A frustrating 0-0 draw at St Andrew’s against Accrington Stanley means that some of the momentum in the wake of recent positive results against promotion-challenging Fleetwood Town and Peterborough United has been dissipated. While there were good shouts for a penalty and a goal disallowed, the Sky Blues didn’t really do enough to break-down an opposition attempting to niggle and frustrate their way to an away result.
The Back Five
Due to the positioning of the wing-backs, the system we have used over the past few games has to be described as a 5-3-2 rather than a 3-5-2. Playing an extra centre-back, in theory, provides the wing-backs with the licence to really bomb forward. Whether it’s down to personnel or tactical instructions though, the two wing-backs for the Sky Blues in this game – Tennai Watson and Sam McCallum – tended to take up cautious positions, generally around the half-way line rather than towards the final third.
Tennai Watson was the more adventurous of the two wing-backs, with Sam McCallum – despite constantly asking for play to be switched his way – often passing inside rather than driving forward with the ball. While they didn’t completely leave us without attacking width, Accrington seemed fairly content to allow both to have the ball knowing that they weren’t taking up the ball in particularly dangerous positions.
A secondary issue with our execution of this system was that the central defenders seemed to be fairly reticent to step into midfield and were often pretty unadventurous with their passing. Perhaps it was a result of the players ahead of them not taking up positions in which they could receive the ball, but it seemed we were asking for a level of quality from Dominic Hyam, Kyle McFadzean and Michael Rose to play accurate and telling passes that they didn’t seem to have.
Against an Accrington Stanley side that were clearly happy with the point, it felt like we were playing with the handbrake on, lacking the movement and ideas to break down a set defence. While we didn’t get some big refereeing decisions in our favour, we didn’t really create enough to win the game. The tempo for the performance was set by an under-adventurous back five that did little despite spending long periods in possession.
Are We Wasting Callum O’Hare?
If there was one player who was going to win the game for us, it was Callum O’Hare. The Aston Villa loanee is clearly an exceptionally talented player who is set out for a career at a higher level. O’Hare provides that step-up in tempo that this team is otherwise lacking and gets opposing defences turning on the back foot.
Not that he didn’t have a big influence on this game, but he was being asked to do almost everything for us in an attacking sense. At times it felt like he was forcing things a little too hard, lacking the support to find truly dangerous pockets of space and having to beat one defender only to find himself up against another. It must have been a hugely frustrating 90 minutes for the youngster.
In his first appearances for the club, O’Hare added a spark on top of what was a functioning team. He was providing telling impacts whenever he was on the pitch and became impossible to ignore. It’s not like he is playing any worse now that he is a regular starter, but with attacking players in the squad falling like flies at the moment, he has been shifted into a role of huge importance in terms of both creating and scoring goals which is asking a lot of someone who has less than a season of first-team football under his belt.
The danger is that the responsibility becomes too much for him to shoulder and he burns himself out. The challenge for Mark Robins is to provide O’Hare with the support and freedom the he can thrive upon within the current circumstances of having very few other forward players to pick from.
The Squad Gets Thinner
Maxime Biamou and Kyle McFadzean picking up suspensions couldn’t have come at a worse time with Matt Godden, Jordy Hiwula, and Wesley Jobello injured, along with Jamie Allen and Jodi Jones yet to return to even under-23 action after their own injury issues. In attack, it places a huge burden on the aforementioned Callum O’Hare, as well as Amadou Bakayoko. At the back, it possibly brings to an end the experiment with 5-3-2.
Just how Mark Robins shuffles his pack right now is a huge quandary. The EFL Trophy game coming this week against Southampton’s academy side could well be a big opportunity for the likes of Morgan Williams, Declan Drysdale, Will Bapaga, Dexter Walters or David Bremang to show that they can come into the first-team over the next month or so. However, it’s more change to add onto the change that switching to 5-3-2 has caused, which can become severely disrupted if it gets out of hand.
The January transfer window is increasingly looking like some wonderful oasis in light of our current problems. Much like a beleaguered desert traveller, that oasis could prove to be a mirage given how difficult it can be to source quality in January, while also risking further disruptive change.
It’s almost easy to forget that we are 6th in the division and remain in a great position to mount a promotion push.