FOOTBALL: GEORGE Thomas bagged his ninth goal of the season as the Sky Blues ended their 2016/17 home campaign with a 1-0 victory over West Midlands rivals Walsall at the Ricoh Arena.
Thomas’ first half strike proved to be the difference between the two sides in what was a fairly dull end of season encounter, but a fifth home win in six matches does Mark Robins’ side off the foot of the table.
The City boss decided to make no fewer than six changes to the side that lost 2-0 away at Rochdale on Easter Monday. Goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook wasgiven the nod ahead of Lee Burge, Ruben Lameiras, Jodi Jones and Vladimir Gadzhev were all preferred in midfield, while Tudgay replaced Kwame Thomas and Kevin Foley also returned to the side.
The game certainly had an end of season feel to it with neither side having anything to play for and in truth it was a fairly dull opening 45 minutes.
Kevin Foley had the first attempt on goal in the 12th minute when the ball fell kindly to him inside the penalty area after a neat move down the right between himself and Thomas but the former Republic of Ireland international hit his powerful shot straight into the grateful arms of Craig MacGillivray.
Five minutes later Eoghan O’Connell curled an effort straight at Reice Charles-Cook and that was as good as it got in the opening half-an-hour
The visitors should have taken the lead with 32 minutes on the clock when Joe Edwards delivered a dangerous in-swinging corner from the left which was met by the head of Matt Preston but he directed his close range header wide of the target.
The game suddenly sparked into life with both sides have chances in quick succession. First Bigirimana played Thomas through on goal but MacGillivray was quick off his line to make an important save.
At the other end Bakayoko was denied by Charles-Cook before Thomas made his way into the penalty area moments later but his deflected shot went high and wide.
Thomas however was not to be denied six minutes before the break when he fired the Sky Blues into the lead. The impressive Ruben Lameiras picked up the ball from a short corner and made his way into the penalty before feed the ball to Thomas who struck a first-time shot into the bottom corner of the net.
The young City striker could have scored a second before half-time after finding himself free inside the area but this time he fired his attempt wide of the target.
Walsall made a double change at the break with George Dobson and Erhun Oztumer being introduced but they struggled to break down a well organised Sky Blues defence.
Eoghana O’Connell thought he had scored an equaliser in the 57th minute with a header at the far post which looked destined for the top left-hand corner of the net but Bigirimana was well placed to make a clearance off the line.
Just moments later Bakayoko had two bites at the cherry when he first saw his shot in the area blocked and he got up quick to acrobatically send another shot towards goal but Charles-Cook was able to make an easy save.
On the hour mark Marcus Tudgay flashed a half volley from the edge of the area narrowly wide and six minutes later he linked well with Thomas inside the area before the latter struck a left-footed volley over the bar.
With just under 20 minutes remaining Robins’ side were given a helping hand when O’Connell was sent off after picking up two yellow cards but the home side were unable to add to their tally.
Thomas was looking lively as ever for the home side and could have put the game to bed in the 79th minute after being put through on goal, but as the Walsall defence caught up, he made space for a hot and struck a volley in his weaker foot high over the bar when perhaps he should have done better.
Another Academy graduate in the shape of Jordan Shipley was introduced for his first team debut late on and although the visitors threatened to force an equaliser, they failed to force Charles-Cook into action and the hosts held out for a narrow deserved victory.
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Willis (c), Stokes (Rawson 75), Turnbull, Bigirimana, Lameiras, Jones, Gadzhev (Shipley 84), Tudgay, Foley (Kelly-Evans 84), G.Thomas
Subs – Burge, Reid, K.Thomas, Folivi