That was painful.
It was clear to just about everyone heading into this game that there would be a clear gulf between these two sides, the frustrating thing from a Coventry City perspective was that there was little encouragement to take from the application or performance in this 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth. The Sky Blues were fortunate to get to the half-time break level after a passive first-half performance and were unable to to do anything to affect the course of the game from that point onwards.
A difficult evening was made worse by a petulant red card for our leading player, Gustavo Hamer, which could lead to a lengthy ban, with video evidence suggesting he may have spat at an opposition player while slapping him in the face.
The Gaps In The Box
The 3-4-2-1 system involving what has been termed as a box midfield – i.e. two sitting midfielders playing behind two attacking midfielders – allowed us to regularly control games last season. It didn’t lead to tonnes of chances, but it gave us enough dominance so that the scales tended to be in our favour. The problem with replicating that system in the Championship is that we lack the physical presence, pace and skill to able to seize control of the midfield area of the pitch.
The biggest issue that playing this system without being able to control games causes is that it puts a lot of the onus on our most advanced players to either hold the ball up or run in behind the opposing defence – again, we lack the physicality or pace to do so. Not only does this leave the team without an outlet to threaten opponents but it invites pressure on the defence as we end up pinned in our own half.
What we have seen this season is that due to the lack of control, the system has looked more like a midfield two playing behind a front three, rather than a midfield four and one striker. This leaves the midfield two caught between protecting the space in front of the defence and trying to link up with the forward players. Bournemouth’s first goal came from the midfield two sitting too deep, their other two goals came from our central duo being caught out after pressing up too high.
While Gustavo Hamer’s quality on the ball and the energy that Callum O’Hare provides could make this system work, the deficiencies of those alongside them in the box formation were exploited by Bournemouth here. Perhaps things will click into place with greater time on the training pitch, but it feels a change to that shape may give the midfielders we have available a better chance of showing what they’re capable of at this level.
Through The Eye Of A Needle
Following on from the last point, we registered just two shots on target across the 90 minutes in this game – one of which was a penalty. That lack of genuine pace or physicality up top makes things that much harder for the team to create chances. We have to be very precise in our passing and link-play to get around opponents, like having to pass a thread through the eye of a needle.
Matt Godden has done well to score three goals this season, but, despite his best efforts, has been part of the issue. He’s not particularly fast, nor can he reliably hold the ball up to bring his team-mates into play. His goalscoring prowess shows he has a role to play this season, but probably not as a lone front-man at this level of football for this team. He needs the team to be in control of games to be effective, or else, have someone alongside him to share the burden.
Although we had one of our big summer signings in Tyler Walker on the bench, this felt like a game where we could have done with the chaotic energy that Amadou Bakayoko provides. Bournemouth had a fairly easy time of building moves from the back and cutting out our counter-attacks, Bakayoko’s pace, physical presence and willingness to chase after lost causes could have caused some uncertainty. It might not have led to anything, but it feels like it would have been better than what we attempted to do here
The overall feeling was that the team was too passive in defeat, which may have stemmed from the requirement to be so precise going forward. While now is not the juncture to completely throw away what worked last season, it feels like the team’s confidence and assertiveness could grow from having a presence in attack that can unsettle opponents and quickly turn defence into attack.
One-Man Band Syndrome
For the most part, we’ve seen the good part of Gustavo Hamer since the league campaign kicked off. The quality on the ball he offers both in open play and from set-pieces has stuck out like a sore thumb. If we are going to succeed this season, it’ll be by getting the best out of Hamer.
However, we saw in this game that it might be asking too much of him if the players around him aren’t playing their part. The lack of assertiveness in his midfield partner, Ben Sheaf, meant Hamer had to go through a lot of defensive work, which saw him charge into challenges and leave space in behind him. On the ball, the lack of quality in front of him meant Hamer had to play inch-perfect long passes to get the team going, to mixed effect on this occasion.
It felt to me that the eventual red card that he picked up was a product of this onus Gustavo Hamer felt on him to stamp his mark on the game. He is clearly someone with a hair trigger emotionally, that frustration from things not coming off for him here can’t have helped him keep his cool. As someone who walks that line between brilliance and recklessness, he slid off it here to dramatic effect.
As ridiculous as it sounds, the team could be better off without him in the side for a spell. Without that volatility around them, it may allow the rest of the midfield to play with a little more composure, perhaps even providing the freedom for someone like Ben Sheaf to have more creative responsibility and show what they’re capable of. It wouldn’t be the first case of a team improving without their theoretical best player.