Defensive Weaknesses Return
The main thing I have learned in November is that our defensive frailties which we assumed were left behind long ago in September were never really apart from us. The month began with two straightforward wins over a League Two side in the FA Cup and a side that belongs in League Two in the League. After gliding past Walsall, Leyton Orient and Wolves only conceding 2 it was assumed that Jordan Clarke and Andy Webster were finally playing together as an effective defensive partnership. However a blood and thunder game against Bradford City brought the old weaknesses at the back to the fore. After racing ahead to a 2 goal lead in 10 minutes, an air-kick from Jordan Clarke after a defensive kerfuffle from a simple long-ball allowed Bradford one of the simplest goals they’ll ever score. From then on we struggled to deal with a direct style of play from the Bantams and the pace of their left-winger, this resulted in a final-minute penalty conceded by Jordan Clarke who hand-balled after failing to compete with James Hanson in the air. Nevermind, a 3-3 draw against Bradford wasn’t too bad, this performance was followed up by two consecutive heavy defeats to Tranmere and Rotherham by and aggregate score of 8 goals to 1. Ouch.
The Importance of Leon Clarke
The performance against Rotherham highlighted the importance of Leon Clarke to his Coventry side. Billy Daniels tried but lacked the physicality and intelligence that Leon Clarke offers as the attacking fulcrum to the side. As a result Coventry only mustered 2 efforts on target during the game compared to 4 in Clarke’s final appearance before succumbing to injury. Although there isn’t a large degree of statistical information available I think it’s been clear that our attacking play has been less effective without Clarke in the side. In the two games since Clarke picked up his injury Callum Wilson has failed to score despite having several clear chances to do so. Not only does Clarke create (and score) chances himself but he’s also a key leader of the side, taking the pressure off younger members of the squad who had flourished under his influence so far this season.
The Poor Form of Carl Baker
It’s not that Carl Baker is a divisive player, he’s a schizophrenic one. Although he’s not at the Franck Moussa level of being loved and hated at the same time, Baker has a clear divide in his playing personality. During the space of 10 minutes he can be both the best and worst player on the pitch. Last season he scored 12 league goals, a remarkable achievement for a midfielder playing for Coventry. However this was despite him spending the opening two or three months of the season struggling to make the simplest of passes. This season has seen Baker’s impact far more reduced with so far only 1 league goal but alarmingly his performance levels have been in sharp decline over the past month. Even worse has been Baker’s displays as captain of the side, already famous for waving his arms in the air and demanding the ball, only to often give it away instantly, Baker’s poor performance and lack of leadership against Rotherham was a key factor in an insipid performance where the team showed no sign of halting the slide once the Millers started scoring. After Maguire’s impact against MK Dons it could be a while before the captain regains his place in the starting XI.
The Cavalry Arrives
Thursday saw a rare sight for Coventry fans this season, not only did the club bring in an extra player but they only went and added 3 players to the squad. Partly due to injuries, partly due to two abject defeats in a row but Pressley made his biggest squad shake-up since the summer. First to come was Barnsley striker Chris Dagnall, then came Yeovil centre-back Danny Seaborne and finally in came Chris Maguire on loan from Sheffield Wednesday. After bringing in Jamar Loza on loan from Norwich, who later returned there, it was a surprise to see three experienced names added to the first-team squad after a season largely based around getting the best out of the youth in the squad. No-one could deny that this wasn’t a needed boost and it was good to see Pressley identifying a problem and remedying it as soon as he could. The subsequent win against MK Dons featured all three loan signings, Seaborne and Dagnall both starting and Maguire from the bench, with Dagnall and Maguire both on the scoresheet which emphatically emphasised the feeling of freshness as a result of Thursday’s business.
Coventry City Is Still Alive
My final point is a positive one to highlight the positive feeling to the end of the month. Whilst the impending striking crisis for the Hartlepool game or Cyrus Christie’s slow return to form were both contenders, I’d prefer to reflect on what felt like an amazing weekend to be a Coventry fan. Avoiding for a second the awkward logic of Saturday’s show of support for our exiled club occurring against MK Dons of all teams, it felt good to see Coventry City making the headlines for the right reasons. For some outside observers the move to Sixfields and dismal attendances have been a display of apathy over moral stance, visibly showing such a large number of Coventry supporters in the same place sent the message that this is not only a club that is alive but a big one at that. Hearing the noise during the closing stages of the game on Saturday from the radio felt akin to a Cup final rather than a league game in the third-tier of English football. The adrenaline of that dramatic win over MK Dons stayed with me long into Sunday and hopefully those type of feelings can be the future rather than a memory for Coventry City fans in years to come.