something, the way we played was outstanding.”
He added: ‘’It was a really good entertaining game at half time, they had to keep coming out, we kept pressing forward with good numbers and Shippers’ goal was outstanding, some great play.”