Coventry City have just managed to follow up back-to-back victories and a sense of momentum following the Ricoh Arena return by losing to two teams in Scunthorpe and Rochdale that we were expecting to beat. The team appear to have handled the dual set-back of defeat against Scunthorpe and the loss of captain Reda Johnson to suspension with a poor defeat to one of the division’s ‘lesser lights’ in Rochdale. It would have been a crazy thought to suggest at the start of last week that we would take zero points from both of those games, yet now there are big questions hanging over a number of individuals in the side as well as the strategy from our manager Steven Pressley.
Defeat against Rochdale on Saturday continued two concerning trends of this current season. Firstly, we have yet to taste victory on the road in the league this season, we are without an away win since defeating Crewe at the end of last March. Secondly, we have to take any points from games this season where we have fallen behind. For a team which many believe have the ability to win promotion, these are two trends which have to be ended at the earliest available opportunity.
After seeming so dismal in back-to-back defeats, the question to be asked was whether our performances in the games prior to last week justified the feeling that this year might finally be our year? In both of the return games at the Ricoh Arena, we edged out Gillingham and Yeovil by a single goal’s winning margin. Both of our opponents will feel that they could have taken something from their visits to Coventry and whilst we are more solid defensively, we appear to lack the ability to consistently create chances.
The opening goal at the Ricoh Arena came from an incisive and well-worked move down the left-hand side with the ball transitioning through defence to midfield to Ryan Haynes down the left who cut the ball back for Frank Nouble to finish. However the teams we have faced since then have been live to the threat of Ryan Haynes from wing-back and have doubled-up on him with the youngster eventually dropped against Rochdale in favour of Danny Pugh.
With Haynes well marshalled by Yeovil, our first goal came from a set-piece and our second came from a goalkeeping error. If our threat from wing-back is going to be nullified so easily by our opponents throughout the season, are set-pieces and defensive errors enough to see us into the top six of this division?
Our goal against Scunthorpe appeared to answer that question, Simeon Jackson played a perfectly weighted through-ball which Frank Nouble finished with aplomb. Those two will be key for us, given that most of our team are not making runs into the box, they’ll have to combine well to create their own chances.
Here is why we shouldn’t be too downhearted by the losses to Scunthorpe and Rochdale. Arguably each performance had its own mitigating factors. The sending-off of Reda Johnson was a game-changer against Scunthorpe, had he stayed on the pitch it would have been a straightforward and comfortable victory against a side with no confidence. Against Rochdale, our opponents only actually created a single shot on target, which came from a penalty. Had we not had two momentary lapses in both of those games, we would have at least taken 4 points from those fixtures and would be 4th in the division.
Rochdale’s assistant manager came out after the game and stated: “Coventry are probably the best team that have been to Spotland.” Considering that they have already played Preston, Peterborough and Bristol City at home this season, we should take this as a compliment. However there is the two caveats are that we didn’t actually win the game and that it is usually in a team’s interests to build up the opposition after beating them.
It goes back to the dilemma towards the end of last season, when you are losing games narrowly but playing fairly well, do you stick to your principles hoping things will change soon or do you sacrifice them for short-term results? If we want to go up this season we need that edge to take advantage of tight games, i.e. not losing your head against an annoying opponent or not bringing down an opponent for a penalty when you might have saved his shot. However we might perform better over the course of the season if we can learn how to exercise control over games which is what Steven Pressley is looking for.
What was the difference between the two defeats and two victories? Looking at the statistics there is very little difference in terms of possession and chances given to the opposition, the main difference is that in our two defeats we took 50% fewer shots across the two games than when we were winning. Whilst we can take a few positives away from what might otherwise be seen as two embarrassing defeats, it is clear that we are still searching for our guaranteed way to create chances.
Success in football is achieved through learning from defeats but equally important is the ability to improve upon winning performances. The two teams currently on top of the table, Bristol City and Milton Keynes, are not only winning games but winning them comfortably. If we want to challenge them then we need to find a way to win tight games whilst looking for that formula to become a team that regularly dominates games. It’s been a relatively decent start but we are still some distance from being a side that can achieve promotion this season.