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HomeSportsCoventry's loss was both thrilling and devastating

Coventry’s loss was both thrilling and devastating

  • Guardiola defends Coventry, predicts a tough semi-final for United
  • Despite initial struggles, Coventry’s comeback stuns and devastates
  • VAR controversy mars thrilling comeback, leading to penalty defeat

Pep Guardiola responded, “Please respect Coventry,” in response to a presumptuous TV reporter’s inquiry on Saturday evening regarding the possibility of another all-Manchester FA Cup final involving Manchester City. Guardiola was cognizant of the fact that Coventry City would not be easy prey for Manchester United in Sunday’s semi-final; however, not even he could have predicted the extent to which they would bring Erik ten Hag’s squad perilously close to disaster in the most exhilarating and distressing football experience of my life.

I reasoned that having witnessed numerous Coventry defeats over the years would have rendered me desensitised to the situation. I witnessed our relegation from the Premier League to League One in 2012 from the press box of Doncaster, where I shed tears; and we were denied a Premier League berth by Luton last May, which evoked a range of emotions within me. However, witnessing United defeat us at Wembley following an absurd comeback of three goals was an entirely new type of trauma.

Surprisingly, Coventry put forth a dismal performance in the first half, exhibiting an unwarranted sense of apprehension towards our opponents. 

Even with a 3-0 lead, United’s vulnerability became apparent when Mark Robins altered his formation by introducing Fabio Tavares and Victor Torp inside. The initial two goals, scored by Ellis Simms and Callum O’Hare, were met with a blend of pride and enthusiasm in the upper tiers of Wembley, where I was seated. The third resulted in delirium. I even turned to my father following Haji Wright’s penalty in the 95th minute and said, “I could care less about the outcome; this is beyond unbelievable.”

Who was I joking with? I was devastated when Torp’s “goal” in the dying seconds of extra-time was unexpectedly disallowed for the tiniest offside conceivable. In football, nothing is more cruel than perceiving for an entire minute that your team has completed undoubtedly the greatest comeback in FA Cup history, let alone made it to the 37th FA Cup final, only to have it robbed from you.

The players from Coventry were knee-sliding across the Wembley pitch, while those from Manchester United were lamentably strewn about the area, wilting with humiliation. The perfect juxtaposition was achieved. I pondered the prospect of envisioning the headlines and photographs. 

This was reminiscent of winning the Cup final: a moment in Sky Blue football history that was nearly on par with 1987. It was a moment to remember with my father and one that I aspire to replicate for years to come in the backyard garden with my son. However, similar to numerous Coventry supporters, I had completely forgotten about VAR (thankfully, the Championship does not have it). It is an extremely noxious concept.

Having viewed the replay of Torp’s disallowed strike dozens of times, Wright appears onside from an alternative vantage point when the scooped-through ball eventually exits O’Hare’s boot, despite appearing fractionally offside in the freeze-frame utilised by VAR. Long have I maintained that VAR taints the sport we adore, and I have my doubts that the officials at Stockley Park can precisely assess marginal offsides. 

Consequently, why must the law be enforced with such agonising tedium? Furthermore, how have we permitted cumbersome remote officiating to compromise the most fundamental aspect of football: our impromptu celebrations? If it is not offside, simply allow it to pass.

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I may be quite ancient. I could be simply resentful. However, I would prefer that football matches be decided on the pitch, with no residual doubts, delays or potential for revocation from a distance. And no, my emotions would not change significantly even if the footwear were on the opposite foot. Last May, in the final moments of Coventry’s Championship play-off final loss to Luton, the Hatters scored the game-winning goal; however, an unforeseen handball ruling ruled it out. Uncertainty and disarray pervaded the stands during the shootout as we awaited the outcome of the game-changing VAR decision; it was arguably more abhorrent than Fankaty Dabo’s subsequent missed penalty kick.

To return to penalties, we shall. From the moment we lost both coins tosses—one to ascertain which end the penalties would be taken at and the other to determine who would go first, just as we had done against Luton—I immediately feared the worst. However, hope and superstition remained for those to adhere to. A Coventry supporter has recently attained cult status due to the magnitude of his Friday night meals; before the club’s epic quarterfinal victory over Wolves, he consumed an enormous banger and fries. Two days before the semi-final, a vehicle was even dispatched from Coventry to Sheffield to deliver the same meal to him. Surely “Bigfoot” would serve as our fortunate talisman during the gunfight.

Regrettably, not. The Cup’s enchantment was dispelled at a distance of 12 yards. I am now filled with profound sorrow and immense admiration for the Sky Blues.

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