Old Albanian come out second best against Coventry

At an overcast and wet Butts Park Arena, where the floodlights came on before half-time, Old Albanian slipped and slided to a defeat which owed much to the boot of Coventry fullback, Cliffie Hodgson. But this would undervalue the immense pressure the home side put their visitors under to give away penalties within the range of Hodgson’s punitive boot.

As for their visitors, their defence has undoubtedly improved, but the pace that was present in the back row and the production-line flow of ball from the lineouts has diminished alarmingly. Further, while the set-piece scrummage has improved by virtue of heavier poundage per man, the frustrating tendency to lose ball at the back, get twisted and, horror of horrors, lose a sitter against the head and thereby concede a penalty when camped on the Coventry 22 with a try just waiting to be scored has yet to be overcome.

Hodgson was in a mood to punish profligacy and, despite failing in the fifth minute to convert an early try way out on the left from winger Will Hurrell, he punished OAs with four penalty kicks and his improvement of Hurrell’s second try just before half time. OAs lost the overall penalty count 11-8, with Lawrence Raynor bagging one penalty and converting Chris May’s try under the posts after a forward drive on the Coventry 22 scattered the cover and allowed a sharp piece of finishing.

Having gone in at half time 10-18 down it was a big OA positive that they came out for the final forty minutes and attacked with verve and aplomb providing some marvellous end-to-end rugby to brighten a stygian afternoon. It is a measure of Coventry’s improvement that OAs failed to score at all, but a credit to Andy Holloway’s men that it took thirty minutes before a penalty score was given away, followed five minutes later by a further Hodgson special.

There were attritional performances from both second rows, Skipper Billy Johnson and, until he was forced off by injury, Ross Hamilton. Andrew Daish came off the bench to replace Ollie Cooper-Millar with a shoulder injury and stamped his own work-rate and athleticism on the game.

It was good to welcome back Ollie Marchon from England Sevens duty, but his afternoon at full back was consumed with defensive duties which meant he only had a handful of opportunities to run with the ball in hand. In his usual place on the wing, the star of the afternoon was Mike Allen who both received a deserved round of applause from the 1,199 rugby-wise Coventry fans as he showed extraordinary athleticism to catch a kick ahead wide out which should never have been caught whilst leaving three defenders standing, and a roar of laughter as he took a pass and ran straight at a group of half-a-dozen of Coventry’s finest forwards and – to their collective angst – dived beneath them and reappeared on the other side with ball still in hand.

Applause and laughs apart, the sobering reality is that with only one win (and no points at all from today’s soaking) the home game next Saturday against lowly National League 1 debutants, Hull Ionians, has turned this early in the season into the unedifying spectacle of a relegation 10-pointer.