Match Report: Coventry City 1 Swindon Town 2

With what was essentially the final kick of game, a decent point for Coventry City turned into a third straight defeat which plunges the Sky Blues into a League One relegation battle. Much like Coventry’s recent fortunes, the team somehow summoned defeat after switching off for just half a minute and lost a vital point. Whilst the two sides were fairly even in terms of quality, Swindon’s compactness and physicality proved effective both defensively and in attack.

Coventry City opened the contest in a torpor, playing in a diamond formation it seemed apparent that many of the players weren’t quite sure where to stand on the pitch. When they were able to get into the opposing half, too many players were unable to escape their markers or pick the right pass to open up a well-organised Swindon Town side. For our opponents their bright spark was Tottenham loanee Alex Pritchard who played a free role in a fluid Swindon formation that varied from 3-6-1 to 3-4-3. It was no surprise that the diminutive play-maker got himself on the scoresheet in the 8th minute when he found himself unmarked in the Coventry penalty area.

From then until the half-hour mark Swindon, whilst  not dominate, were content to allow a confused Coventry side to bluster and blow whilst in possession. However, for no apparent reason, Coventry suddenly found themselves in the ascendancy. Perhaps it was a greater effort in closing down the opposition or simply players raising their performance levels, but the Sky Blues were on the front foot and asking questions of the Swindon defence. In particular it was clear that Conor Thomas was tackling harder, Nathan Delfouneso was winning more headers and pressing the opposition and Cyrus Christie has escaped the shackling of Pritchard and McEveley down Swindon’s left flank.

It was surprising though that it was John Fleck who fired home Coventry’s equaliser. The Scot became Coventry City’s first central midfielder to find the back of the net this season. In particular it was surprising in that Fleck’s own performance had thus far been far below the standard he showed in the opening half of the campaign.

With half-time fast approaching, Coventry fashioned several opportunities to take the lead going in to the break. The closest of those came when Nathan Delfouneso’s soft header nearly rolled passed Foderingham in the Swindon goal. The feeling that the break was coming at a bad time for the Sky Blues was rising amongst 3,000 odd crowd at Sixfields.

This suspicion was confirmed when the two teams re-emerged after the break in play. Whilst Swindon weren’t exactly bossing the play, Coventry had returned to the static and lethargic football that they had produced in the opening half-hour. The Wiltshire side eventually created a number of glorious opportunities to take the lead, none more so than when Troy Archibald-Henville escaped an offside call at a corner-kick to miss from 2 yards in front of Joe Murphy.

The key decision that turned the game fully in Swindon’s favour came when Pressley substituted Nathan Delfouneso with Nathan Eccleston. Whilst the Blackpool loanee put in a good shift in attack, the Sky Blues lost any aerial threat which meant that they struggled to build attacks from inside their own half. Fellow substitute Dylan McGeouch looked bright after coming on but failed to produce to connect with his team-mates whenever he received the ball.

As the closing minutes and then seconds approached there was the sense that this was a good point for Coventry City against a strong Swindon Town team. Whilst City has struggled in attack for most of the game, they won most of their 50-50s in the defensive half and limited Swindon to just 6 shots on target. Unfortunately that final shot on target proved the game’s decisive moment.

After losing an appeal for a free-kick, City found themselves on the back foot as Swindon used the physicality of Michael Smith to put Jordan Willis under pressure. After denying Swindon’s first attempt to get into the area, David Prutton failed to challenge Jay McEveley who swung in a glorious delivery cutting on to his left-foot. The flight of the ball meant that Webster, Clarke and Christie were in the wrong position to challenge Michael Smith for the ball and Joe Murphy was in no position to either save the header or stop the cross.

A small moment where one or two players failed to win challenges they had been winning for most of the game. Now Coventry go from mid-table safety to hoping that Carlisle don’t win their game in hand which could leave the Sky Blues just 3 points above the relegation zone.

Player Ratings

Joe Murphy – Didn’t have a great deal to do, made a great save against Nathan Byrne in the second half and kicked the ball well when under pressure. 6

Cyrus Christie – A Carl Baker-esque performance in that he had great moments and some poor moments. At his best he was the player he was in the first 10 games of the season, at his worst he was where he’s been for the past 30 games. His decision making has improved and was more willing to put the ball in the box rather than cut inside and shoot. 6

Jordan Clarke – Once again was composed and calm when on the ball, timed some challenges very well and had completely marked the physical 6ft4 striker Michael Smith out of the game. 7

Andy Webster – Won a lot of headers and made a number of well timed challenges. Was also good on the ball when he needed to be. 7

Jordan Willis – Was put under pressure by Michael Smith in the second half after Jordan Clarke had marked him out of the game. Made a number of well-timed challenges that completely killed Swindon attacks but may go down as in part responsible for the losing goal. 6

David Prutton – Played at the foot of the diamond which requires good anticipation and good distribution. Made only one key interception and his passing was often very poor. Looked decent when playing more of a box-to-box role and may simply be not the type of player to play at the base of a diamond formation. 5

John Fleck – Aside from taking his goal exceptionally well, this was a poor performance from Fleck. His passing was often more hopeful than meaningful and contributed little in a defensive sense. 5

Conor Thomas – Started the game poorly, lost 50-50 challenges and his passing was poor. Improved from the half-hour mark onwards and won challenges that moved the team up the pitch. Clearly has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the division, needs to believe in himself more. 6

Carl Baker – Another who was poor in the opening half hour of the match, however he also got better as the first-half wore on. Took on players and his off-the-ball movement started to make Swindon think about how to defend. Little of what he did came off though. 5

Callum Wilson – Was very quiet today as Swindon’s back three had him marked out of the game for large portions of the afternoon. Couldn’t exploit his pace in the game and failed to beat players that he took on. 4

Nathan Delfouneso – Started looking lazy and unable to win any of the challenges that he needed to. When he started to put the opponents under pressure and win aerial balls he made things happen. Should have got himself a goal but his header lacked power. 6

Subs:

Nathan Eccleston – A very willing runner but lacks the skill and nous to make himself an effective footballer at this level of football. His replacement of Delfouneso cost the team one of its out-balls and arguably the game. 4

Dylan McGeouch – With his first run on the ball this afternoon he showed why he’s so highly rated at Celtic. Took players on with ease and was along with Christie our only driving force in the closing half hour. Unfortunately his inability to pick out a team-mate and lack of tenaciousness in the middle of the pitch limited his real impact. 5

Manager:

Steven Pressley – For me he got his tactics wrong today. The team took too long to adapt to the formation and surrendered an avoidable early goal. Took off the wrong striker in Delfouneso which affected the team’s ability to get the ball away from danger areas. Now has to prove he was worth the praise he’s garnered this season by taking all 3 points at Oldham to ensure safety. 4

Coventry 3 Sheffield United 2

One of those games at Sixfields, yet again. Coventry sailed into a seemingly comfortable 3 goal lead thanks to wonderful finishes from Callum Wilson and two from Leon Clarke. A loss of concentration in defence, particularly from a defensive wall, made the game into another hearts-in-mouths fest in Northampton.

A lightning start was rewarded by a lovely finish from an unmarked Leon Clarke in the Sheffield United box started by a wonderful pass out wide by John Fleck. Sheffield United tried to get back into the game but struggled to create sustained pressure. Harry Maguire in the Sheffield United defence started a sequence of professional fouls between he and Andy Webster in the Coventry back 4 who seemed to be competing to be sent off.

More importantly though excellent work by Carl Baker on the right-hand side of the pitch was rewarded by a glorious finish by Callum Wilson into the top right corner of the Sheffield United goal. The Blades hadn’t particularly been poor but were undone by two great moves by Coventry as the two sides were otherwise largely even in the opening 45 minutes.

The second half began with a Leon Clarke goal which again was wonderfully taken, involving a move between Moussa and Wilson as Leon capitalised on gaping hole in the Sheffield United defence to put the Blades 3 down. From then on it seemed that there would be only one winner in this contest. Coventry were comfortable on the ball and seemed much more likely to score the game’s next goal.

A surprise sub by Chris Morgan saw Sheffield United replace Marlon King with the midfielder Stephen McGinn, and that seemed to change the dynamic of the game. The already thrown-on Lyle Taylor scored a free-kick largely down to a terrible defensive wall from Coventry but it was near the start of a period where Sheffield United began to assert themselves into the game. McGinn’s difference was that his set-piece delivery suddenly gave the Blades another dimension in attack.

In the final 10 minutes of the game Lyle Taylor scored his second of the game from a glancing far-post header, it had been coming after Coventry’s defending became more last-ditch with Webster making two key headers from McGinn’s corners, Aaron Phillips made two wonderful tackles in about a minute after coming on and Murphy making several brilliant saves after Sheffield United got their first. The main moment of panic though was when Joe Murphy went down with a bad-looking injury just after Barton came on as the final substitute of the game.

After the break in play both sides had opportunities to grab the game’s decisive goal, Conor Coady should maybe have scored one of two headers in the Coventry box and John Fleck had a golden opportunity in stoppage time to seal the three points. In the end though it wasn’t necessary for the Sky Blues as the just about held out and grab an important three points to keep ourselves out of the bottom three.

Player Ratings:

Joe Murphy 7 – Hardly at fault for any of the two Sheffield United goals and made a number of key saves to keep us in the game.

Jordan Willis 5 – Okay both defensively and in attack but was caught out a couple of times defensively and arguably could have been sent off for two bad tackles.

Andy Webster 5 – Definitely should have been sent off and probably twice. Not the best with the direction of his defensive headers and was arguably the weak link in defence.

Jordan Clarke 7 – Very composed, great positioning and held his own against the physical Marlon King in attack. Once again another classy performace by JC.

Blair Adams 8 – Great assist, supported the attack very well and offered the kind of wide outlet that Cyrus Christie usually offers from full-back.

Carl Baker 7 – Grabbed himself a fantastic assist, one of his more consistent performances for the club as his passing held itself together, perhaps a better player this season for retaining a strong level throughout 90 minutes.

Conor Thomas 6 – Quiet but provided shape and energy to the side with his performance today. Compliment to say that it wasn’t obvious that Sheffield United were playing with an extra man in midfield.

John Fleck 8 – Dominated the midfield, great passing today, his wonderful pass out to Adams led to the first and he should have had 3 or 4 assists had strikers taken their opportunities better, also should have finished the game off in the final minutes.

Franck Moussa 6 – Below his best but got an assist to the third by showing some great movement and presence of mind, could have done a lot more though.

Leon Clarke 9 – Scored two, showed some great movement and could have had a couple. Also important in the way he brings others into play and how he held the ball up in the final minutes.

Callum Wilson 8 – Should have scored more than one, his pace caused Sheffield United problems, and could have caused Harry Maguire to be sent off at some point. His movement though was his standout attribute, particularly for his goal where he pulled into space for Baker’s cross.

Subs:

Billy Daniels 4 – Didn’t have the opportunity to show his best today, looked slightly off the pace.

Aaron Phillips 6 – Didn’t play for long but made some outstanding tackles soon after coming on. Supported the attack okay and looks like he could one day be a replacement for Cyrus.

Adam Barton 5 – Did better than his last 2 league games, his passing was crisp in a key phase of the game but could have either scored or assisted a goal on a breakaway in the closing stages.

Stevenage FC 0 Coventry City 1

After a tough couple of weeks on the pitch, Coventry left Hertfordshire on Saturday evening with an important 3 points following a hard fought victory. It was the club’s first away win since August yet the performance was of a side much more used to away victories.

The same XI who lost at home to Brentford just 6 days earlier lined up again. The drafting in of a 16 year-old onto the bench seemed to emphasise the lack of squad depth currently at the club as out-of-position Adam Barton continued on the right after a less-than-convincing 45 minutes the week before. Barton’s performance was hardly one of much improvement as he struggled to get into the game for extended periods, but against inferior opposition compared to Brentford this level of performance was all that was required.

Coventry’s first half performance saw them create the best opportunities without ever really being dominant. Stevenage always felt like a counter-attack or a set piece away from taking the lead. Particularly impressive for Stevenage was the ex-Arsenal youngster Luke Freeman in attack who got in behind our back line a few times and forced a couple of last-ditch tackles from Jordan Clarke to prevent more serious danger being created.

Ultimately Coventry lacked a cutting edge in attack, luckily a sloppy pass from Stevenage’s Robin Shroot played Leon Clarke in perfectly for a well-taken finish around half an hour into the match. Coventry were somewhat awkward in attack during the first 45 minutes, unable to really string together long periods of possession although Stevenage were very resilient in defence. It often appeared though that the fluidity that we have seen from this side at times this season wasn’t there, only John Fleck seemed to be playing at his usual very high standard in comparison to his midfield colleagues, except for one or two overhit ‘hollywood’ passes.

The second half was probably the better of the two for Coventry. The Sky Blues were much better in possession and had several long spells in possession in the Stevenage half. This should have been the route to a second goal to make the result more comfortable but players seemed reluctant to take the opportunity to shoot when in good positions. Coventry’s best opportunity though was a nailed-on penalty after Callum Wilson was clean through on goal only to be floored by the clumsy defending of Stevenage centre-back Jon Ashton. Any other referee would have seen cause for at least a penalty if not also a red card for Ashton for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

This refereeing mistake did not decide the match though as Coventry were always comfortable with their one goal advantage and were the team most likely to score the game’s second. Stevenage were physical but could not convert it into sustained pressure with Joe Murphy rarely tested throughout the 90 minutes. Three points well deserved at an important juncture in the season, time now to look forward to a big month containing fixtures against Sheffield United, Leyton Orient, Wolves and Walsall.

Player Ratings:

Joe Murphy 7 – Not overly worked in terms of shots on goal but made light work of those he did face as well as being comfortable collecting crosses.

Cyrus Christie 6 – Was our out-ball for most of the match and threatened Stevenage whenever he received the ball. A typical performance for Cyrus though as there was little end product as he often decided to cut inside rather than taking the opportunity to cross.

Andy Webster 6 – At his usual level for us once again. Neither impressive or lacklustre, solid, composed but could be more dominant aerially.

Jordan Clarke 7 – Such an important player for us and proving himself to be top-quality centre-back in this league. Stood up to the aerial threat of Oumare Tounkara, covered the defence well either when Stevenage got in behind or when Christie was beaten by his man. Bags of composure and clearly not a player playing out of position.

Blair Adams 6 – Not an outstanding performances, but defended decently and supported the attack well. Suffers from not being properly protected by Moussa but there was still little threat on Stevenage’s right-hand side.

Adam Barton 5 – Started poorly, doesn’t appear too sure where to play and most things he tries always seem to be just short of succeeding. Talented player who needs a run of games and could improve in this right-sided position but you get the sense that once Baker is back he’ll be restored to the starting XI. Had a good spell at the start of the second-half after a fairly poor first-half.

Conor Thomas 6 – Quiet game for Conor today, provided shape in midfield and supported the attacks when called upon. Had a great chance to open the scoring with a well-saved long-range shot.

John Fleck 7 – The pivotal player for this team, his passing and defensive positioning are impeccable and is a joy to watch. A type of player of whom I have never seen before in a Coventry shirt. Guilty at times of being overly ambitious with his passing but his importance is doubly so as his passing and positioning allow Cyrus Christie to attack with greater freedom.

Franck Moussa 6 – Not at his best today, flickered in and out of the match. When he was in the match his dribbling and freedom to move anywhere across the pitch caused Stevenage no end of problems, however his end product could be better and when he’s not in the match he’s nigh on invisible.

Leon Clarke 8 – Got the goal today but we also saw a real full-blooded performance for a player some acuse of being lazy. At the centre of every attack and would have scored more had the been players willing to cross him the ball. Also important in bringing Callum Wilson into the game.

Callum Wilson 6 – Another player who was below the level they’ve displayed so far this season. Caused some problems for Stevenage, particularly when he should have won a penalty for us in the second half. However when he got in behind the Stevenage back-line his attempts to finish weren’t great.

Subs

Jordan Willis 6 – Not on long enough to make much of an impact on the game but had to be shifted to right-back after Cyrus had to go off with an injury. Made a few important challenges in the closing stages.

Louis Garner 5 – Touched the ball about twice but there’s some promise there. Gave the Stevenage left-back a few problems with his skillful running but was very lightweight, it seemed as if a strong gust would have knocked him off the ball.

Coventry City 5 Bristol City 4

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For all of the events of the past 6 months that have seen Coventry City put into administration, liquidated, move to Northampton and for all of the arguing between fans, ACL and SISU, as soon as the players entered the pitch for Sunday’s match it all suddenly felt normal again. Forgetting where the team should be playing for a second, it was good and surprisingly normal to see those familiar faces and Sky Blue shirts again. The pre-match atmosphere was one of quiet confusion as fans located the various parking spaces, pubs and eventually turnstiles to see them into the ground. The tension of a league fixture was much lower as fans from both sides politely milled around, it felt more like a rugby than a football atmosphere.

With captain Carl Baker suspended, Pressley decided to shuffle his pack and surprisingly included Billy Daniels on the right wing, keeping the attacking shape of the last 2 matches. In defence Andy Webster was handed his debut with Jordan Willis relegated to the bench in search of much needed defensive stability. Well that was the thinking anyway.

After a quiet start, both from the home team and fans, an attack at around the 20th minute with Callum Wilson providing a poor attempted finish after an excellent run, grew into the game. Coventry’s main threat was coming from their closing down of the opposition centre-backs, in particular Aden Flint who gifted chance after chance to City. The aforementioned Flint perhaps was lucky to remain on the pitch after he brought down the nippy Wilson in the penalty area after yet another sloppy pass from the centre-back. Leon Clarke neatly put the penalty away and the summer of discontent subsided from the thoughts of those present.

Unlike past City sides where a lead against a league’s top side would have given them nosebleeds from the altitude, this side looked determined to hammer home their advantage. To emphasise this point, the clearly struggling Flint was shown no mercy as the Sky Blues time and again played Wilson right on his shoulder to exploit his flimsy presence in the Bristol City back 4. After near-misses from Wilson, he once again sprung past the Bristol defence and placed the ball into the corner of the net to double the lead.

Just before half-time Billy Daniels, born in Bristol, put the cherry on top of a glorious first-half performance as he headed home a cross from Moussa. I admit that before the match I couldn’t see any scenario in which Coventry could win this match againt top opposition. However Coventry had more than matched a Bristol City side who remained threatening through the aerial presence of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and the intelligent runs of Sam Baldock. It was hard to pick out one player who hadn’t played his part up to this point, the front two linked very well, Fleck and Thomas were showing the Bristol midfield how to pass, Moussa was quicksilver as ever, Webster looked solid and was reading the game well, so was Jordan Clarke who was making up for his height disadvantage with great timing both on the deck and in the air.

At half-time Bristol City made two changes, striker Ryan Taylor and centre-back Derrick Williams came on as they changed shape to a 3-4-3 formation to counter Coventry’s pressing game. Taylor came on to put further pressure on the relatively diminutive Jordan Clarke, as they looked to put pressure on our defence.

Bristol City’s first came from the defence failing to deal with the ball in the second phase. Jordan Clarke almost scored an own goal as Sam Baldock ‘chested’ in as the defence appealed in vain for a hand-ball. No sweat though, although it would be typical Coventry to give up a 3 goal lead they wouldn’t do it this time though?

Conor Thomas then gave away a needless free-kick which Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scored after taking a massive deflection. 3-2 to Coventry, still with our noses in front but definitely the tide had turned in Bristol City’s favour. Then City failed to deal with a long-ball with Jordan Clarke leaving it to Murphy to try and clear with the keeper clearly in no-mans land. 3-3 there you go, typical City. Not just in surrendering the lead in this manner but also the type of goals we conceded seemed oh so typical.

With around 15 minutes to go the winds of game seemed to be blowing in Bristol’s favour. It was telling that they didn’t celebrate their equaliser, instead picking the ball out of the net attempting to get the game re-started as soon as possible. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been so eager. From the kick-off the ball was played to Cyrus Christie who sent a long-ball behind the Bristol City defence which Callum Wilson picked up and played a precise shot past Frank Fielding and Coventry were unbelievably ahead again.

This wasn’t typical City, this was the moment where I was expecting to see nosebleeds from our team, especially the younger members. Fighting back after throwing away a lead just isn’t us. As Bristol threw on their lumpen striker Marlon Harewood to put further pressure on Jordan Clarke the script seemed to be back on course. After some hesitant defending from a ball into the box, Marvin Elliott picked up on a deflection and volleyed home for 4-4. Typical bloody City.

But the game wasn’t over. Again, soon after the re-start, Coventry pushed forward, Leon Clarke crossed, Billy Daniels puts it away. 5-4 to City?

After a very nervous close to the game which saw Jordan Willis played on the left-wing and Mathieu Manset make his debut, City eventually held on for the win which now sees on -7 points. This wasn’t a normal football game for so many reasons, in the end the actual football appeared to exist on a different plane to normal football. It’s rare to see defending to seem so hard and goal-scoring so easy, almost like it was a different sport. I’ll say though that Coventry deserved the win, a performance full of energy and vigour with a number of young players showing great character as wel as talent.

Next up is Carlisle, which some may describe as a 6-pointer and hopefully the Football League will sanction this new scoring system for a one-off game. Putting politics aside, a wonderful match of football, if we keep this up (and improve our defending) then we won’t be troubling those relegation spots.

Coventry 0 Leyton Orient 1 20/04/2013

Coventry finished their home campaign on Saturday with a nondescript defeat to a Leyton Orient side who learned their victory came in vein in regards to their play-off push. Dean Cox’s goal on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Coventry was the only thing separating two equal looking sides. Despite the Sky Blues advantage in terms of chances created the Orient showed the greater cutting edge and were largely deserving of a victory. For Orient, it was an opportunity to celebrate a season that has been play-off failure notwithstanding pleasing for fans and players alike. For Coventry, the unsure nature of their attackers in the final third mirrored the uncertainty surrounding the club’s immediate future particularly surrounding the club’s continued usage of the Ricoh Arena.

Coventry started the game off looking confident enough on the ball, John Fleck especially stood out, mixing an ability to both pick the right pass and dart pass onrushing Orient shirts in a packed midfield. Fleck was often the first port of call from keeper Joe Murphy, with the instruction from Manager Steven Pressley that the Sky Blues should be looking to with the ball on the floor. As the game wore on though Orient were able to display their own midfield’s passing ability, Martin Rowlands looked solid at the base of the midfield and his distribution helped the O’s move further up the pitch. Orient’s front three of Kevin Lisbie, Lee Cook and Moses Odubajo, supported by Dean Cox worked well together and were able to fashion decent opportunities whenever they came their way.

Spurred on by some free-kicks and Nathan Clarke’s long throw-ins Orient were looking like the most threatening side come the mid-way point of the first-half. Coventry looked more and more like the counter-attacking side with the best chance of the match coming from Franck Moussa receiving the ball after an Orient free-kick, running half the length of the pitch and finding debutant Danny Philliskirk who fluffed his lines. Moussa, criticised for his recent performances was leading Coventry’s main threat on the break and should also have played Carl Baker in for what might have been an opening goal. In the first-half Coventry struggled in the main to force the away team into their own half for sustained spells. It was perhaps ironic then that the only goal of the came when Orient broke, finding right-back Cyrus Christie out of position, and Dean Cox coolly slotted past Joe Murphy in the Coventry goal. The usual pattern of Coventry’s home games this season had occurred and home fans were cursing their luck as shortly after the half-time whistle blew.

The second half was more one-sided than the second, Coventry were spiritedly pushing for an equaliser to send their fans home happy for once this season. Franck Moussa was again looking threatening and penetrative but his poor decision making in the final third meant that Orient were never put to the sword. The main threat though was coming down both flanks, on the left it was through David Bell, a right-footed winger, who received the ball more often than in the first and looked intent on cutting inside and curling the ball into the back of the net (to little effect). On the right Cyrus Christie was rampaging from his right full-back position, able at times to break into the opposition area where either through a lack of options or poor decision making he was unable to make Orient pay. Fleck’s distribution was becoming increasingly long, and inaccurate, as his influence on the game was waning. A change to 4-4-2, with Philliskirk and Steve Jennings the sacrifice for first Cody McDonald and then Callum Wilson, never really offered the threat that manager Pressley must have been hoping for. The front two seemed too disparate in their positioning and approach to the position that when added time came the result never looked in doubt.

The final reflection from a City perspective is whether this performance will mean anything. Yes they looked tidy in position, yes they did pose questions to the opposition defence, but can this be translated into a promotion chase next season or how many of these players will be around to do so come next August? Additionally will these questions be answered at the Ricoh Arena? Orient though will be very pleased with their overall performance, they defended successfully, looked good in possession and their forwards linked very well. Furthermore a chance of a 7th place finish is a great achievement for a side who looked to be lower mid-table pre-season and started off so poorly.