Our biggest home win since December 2012 came against Shrewsbury Town. It was thoroughly deserved too with the Sky Blues not only constantly creating chances throughout the game but limiting their opposition to half-chances and scraps. By any recognisable bench-mark, we thrashed Shrewsbury, completely took them apart.
The big team selection that Tony Mowbray made prior to the game paid off, big time. Jim O’Brien was dropped in place of Marc-Antoine Fortuné. The forward was excellent in his battering ram role in attack with the buzzing Jacob Murphy, Ryan Kent and Adam Armstrong roving around eagerly in the trail of Shrewsbury defenders Fortuné left in his wake.
In sacrificing a midfielder to play an extra striker, we lost presence in the middle of the pitch. The up-shot of it for the Shrewsbury game was that we overloaded their defence with our attacking options and looked like scoring nearly every time we went forward. In playing a less patient build-up game, we were able to maximise the threat we posed the opposition.
It was strange to see the team appear to deliberately allow the opposition to take the ball right up to around 30 yards away from our own goal before we had players closing them down. Our defending of that zone though was pretty much immaculate with Romain Vincelot patrolling in front of the defence, Sam Ricketts barely putting a foot wrong at right-back and Reda Johnson dominant as ever in the middle. By not committing men into a midfield battle, we were compact and organised in front of our own goal.
Was this a cunning plan, or was it something that ended up looking good by the lack of quality that our opponents possessed and scoring goals at the right times?
In analysing football games, it’s easy to look at the result and build your conclusions from there. Would we still have regarded this as a good performance had we won by a smaller margin? How different would the game have been had we not scored until much later in the game? Would we have been able to win this game had Shrewsbury scored first?
As impressive as we were in terms of creating chances throughout the game, we did also score goals at good times in the game. The first goal came half-way through the first-half, just after Shrewsbury had had their best spell of the game. The second came just before half-time which must have been a demoralising blow for Shrewsbury who would have been looking to regroup at the break. The third goal, half-way through the second-half, completely killed off any hope that Shrewsbury could have nicked a goal and set-up a grandstand finish.
It is of course easier to win games that you take the lead in, but we have seen plenty of Coventry City teams in the past fail to hold onto leads. Whereas other Sky Blues sides may have changed their set-up in an attempt to see out the win, we more or less kept playing the same way throughout the 90 minutes regardless of the scoreline. It takes bravery and confidence to do that and it certainly shouldn’t be dismissed.
Surrendering much of the battle for the ball in midfield though made it feel to me like a less convincing win than it actually was. Watching the highlights back, it is a constant stream of flowing, fluent attacking football. Being at the game, it felt like we were riding by the seat of our pants at times. We did waste several chances due to some poor decision making, there were quite a few misplaced passes in our own half and it’s rarely a pleasurable experience watching the opposition have the ball.
In a recent defeat against Walsall, there was a similarly large gap between our defensive players and our attacking players. Walsall always had an extra man in midfield to help them maintain possession and they made us pay. If you allow the opposition to have the ball, you always risk that they’ll actually do something with it.
A little further back, we were beaten 3-0 by Swindon Town in what was truly a dominant performance. It felt like Swindon were choosing when they wanted to score such was their complete control of the game. There was absolutely no way we could have won that match, even if Conor Thomas hadn’t tried to head that ball.
Different teams will have different philosophies and ideas of what a dominant performance is. It’s not always about having the ball for 90 minutes, but it is about exercising complete control of the game in some sense. It’s moving beyond needing to score goals at the right times in games. It’s about convincing the opposition that there is nothing they can do themselves to win the game.
In a different way, we did achieve control of the game against Shrewsbury. We demonstrated to them that our attacking players could do far more with far less of the ball than we allowed their attacking players to have. Shrewsbury’s passing with the possession we allowed them to have became increasingly inaccurate as the game wore on. We had not only beaten them with the goals we scored but psychologically too.
It’s a bit too early though to look at such a comfortable win and suggest that this is a team on its way to winning things. It’s definitely a positive sign, we haven’t seen a Coventry City team win this comfortably at its proper home in a long time. There have been Coventry City teams in the past that have won games comfortably, only to revert to type in the very next game.
Our current form is win-loss-win-loss-win and there is a suspicion right now that we are perhaps only able to beat the teams who open up for us. The tests against teams with more solid defences, who pose questions of us themselves, we have struggled to deal with. At the current level of quality in this division, that may well be enough to have a good season by our own recent standards. If we want to win things this season, we have to aspire to more, we have to want to dominate games in every manner possible.