It is the 2018-19 season, Coventry City are playing at home, they’ve had most of the chances, they didn’t win, rinse and repeat. We’re in a cycle of dropping points, this time we threw away a lead via a late penalty against a combative and organised Gillingham side.
It has to be said that we played some pleasing football in this game. The movement and interchange in midfield in the first-half was particularly pleasant to watch with David Meyler, Zain Westbrooke and Jordan Shipley zipping the ball around well, particularly in front of the opposing penalty area.
Part of the reason we couldn’t find a breakthrough was the sheer determination of the Gillingham defence to throw bodies on the line for their cause. Almost every shot we had was blocked before it could test Tomas Holy in the Gillingham goal, even Bright Enobakhare’s opening goal was blocked on the line before it hit the back of the net.
The other reason why we didn’t score enough to get the win was a lack of someone willing to take on the responsibility to shoot and attack balls in the final third. With a front three comprised of two players better at creating chances than taking them, it left Jordy Hiwula the sole target for our attacks and was largely marked out of the game by Gillingham’s two centre-backs.
The front three weren’t helped by the slow build-up play from the back, which often caused ourselves more danger than it did the opposition. With a pacey front three, our best chances were clearly going to come on the counter-attack – as evidenced via the opening goal from Bright Enobakhare and then Amadou Bakayoko’s big late miss – however, we adopted an overly deliberate and slow-paced approach to putting the defence under pressure.
For all the possession and chances, Gillingham must have found it relatively easy to deal with our attacking threat. This team needs to find its teeth, otherwise we’ll continue to go unrewarded for positive, dominant football.
Bright Not So Bright
In finishing off a move he started with an incredible dribble from his own half, Bright Enobakhare made himself man of the match and will inevitably draw the attention from the wider media in the day s to come for such a display of skill.
However, he also had a part to play in our loss of control of the game. It was apparent in the final 10 minutes that he no longer wanted to be on the pitch, partially driven by an injury he appeared to pick up. However, it wasn’t just that he was physically unable to contribute in the closing stages, he showed some worrying signs of not wanting to make the basic effort to help the team out.
Mark Robins has questions to answer for allowing him to stay on the pitch for so long, however, part of being in a team sport is that you give maximum effort for as long as required. Enobakhare failed to demonstrate some basic tenets of being a professional athlete and is something that can be equally as costly as glaring error when a team is trying to desperately hold onto a lead.
Enobakhare may feel his contribution to this game lets him off the hook, but what we saw from him was a worrying lack of professionalism that has to be dealt with by Mark Robins otherwise it sends a poor message to the rest of the team.
Michael Doyle wouldn’t have let that slide.
After the departures of Michael Doyle and Abu Ogogo on transfer deadline day, an injury to Liam Kelly, then the substitution of David Meyler in the second half, we had a youthful and inexperienced set of players on the pitch attempting to hold onto what would have been an important win.
While it’s best practice to carry on playing the same style of football that put the team in the lead, there’s something to be said for doing the small things that slow the pace of the game down – such as committing niggly fouls, winning soft free-kicks, or running the ball into the corner – when it comes down to the closing minutes of a tight game. We didn’t see enough of that in this game, from taking quick free-kicks, not committing enough in the tackle, punting possession away straight to the opposition, we saw clear signs of naivety.
The club clearly has a policy at the moment of recruiting younger players to develop, today was where that policy was found wanting. For young players to flourish, they need experienced heads to teach them the nitty-gritty of winning. Dominating possession and chances isn’t enough, making sure the key moments of the game are in your favour are.
The worrying thing is that aside from Liam Kelly’s return to fitness and bringing Junior Brown in from the cold, there is a worrying lack of experience that can be brought into the side. The next few games are going to be a test of Mark Robins’ leadership and of the project he’s trying to enact at the club. Attempting to play good football and dominate games may serve us better over the longer-term, however, we’re in a losing habit right now with young players who are prone to picking up bad habits. Results need to improve fast, or we could be in danger either this season or next.