Coventry City 0 Bradford City 0
The Specials, Coventry’s most famous musical export, used to sing about a “Ghost Town”.
They were 30 years ahead of their time – the line “all the clubs are being closed down” could eerily describe the current plight of the Sky Blues.
Home games, as such, are played 35 miles away in Northampton after a rent row saw the club vacate the Ricoh Arena.
Furious fans have voted with their feet and stayed away so crowds have plummeted. City’s first experience of these surreal surroundings last night was watched by only 1,673 – the lowest crowd they have seen since going to Dagenham 18 months ago.
But every one of those fans will wonder how City could not claim a third away win in four after pretty much bossing it from start to finish.
Steven Pressley had angered so many in West Yorkshire with his “dark ages” jibe after the first game between the teams. He was all smiles when he hugged Phil Parkinson at the end of this one – the big Scot knew his side had dodged a bullet.
The name Northampton conjures up fond memories for the Bantams. It was here two years ago that Nahki Wells really announced himself on the scene with the hat-trick that secured their league status.
And then there was that meeting at Wembley 11 months ago when City finally finished their six-year sentence in the football basement.
Sixfields felt very different last night with its vast empty spaces and absence of match-day atmosphere. At times, it was almost like playing behind closed doors against Northampton’s reluctant lodgers.
The Coventry supporters weren’t the only ones missing – so was their 22-goal chief hitman Callum Wilson with a heel injury.
That meant none of the four strikers from November’s 3-3 classic at Valley Parade were around for the sequel.
Midfield partners Matty Dolan and Gary Jones fired the opening shots in the surreal surroundings as City began the brighter.
Adam Reach robbed Cyrus Christie by the corner flag to cut back for Dolan to have another crack, which took a deflection off centre half Jordan Willis as it whistled goalwards.
And it needed two fine saves from Joe Murphy to prevent City converting their pressure into a lead.
Carl McHugh, starting at left back in Adam Drury’s absence, picked out Aaron Mclean, whose downward header seemed to be bouncing inside the far post. But Murphy got across in time to claw the ball away.
Then the Coventry keeper showed his agility to deny Jon Stead a first City goal. Kyle Bennett fed the loan striker in the box and his low shot on the turn was beaten out by a strong left hand.
It was evident that confidence had been restored by the weekend win at Leyton Orient. The only thing missing from City’s positive play was a goal.
Phil Parkinson had complimented his wingers’ workrate in London and the two widemen continued to press a home defence missing two regular centre halves through injury. Bennett, in particular, was linking effectively with Stephen Darby on City’s right side.
The concern for the visitors was that they could not take advantage of their pressure. McHugh thought he had broken the deadlock from a scramble at a corner but Cyrus Christie was in the right spot to block just in front of the line.
Coventry had been second best to such an extent that they did not manage a shot on goal until added time at the end of the half. Carl Baker’s low drive was comfortably swept up by Jon McLaughlin amid ironic cheers from the frustrated home fans.
Mark Marshall summed up their ineffective attack when he began the second half by shanking a shot out for a throw-in.
And the woodwork came to Coventry’s rescue as City went within a coat of paint of getting the goal they deserved.
Bennett toyed with Blair Adams before clipping a deep cross on to the head of Reach. His far-post nodder beat Murphy but clipped the underside of the bar. The Sky Blues had survived again.
Bennett knew he had the beating of Adams and was looking for the ball at every opportunity. Even McHugh used the opportunity to get forward on the other flank.
Marshall offered brief resistance with a cross-shot that was no threat on McLaughlin’s net – although at least this time it went for a goal-kick.
The Stead and Mclean partnership again showed promise and the Huddersfield hitman latched on to a flick-on to volley wide.
Franck Moussa had been largely anonymous playing off Coventry frontman Nathan Eccleston but he finally found some space to supply Baker in the corner of the City box.
Rare danger threatened for City but McHugh read his intentions and slid across to block off the shot with his body.
Steven Pressley had seen enough of his side’s toothless intentions and made a double switch with 14 minutes left, throwing on Nathan Delfouneso and Conor Thomas. A third sub quickly followed after Marshall took a painful whack which left him hobbling along the touchline.
It was as easy an evening for City’s back four as they had enjoyed all season, with Rory McArdle and Andrew Davies rarely pressured by the shot-shy home attack.
Chris Atkinson replaced Dolan in City’s midfield and Garry Thompson came on for the excellent Bennett in the closing stages.
Thompson had two late chances kept out at Orient and he immediately won a header in the home box but Andy Webster hoofed it away from the waiting Mclean.
There was a handshake after the final whistle between the two managers but Parkinson knew that his side had let Coventry off the hook after a dominant goalless draw.
* City’s under-18s will play Colchester in the Youth Alliance Cup final. The U’s beat Portsmouth 5-4 on penalties in last night’s southern area decider after the game finished 2-2.