Six long months building up to the start of this Championship season and, now that it’s happened, we know a lot more about whether this Coventry City side has what it takes to compete and thrive at this level.
The Sky Blues’ first touch of the ball back in the Championship was to pick it out of the net from a swift opening goal from Bristol City, which seemed an ominous sign. However, the team grew in stature as the first-half wore on and deservedly grabbed an equaliser via Matt Godden, then had chances to go ahead. The second-half saw Bristol City up the gears, which had us holding on as the game wore on, but the winning goal was felt soft from a Coventry City perspective, as the home side punished slack marking at a corner with eight minutes remaining.
The Step Up
Leaving aside those two cheap goals we conceded, the transition to a higher-level of football seemed relatively seamless. In the first-half especially, this Sky Blues side looked confident on the ball and began to impose themselves on Bristol City as the opening 45 minutes wore on. While the home side moved into control in the second-half, only a few of our players looked particularly overawed with what a decent Championship side threw at us.
It’s what makes the nature of those two goals especially frustrating. Both stemming from a lack of concentration. The first came from the back three getting caught flat-footed from the opening whistle, the second from poor marking from a set-piece. It could be argued that, on another day, those goals don’t happen and we come away from this game with the win. It wasn’t as if we were completely blown away by Bristol City’s attacking threat.
The most obvious difference between the two teams was the levels of fitness. Having not played regular competitive football since March, this may be an area we are behind other teams at this level that is beyond Mark Robins’ control. The concern is that if the teams we face over the next month or so continue to have that advantage over us, we’ll be scrapping for points from an early point in the campaign and confidence may dip. This is why it’s essential that we get points on the board quickly to allow the team to ease into the campaign.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
The player who came out of this game with the most credit in a Sky Blue shirt was Gustavo Hamer. The Dutch midfielder looked assured on the ball and took control of the game towards the end of first-half, which coincided with our best spell in the game. It was clear from that performance just why he was identified as Liam Walsh’s replacement.
In addition, the energy that Callum O’Hare and Ryan Giles provide us going forward provides us with penetration in attack. Giles’ raw pace allows him to cover a lot of ground, while O’Hare’s work-rate off-the-ball is absolutely indefatigable. Both provide the ability to go past defenders, which is crucial for a side that generally looks to keep the ball. With a little more composure in the final third, they could be genuine difference-makers.
Elsewhere, Matt Godden grabbed an important goal for himself and led the line well before he tired in the second-half. Ben Sheaf and Tyler Walker both showed from the bench they that can impact games at Championship level. At the back, both Leo Ostigard and, in particular, Dominic Hyam looked pretty assured with their defensive work as well as being composed with the ball at their feet.
Reasons To Be Fearful
While I mentioned earlier that ‘it could be argued’ that the goals we conceded were avoidable, that’s not to say that didn’t underline some underlying issues with the way the team is set up.
The first goal came from a midfielder making a late run into the penalty area, which is something I identified in my preview as an inherent weakness of playing with a back three. The second came from a set-piece situation where the opposition had a free header, this was something that happened fairly regularly last season but often went unpunished. They aren’t reasons for Mark Robins to completely tear up the defensive game-plan but have to be monitored as areas which could be repeatedly exploited this season.
Furthermore, it could well be an issue this season that Marko Marosi struggles to take command of crosses. While it didn’t result in either of the goals, he dropped one cross almost at the feet of an opposing attacker and unconvincingly punched another that led to another opportunity for Bristol City to put the ball into the box. This issue with Marosi was rarely exposed last season because our defenders could help him deal with crosses while he stayed on his line, a higher standard of opposition may be able to more accurately place the ball into that ‘corridor of uncertainty’ between Marosi and his defence.
Going forward, we lacked the ability to up the gears when it truly mattered as the game wore on. While this can be put down to fatigue and the absence of Fankaty Dabo’s ability to stretch the game from right wing-back, it was only Tyler Walker who looked capable of changing the game in an attacking sense from the bench – he will almost certainly soon be in the starting line-up. In light of Jodi Jones’ injury, we look short of other potential game-changers.
In addition, for all of the quality Gustavo Hamer offered on the ball, his lack of control in the challenge once on a yellow card forced Mark Robins into a substitution that he could otherwise have avoided. With Josh Pask clearly unable to complete the 90 minutes, it directly contributed to that aforementioned inability to up the gears later on. If Hamer can’t keep himself on the pitch, he cannot influence games.