AFC play their home games at Coventry Technical Rugby Club. The football ground, just off Mitchell Avenue, is at the far end of the rugby club grounds with its own car park and club house. Parking at the ground is, under normal conditions, most likely quite adequate. However with the early kick-off attracting a few groundhoppers as well as a sizeable local crowd, it had already filled up when I got there, some 40 minutes before kick-off. Luckily the leisure centre on the opposite side of Mitchell Avenue has a large car park just a couple of minutes walk to the ground. Entrance to the ground is through a gate where a table had been set up to collect the entry money and sell programmes (they were limited but I did manage to get one), something of a rarity at this level. All of the facilities are in the clubhouse block, including the players and officials areas. There is also a small club shop selling scarves pin badges etc. On the clubhouse side there the two dugouts, labelled home and away, as well as few benches between the car park and the playing surface. There are no stands or covered spectator areas (this is Step 8 after all) but there is a bank beyond the far goal which gives a good view across the pitch. The pitch itself was unsurprisingly quite heavy and slops a little across the pitch up towards the clubhouse. All in all, this is a very good facility which appears to be run in the right way. The Twitter account replied to my query about any further pitch inspections this morning, they produced a good programme, they have club merchandise and club logos at the ground and signage outside. This club is going places.
I have to admit that I didn't know a lot about either of these teams before today. Possibly not that surprising since neither have been around for too long. Coventrians were founded in 2007, Rangers not until 2020. Prior to kick-off they formed two of the top three in the Midland league Division Three table. Rangers sitting top of the tree with 43 points from their 16 games, Coventrians some nine points back in third place. Rangers, in their first season at Step 8, have been a revelation. They had already scored 90 goals and only conceded 15. Their home form, especially, was formidable to say the least. Played nine, won nine, scored 49 conceded 6. That being said, Coventrians away form was nothing to be sniffed at with seven wins from their nine outings. The sides could also boats the top two scorers in the division. Nathan McGarrity for Coventrians was second in the chart, with 20 goals to his name but way out in front was AFC's Connoll Farrell who had amassed a colossal 31 in the league already. Combining all that with the fact that only the city centre (less than 6 miles) separating the clubs, a noon kick-of attracting a bigger than normal crowd, and a slippery pitch, I was expecting a a good game. I was not to be disappointed.
It was the visitors from the North of Coventry who took the early initiative. Just two minutes in they won a free-kick way out on the left. When the ball was played into the box no one was a able to vet a touch on it but it nearly deceived Allen in the home goal. His last second dive to palm the ball away averted an early setback. AFC soon settled, however, and the game became quite open, with play switching from end to end but neither side manufacturing too many clear cut chances. On 17 minutes the home side came close when a Rory Turnbull cross beat the visiting keeper but skimmed the top of the bar before going out for a goal kick. The visitors keeper was called into action four minutes later, proving his worth as he saved well from Connoll Farrell, Jordan Powell's follow-up was too good for him but was scrambled off the line by some very good covering defensive play.
The home side were beginning to edge the game on possession but Coventrians reminded them they were in a game on 23 minutes when top scorer Nathan McGarrity unleashed an effort from the edge of the box that whistled narrowly wide of Allen's left post. We had a real game on our hands now, end to end an some thunderous challenges going in on the slippery surface. One such challenge on Joe Gardner left the Rangers midfielder in a heap and earned a yellow card for Nathan Cadby. At first it seemed as if the tackle had done damage to the ankle of the Rangers player but he was up after treatment but holding his shoulder. Then, a few minutes later, after another hefty challenge on the same player, he signalled to be replaced. The shoulder injury from the awkward fall being the culprit it seemed. There was an ambulance in attendance at the ground later. Hopefully, the injury is not too serious.
Just past the half hour mark the home side went in front. Superb work down the flank from right-back Gomes who beat a couple of players, rode a challenge and then fed a lovely pass into the path of captain Powell who duly applied an assured finish. 1-0. Plenty of calls for offside from the visitors but nothing given.
The home side had their tails up now and were clearly on top. Coventrians, once again, had their keeper to thank on 38 minutes when he produced two very good saves within a few seconds to keep his side in the game. Four minutes after that, however, even he could do nothing as Rangers struck again. Once more the damage was done down the right. This time Farrell did the donkey work and then played a cross in to Powell who controlled and finished with some style. 2-0
The half was not done though. Right on the stroke of half-time Coventrians produced a lovely move. Effortlessly interchanging passes and only a very brave save from Allen, diving at the feet of the attacker, prevented them from getting a goal back. So close to the whistle, that could well prove to be a decisive moment which would certainly have changed the half time team talks on both sides.
HT AFC Coventry Rangers 2 Coventrians 0. A very good game to watch. End to end at times. Uncompromising tackling and plenty of chances at both ends. The home side may have take a two goal advantage into the break but the visitors were by no means out of the contest.
The visitor's complaints about the possible offside continued even after the ball was in the net. So much so that Dan Hume managed to earn himself a 10 minute rest when the referee sin-binned him for dissent. From my vantage point it was impossible to tell if it was offside or not but, judging by the level of incredulity from the visitor's defence and bench, when the flag did not go up, I am guessing it may have been off. Ah well, no VAR at this level (and long may that last).
Just on the hour mark, and with the visitors still down to 10, AFC made the advantage count. A fast and incisive break this time. From defending inside their own half, two or three passes took them to the edge of the visitor's box, Doyle was again set loose and, again, slid in Farrell to get his second. 4-0
Coventrians were now back to a full complement but the game was already lost for them. Not that they were about to throw in the towel in however, and a combination of their determination and the home side relaxing a little meant that the visitors had a better period of possession than they had since midway through the first half. They kept pushing but were up against a defence and goalkeeper who clearly value clean sheets. As I tweeted during the second half, I don't think Curtis Cutts lost a heading duel in the entire game but, to be fair, the entire Rangers back-line was superb, well-drilled and strong.
On 89 minutes, top scorer Farrell decided it was time to put the icing on the cake, embarking on a solo effort that saw him cut in from the left and slot home his hat-trick and AFC's fifth. 5-0.
FT AFC Coventry Rangers 5 Coventrians 0. A great game to watch as a neutral. Despite the seemingly one-sided score line, the game was not that uneven. Coventrians gave as good as they got for much of the game. The big difference was the clinical home finishing combined with their extremely efficient and solid defence. Rangers retain their six point lead over Sutton United, who also won 5-0 against Castle Vale today. AFC Solihull's 3-0 win at Leamington Hibernian sees them leapfrog Coventrians into third. Next up, AFC entertain seventh placed Upton Town whilst Coventrians welcome fourth from bottom Hibernians.
The very best of luck to both sides for the remainder of the season.
AFC Coventry Rangers: Allen, Gomes, Curran, Whitelaw, Swain, Cutts, Fagbemi, Gardner, Farrell, Powell(c), Turnbull. Subs: Comasky, McAndrews, Chesters, Doyle, Davis
Coventrians: Connolly, Hall, Hassan, Kearns, Muhammad, Hume, Donaldson(c), Mason, McGarrity, Cadby, Gibbs. Subs: Heeley, Allen, Dumbleton, Butler, Brandish
Ground Number: 298