After some harrowing recent defeats, the Sky Blues improved against a strong Swansea City to earn a point that could have been all three based on the balance of chances.
An energetic opening was eventually rewarded when Jordan Shipley finished from a looping effort after a nice counter-attack led by Sam McCallum and Matt Godden. The Sky Blues tired as the first-half wore on, with Swansea grabbing themselves an equaliser towards half-time through a swift counter of their own, finished by Andre Ayew. The second-half was largely a scrappy affair as both sides fought for dominance, but a late flurry of chances for Coventry City led to the regret that a decent draw wasn’t converted into an impressive victory.
It’s fair to say that this was a much-improved performance that what had recently been witnessed in defeats to Bournemouth and Brentford. The level of confidence and energy to the performance – especially early on – was notably much higher than in recent weeks. Against a Swansea City side that had made the play-offs last season and have a bigger budget than ourselves, we managed to disrupt their rhythm and force them onto the back-foot for periods of this game.
The problem I’ve had with writing off games against teams that can outspend us is that they represent the majority of our fixtures this season. There are ways you can make up for having players of lesser quality than the opposition, hard-work and organisation goes a long way towards doing so.
In particular, the effort the midfield four put in gave us a foothold in the game and a fluency going forward that we had lacked in recent weeks. By dropping Allen into a deeper midfield position, the former Burton man’s energy and commitment helped take some of the defensive burden off Ben Sheaf – who, as a result, put in his best performance since joining the club in the summer.
In front of that duo, Callum O’Hare and Jordan Shipley were able to get into plenty of promising positions. Even if they lacked the level of quality required to convert enough of them promising positions into chances and goals, they were diligent in their roles and made life difficult for their opponents both on and off the ball.
It’s encouraging that the overriding feeling from this game is the frustration that we didn’t come out with all three points – either by having grabbed a late winner or having done more to prevent Swansea’s equaliser. Maybe it is too early to expect us to beat one of the division’s better sides, but this performance demonstrated that we have the capability of doing so if we can garner little bit more quality and some luck.
The Importance of the Wing-Backs: Part II
The biggest difference between this performance and previous ones was the ability of the wing-backs to get into advanced positions and drive directly at the opposition. Ryan Giles was much more of a feature in this game than he has been in recent weeks, but it was Sam McCallum who really stood out at times here – playing on his unnatural side.
The Norwich City loanee showed why he is so highly-rated, not just in how he carried the ball forward but in the dangerous runs he made without it. Jordan Shipley’s goal came from a promising run forward made by McCallum, which he followed up by continuing into the penalty area, helping create the pocket of space for Shipley to get his shot away.
It was notable that the sloppy period that we endured in the second-half came when Sam McCallum began to tire. The team lost that ability to drive forward and get Swansea on the turn. Unable to transition defence from attack, the back three started to give the ball away as they tried to avoid playing that longer pass towards Godden, which he was struggling to make stick.
That could have been the cue for Mark Robins to change things up from the bench to make it easier for the defence to relieve pressure on themselves. However, the main tweak that led to our late rally was Michael Rose pushing a little wider and further forward from his right-sided centre-back role, which helped restore the width we had on both sides of the pitch to help stretch the opposing defence and get our forwards back in the game.
Callum O’Hare is a curious player to pin down exactly what his best position is. Not quite a number 10, not quite a wide player, not quite a striker. O’Hare has somehow found the perfect position for himself in our 3-4-2-1 system in one of those attacking midfield roles where he is free to seek areas of the pitch where he can be effective rather than having to stick to a more formal position. This might be better described as a ‘raumdeuter’ role – i.e. the Thomas Muller role, or, in English, ‘space investigator’.
Often portrayed as quite a technical player, while O’Hare has moments of quality on the ball, it is his work-rate and movement that are his strongest attributes. This was far from O’Hare’s most effective performance of the season but he remained an integral part of how we unsettled Swansea City, getting in the position to miss an excellent chance late on and setting up Matt Godden for a good chance in the second-half.
If O’Hare wants an example of the type of player he could go on to be, he would only have had to look at Andre Ayew, who was Swansea City’s biggest threat on the night. Ayew is similarly a forward without a nailed-down position who has relished the freedom in Swansea’s system to play a free-role between the lines of midfield and attack.
The crucial difference between the two players in this game – reflecting the different stages of their respective careers they are in – was that Ayew was far more efficient in his efforts and had the composure to finish the big chance that fell his way. By contrast, O’Hare put in more than his fair share of effort but it seemed to come at the cost of maintaining his cool at the moments it mattered most in this game.
There is plenty of time for O’Hare to develop that composure, but it will be the difference between him being the lower-half Championship player that he currently is and kicking-on towards better things.