A tense 90 minutes of football saw Coventry City edge out Sunderland with a 1-0 win that sends the Sky Blues top with 11 games remaining. While it was a performance lacking in attacking quality, a strong defensive showing meant that, in retrospect, the result was rarely in doubt after a second-minute goal put the Sky Blues in the lead.
The Defence Steps Up
The story of this side for much of the season has been about how we’ve consistently controlled games. While we weren’t conceding many, this appeared to be as a result of having the ball for the majority of the game rather than being a strong defensive unit.
Over the past month or so, we’ve been playing against teams that have denied us time on the ball and have been able to put us under long spells of pressure. Yet still, we’re conceding few big chances per game.
It has shone a light on the individual and collective quality of the defence. Dominic Hyam, Michael Rose and, in particular, Kyle McFadzean, have really seemed to relish the physical and psychological battle of soaking up opposition pressure, while the team as a whole has been more than willing to get stuck in with their defensive shifts.
Mark Robins’ decision at half-time against Fleetwood Town at St Andrew’s back in October to switch to a back three looks to have been a key turning point of the campaign. Dominic Hyam and Michael Rose have fluorished under the wing of Kyle McFadzean, who has in turn benefited from having the cover that the wider centre-backs provide. While the system has had the positive effect of freeing the rest of the team to play further up the pitch, we have seen in these recent big games that it has given us a compactness without the ball that makes it difficult for teams to play through or around us.
That solidity at the back has meant we’ve only needed a handful of chances to take seven points against three of our biggest promotion rivals over the past month. If we go up this season, it will be because of our defence.
Not At Our Fluent Best
Whether it’s down to the quality of the opposition, fatigue from the amount of football we’ve played recently, or something more concerning, we have struggled to reliably create chances over the past month.
From consistently dominating games, our periods of dominance seem to have progressively declined recently. The longest spell we had in genuine control of this game against Sunderland was the two minutes at the start of the game from which we scored.
Because we’ve been winning some important games recently, it has gone under the radar that Callum O’Hare, Jamie Allen and Matt Godden have yet to gel as an attacking unit. While there have been signs that they could develop into something very exciting, plenty of moves have broken down between them from one of them either releasing the ball at the wrong time or trying to make the same run as one another.
There isn’t a lot of time left for that trio to click – which I think is very close to occurring. If not, there is going to be an awful lot of pressure on our defence to keep things tight, avoid making mistakes and hope that an opponent doesn’t produce a moment of individual magic if we are to continue winning games on a regular basis.
Can We Actually Do This?
With 11 games remaining, we are top of the table with a game in hand. We have enough of a cushion from third-place that we can afford a couple of off-days and remain in an automatic promotion position. This is an excellent position to be in.
It is a tough remaining list of fixtures – with six of the current top-half still to play – although, in the position we’re in at the stage of the season, any game is going to present its challenges. Importantly, we have not only shown we can beat the best teams at this level but that we can string a run of wins together.
It has been over half a century since this club has been in this position at this stage of a season. While it makes every game increasingly tense from now on in, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate what an incredible position this is to be in and how far we have come in just three years.