The chant before kick off went “You’re supposed to be at home” and for a second it was difficult to work out who was singing it. In a unique turn of affairs, this FA Cup fourth round tie had cast Birmingham as visitors to their own ground. The stadium that has been their permanent home since 1906 is also Coventry’s temporary residence this season and, as the first name out of the hat, they became the home team.
The chant, therefore, was from the Sky Blues fans, mocking their hosts, who were also their guests. Birmingham fans got their own back: “Our ground’s too big for you,” they hollered.
The Coventry fans had the Tilton Road end and a massive banner of Jimmy Hill. Despite the ticketing nominally being split 50-50 between the clubs, Birmingham had the bigger numbers and directed the noise from the Gil Merrick end. It was not all enmity. In a contest Coventry officials had hoped to market as a “unity match” both set of supporters could at least agree what they wanted to do to the Villa. Perhaps, given the complicated circumstances, it was right that the game should end in a draw.
The first half was almost entirely without incident though there was still some decent play. Coventry are making a decent fist of a League One promotion bid and Mark Robins’ team has always been attractive on the eye. They had the best of the first half-hour with wing-back Fankaty Dabo a particular threat down the right. Their best effort fell to Jordan Shipley in the 22nd minute but after the midfielder-cum-forward, having been released in the box, could finish only into the side-netting under pressure from the goalkeeper Lee Camp.
Birmingham’s manager, Pep Clotet, somewhat surprisingly, had compared Coventry’s style of play with Liverpool’s. The opening passages of the match even felt like the visitors (that is the team from Birmingham) were taking on the Premier League’s champions elect. But the Championship strugglers eventually roused themselves a little, with Jefferson Montero – a winger formerly in the Premier League with Swansea – pushing back against Dabo. One cutback from the Ecuadorean might have caused trouble in the 36th minute were it not from a smart block from the solid Kyle McFadzean.
The second half began with Birmingham still in the ascendancy and the first proper chance of the match. Barely 60 seconds after the restart Coventry were unable to clear their lines following a cross and Montero latched on to the dropping ball. His volley was fiercely hit but Marko Marosi was up to the challenge and turned the shot over his bar. The keeper made a similarly athletic effort to stop a cross from the right drifting over his head and into the net.
A double change from Robins after the hour mark shifted the balance again. On came Max Biamou for Shipley, and he was joined by the tricksy Callum O’Hare. The pair combined in the 77th minute to force a superb save from Camp, O’Hare’s flick finding Biamou whose right-foot shot was curling inside the far post before the keeper’s fingertip intervention.
Clotet made his own double substitution in the closing stages to jeers from the fans who would normally be at home but on this occasion were not.
The fans were right, they were too late to make a difference and it was the temporary hosts who had the chance to seal victory in stoppage time, but O’Hare somehow contrived to miss an open goal from six yards out.
The tie now goes to a replay: same venue, different dressing rooms.
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