On an entertaining Friday evening clash with Peterborough United, the Sky Blues salvaged a point directly after conceding an 89th minute goal that looked to be decisive. On the balance of play, it was a game that we should have won but to take something out of a game after such a sucker-punch is a testament to the belief that this side appears to have at the moment.
To Play Well Is To Choose Well?
Depending on who you asked, it was either an excellent performance lacking the finishing touch or a poor performance where we got out of jail for with a late goal. While I am more in the former camp than the latter, it is a worthwhile question to ask whether a performance in which possession and promising situations struggled to be converted into chances and goals is a good one.
Once again, Tom Bayliss and Luke Thomas were our best performers, but neither came away with a goal or an assist. For all the promising play the duo produced, the final pass or shot from either of them was frequently the wrong choice or poorly executed. Yet, it would be an incredible oversimplification to go so far as to describe them as having played poorly.
Bayliss’ elegant striding through the centre of the pitch, Thomas’ turn of skill and pace, as well as his determination to win the ball back were huge reasons why we were in the ascendancy for large portions of the game. While the end product wasn’t there, there was always the threat that they were about to produce the decisive moment.
Decision-making in the final third remains this team’s biggest issue. There’s only so much Mark Robins and his coaching staff can do in training to improve matters, the only thing to do is to continue to get the ball into dangerous areas and hope that with increased odds of making the correct decision, players will learn when, where and how to do so.
The Michael Doyle Debate
Whenever an older player makes a mistake, there is always the suggestion that this is a signal of their decline. Michael Doyle made a costly mistake in this game when his poorly executed pass towards Dominic Hyam was intercepted by Peterborough’s Jason Cummings to set up Ivan Toney to score what appeared to be the game’s winning goal in the final minute of normal time. Should Doyle’s place in the side be evaluated?
Despite the higher level of football and his advancing years, Doyle seems to have become even more of an important player for us this season than he was last year. With the establishment of his central midfield partnership with Tom Bayliss, Doyle has been given the defined role of receiving the first pass out of defence to allow Bayliss to push further forward – which also means Doyle has less running to do with and without the ball. In addition, he has taken over set-piece duties, which has led to several goals this season.
Notably, Doyle has racked up comfortably more passes than any other player in League One. While he can set the tempo at times quite effectively in moving the ball to the full-back quickly, playing early long passes into the strikers, even when he takes those quick free-kicks, that overall passing statistic is also the result of a lot of aimless play between Doyle and the defence.
Rather than the mistake itself, the turnover in possession came as a result of Peterborough putting pressure on us high up the pitch while Doyle and the defence were exchanging passes. The question with Doyle isn’t so much whether he is past it, but whether he is the right player to be playing that all-important organising role in possession as the first pass out of defence.
It has to be noted that for much of this season, Doyle has been effective in that role. It is also hard to see Abu Ogogo or Liam Kelly stepping into that role effectively. For now, the mistake can be put down to one of those risks that teams playing out from the back take, longer-term Mark Robins may need to look into bringing in someone who can distribute the ball from deep more confidently and effectively than Doyle.
Effort Over Quality
The frustration with the performance in this game was the lack of cutting edge, however, it has to be commended that heads didn’t drop despite everything suggesting that it wasn’t going to be our night. Even when we conceded that late-late goal, the reaction from the players wasn’t resignation to our fate but a determination to get back into the game.
For that, Mark Robins deserves credit for the way he organises and motivates this side. It has been a consistent feature of his reign at this football club that we have been able to bounce back fairly quickly from setbacks, with the reaction to the goal in this game a microcosm of that in action.
The players clearly know their roles in the side and what is expected of them in those roles. Aside from a fairly poor start to the season when Mark Robins was figuring out his preferred system and strongest side, there has been a level of consistency in our performances. It meant that when things were falling in our favour last month, we racked up the wins, when things aren’t quite working for us now, we’re still able to keep ourselves in games.
If we can keep up the levels of effort that we’ve been able to produce over the last couple of months, we’ll stand ourselves in good stead for a strong finish. We’re probably lacking that level of quality in the final third and control of possession to reliably dominate games and put teams away, but we should be capable of picking up points consistently – even though it is now five games without a win.