Another abject defeat at the Ricoh Arena, with the usual vainglorious fightback which came far too late. No matter how many times we have seen it happen, this team seems powerless to stop the inevitable coming. It is utterly infuriating to witness as a fan, surely knowing how things can go wrong is the first step to stopping them from happening?
This hastily written article is part a dissection of the faults that led to today’s defeat and also an exercise in rehashing the reasons why we continue to lose home games so softly.
Lack of Quality From Full-Backs
The tactical set-up of the team is on paper a 4-4-2, but with the two wide players (Barton and O’Brien) playing so narrowly, it leaves the full-backs with the responsibility of providing penetration from out wide. Not only are the wide players positioned narrowly, but they look to come short for the ball when we are in possession rather than create 2-on-1 situations on the edge of the opposing penalty area.
The upshot of this is that it means that our full-backs either have to beat two defenders to get the ball to the byline for a pull-back or put in a perfect cross from a deep position towards the back post. With Aaron Phillips and Chris Stokes both lacking belief in their ability to take on opposing defenders and deliver crosses and our two strikers poor competitors in the air for their height, it was an approach that did not play to our strengths.
Lack of Penetration Overall
Related to our inability to create chances for all full-backs, was the general slow pace of build-up play which allowed Crewe’s defence to set themselves into good defensive positions whenever we had the ball. The team was set up to play slow football with our wide players both looking to come towards the ball rather than make telling runs off it. Conceding the early goal meant that Crewe could sit deep and further deny us any hope that we could find space behind their defence.
As we tried to expand the pitch to turn the screw on Crewe, the midfield four formed a square in front of the opposing penalty area. The wide areas turned into a 1-on-1 contest between our full-backs and their wing-backs whilst Crewe’s back three could mark Nouble and Proschwitz with the comfort of having a spare man to snuff out any danger we intermittently caused. The natural thing to do would have been to introduce Sanmi Odelusi to play as a traditional winger, except when he did come one, Nouble was pulled out wide and Odelusi played as a central striker.
We were relying on either a moment of individual brilliance from one of our players to break through Crewe’s massed ranks, a perfect cross from out wide or simply an individual error. When we eventually went for the ‘hail Mary’ in the final 20 minutes, there was at least more of a concerted effort to create 2-vs-1 situations out wide with
Whilst we shouldn’t read too much into tactics when one team is desperately chasing the game and the other is three goals up, that sense of urgency but also the desire to get in behind the opposition was needed much earlier than it did come. We had the ball for long periods but were playing in front of Crewe not creating too much danger and then leaving gaps for Crewe to exploit on the counter.
Lack of Cynicism
It’s aggravating to watch a side such as Crewe so perfectly win soft free-kicks, feign injury, waste time and just generally turn the game into an unwatchable, stop-start contest. There was that moment when Marcus Haber, Crewe’s lengthy Canadian striker, tripped up on the turf and went down clutching his face. Our tormentor in chief though was Anthony Grant in midfield who once again showed us exactly how to spoil a game with his niggly tackles and proclivity to fall to the floor at the slightest inkling of a foul.
In an ideal world, Crewe would have had four or five players booked for diving and time-wasting but refereeing is largely subjective so it serves for very little getting angry about it. What I would have liked to see was Coventry City players learning a few tricks from Anthony Grant and Crewe’s books. There was very little pressure on the referee from our players when decisions went against us, compared to Crewe spending most of the game in constant dialogue with the ref.
As we saw with Crewe’s second goal which was a clear foul on Lee Burge, it is rare for referees to be impartial arbiters of the laws of the game. The referee is another opponent to come up against, the teams that win promotions or come up top in relegation battles know that and try and win the battle of the referee. This isn’t the time for ethics, a point today would have made a big difference.
Soft Goals Conceded
The second goal we conceded today was unfortunate because it was a foul on the keeper that nearly every referee in this country gives. Still, the fact that the team stopped playing as Crewe worked the ball into the net was absolutely criminal. Against Oldham, were failed to spot a short free-kick routine that arguably cost us the two points that would have meant we would be safe now. You can go even further back to the Leyton Orient, Doncaster and Port Vale games where the team has gifted opposing teams soft goals.
It has now been proven that Reda Johnson’s presence in the side does not entirely mitigate against these silly goals being given away. Heading into another big relegation scrap next weekend against Crawley who will be similarly streetwise to Crewe, you worry that it is going to be another wholly preventable goal that sends Coventry City to the fourth-tier for the first time since the late 50s.
Peterborough’s remarkable comeback against Crawley today means that if we can keep a clean sheet next Sunday, we will stay up. However it also means that Crawley have to beat us to ensure survival. The pressure on that game will be remarkable, especially given that results could potentially mean that one team relegates the other. Mistakes are seemingly inevitable and I worry that our lack of a goal threat, having that knowledge of how we are going to score goals, could mean that when mistakes happen, we will be unable to respond to them.
Today’s result and performance was simply unacceptable yet the shortcomings that were on display both tactically and psychologically took too long to be addressed. Sometimes a result and performance can be particularly scarring in a relegation battle, with that defeat away to Bristol City three years ago condemning us to the drop despite there being several games to go. Continually losing in the same manner throughout the season is going to have its consequences and this result may well have massive psychological consequences.
We are heading into the biggest game of the season off the back of a defeat and very little form in winning the big pressure games. It is going to be a long week looking at all the potential ramifications. We have had multiple chances to get ourselves out of this mire only to shoot ourselves in the foot with these kind of performances.