With 49 strikes between them in the regular season, the battle for attacking supremacy between 28-goal Middlesbrough hero Chuba Akpom and 21-goal Coventry talisman Viktor Gyokeres was expected to be an intriguing one on Sunday afternoon.
However, in a game that neither side evidently wanted to lose, clear-cut chances were at a premium. Coventry fired 11 shots during the course of the game, but not a single one hit the target, while Ben Wilson had to save the Sky Blues’ bacon on a couple of occasions too.
While Coventry’s resilience was rightly lauded, Michael Carrick‘s Middlesbrough will now enter Wednesday’s second leg as firm favourites to get the job done in front of their own fans, although the hosts have been labouring through a sticky patch at the worst possible time.
Indeed, Carrick’s men have now failed to win any of their last four games – scoring a mere two goals in those 360 minutes of football – and they have just two victories to show from their last nine affairs in the Championship, which does not make for pleasant reading whatsoever.
On the other hand, Sunday’s scoreless battle snapped an eight-game streak without a clean sheet for Boro, who have netted in 14 successive league contests at the Riverside since a 0-0 draw versus Huddersfield Town in October, but Coventry’s away-day specialities are well-documented.
Not averse to playing mind games straight after the final whistle on Sunday, Coventry boss Mark Robins affirmed that his men will travel to the Riverside with the pressure firmly off their shoulders, while also bemoaning his side’s distinct lack of ruthlessness in front of their own fans.
The Sky Blues, who have been absent from the top tier of English football for 22 years, may be possessing the underdogs label ahead of the second leg, but Robins’s men established a reputation as one of the division’s most difficult teams to beat in the second half of the regular season.
From their final 17 matches prior to the playoffs, Coventry only suffered one defeat – a shock 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of Stoke City – navigating their final seven fixtures unbeaten with three wins and four draws to their name.
Playing on unfamiliar territory has not fazed Robins’s men either, as they enter the second leg having avoided defeat in nine successive away matches, and they have not conceded more than one goal in a fixture on their travels during the entirety of 2023 so far.
That streak includes a 1-1 draw with Boro at the Riverside Stadium as recently as May 8, and the hosts have just one win to boast about from their last five encounters with the Sky Blues, who can look forward to a Wembley meeting with Sunderland or Luton Town should their resilience on the road win out again.