The winless run has been broken, and via an encouraging display from the Sky Blues against one of the division’s stronger sides. An energetic and tenacious performance was rewarded with goals from Jordy Hiwula and a late Tom Bayliss strike either side of a sloppy equalising goal from Charlton Athletic. The hope now is that this performance sets the tone for the second half of the campaign.
The Right Intent
As our winless run continued, Mark Robins looked to be retreating further and further into a defensive shell. However, the team selection call for this game saw Jordy Hiwula brought in to play in a strike pairing with Conor Chaplin. It left us without a physical presence in attack, but it gave us mobility and a spring in our step to quickly close our opponents down high up the pitch.
The concern was whether such effort and application was going to be rewarded with a win, and if not, whether that failure would see Mark Robins ditch the plan for the next game. Our finishing and attacking decision-making may have remained frustrating, but there was a better chance of things coming off for us by virtue of playing more of the game in the opposing half of the pitch.
The cost of pressing further up the pitch was that it left gaps both in front and behind the defence. It forced Dujon Sterling and Jordan Willis into some last-ditch interventions in defence over the course of the 90 minutes as Charlton looked to get back into the game. Meanwhile, Liam Kelly was close to overworked in his efforts to break up the play, committing several fouls to hand Charlton free-kick situations from which they were most threatening, eventually scoring an equaliser from.
Nonetheless, most would agree that it’s better to risk conceding a goal in order to score, than not risk to nothing and barely threaten. Additionally, this set of players appears to be better suited to playing high-energy attacking football than play in a robust, defensive manner. This performance should be seen as the template from which to build from for the rest of the season.
Tom Bayliss: A Conundrum?
Tom Bayliss’ winning goal came in a game where he had been disappointing overall. While there were the usual glides, those telescope legs shielding off opposing midfielders, the general opening up of play that he provides in the centre of the pitch, Bayliss’ use of the ball left a lot to be desired.
It has been an underlying theme this season that Bayliss hasn’t quite matched his clear and obvious talent with a tangible impact. While raw goals and assists statistics hide the larger impact that his ability to drive the team forward from midfield provides us, Bayliss really should have more than two goals and zero assists to his name after 25 appearances.
Let’s not forget that Tom Bayliss is still a young player and that young players invariably make poor decisions because they have less experience to draw upon. The real conundrum with Bayliss is that he has become so important to this team that he is pretty much undroppable. The better decision for his development may be for a brief spell or two out of the side, however, the team loses so much attacking threat without him that it is unthinkable to drop him.
As we saw in this game, Bayliss is the kind of player who can have a bad game by their standards but still have a major positive impact on the team overall.
A Call For Calmer Heads
While the more positive approach brought danger upon us at the back, it was apparent again in this game that the defence, including Lee Burge, lacks composure when put under pressure – although that’s perhaps a tad harsh on Dujon Sterling and Dominic Hyam.
Although we have had a reasonably strong defensive record over the past 18 months, the goals conceded during this period have often been incredibly soft. There were three opportunities to win headers to prevent Charlton equalising in this game, instead, the defence were outmuscled and disorganised from a set-piece situation.
Just how much difference a calm defensive leader would make to our defensive play can only be speculated upon. It hasn’t helped that there has been a constant slew of injuries to the back four that have robbed us of consistency in selection in defence, but there does seem to be a missing element of calmness among our current defensive options, even if some of the individuals have been impressive at times this season.