As soon as Michael Rose hauled down Blackburn Rovers’ Ben Brereton for a penalty and a red card in the 15th minute of this game, it was obvious that it was going to be a long afternoon for the Sky Blues.
The only thing in doubt about this game was just how many goals Blackburn Rovers fancied scoring – which proved to be four. Even with the man disadvantage, Coventry City made things too easy for the visitors at times, continuing to pass the ball out from the back, leaving space in behind, and, once again, being a little too passive against a higher-quality opponent.
The Bad Luck Of Losers
Seven games into the season and we’ve played five teams currently in the top-half and just two in the bottom-half. Through a combination of injury, suspension and self-isolation, Mark Robins only had 18 players available who had started a league game for us. Matt Godden missed a golden opportunity early on, then Blackburn almost immediately went up the other end, won the penalty that saw Michael Rose sent-off and took the lead from the spot.
One or two of those things happening is unfortunate, the combination of all them happening at once cannot simply be written-off as bad luck.
Part of the reason why we’ve faced so many sides currently in the top-half is that we’ve been losing games and three points has a significant effect on the league table at this stage of the campaign. Gustavo Hamer only has himself to blame for his red card, injuries are part and parcel of football, and every team in this country is likely to have to manage players missing as a result of this pandemic.
Even the red card in this game was not simply bad luck. It was the product of our inability to prevent Blackburn getting in behind us – either through putting pressure on the ball or dropping a little deeper – along with a lack of composure from Michael Rose at the sight of an opponent bearing down on goal.
Last season, we suffered our fair share of bad luck – not least, the run of injuries that contributed to Mark Robins’ decision to opt for the 3-4-2-1 system that got us promoted. The difference between then and now is the reaction to unfortunate events.
It may well be a product of our relative lack of quality at this level but players are struggling to manage difficult situations, leading to poor decisions, leading to poor results. We’re almost at the point where we need wins to avoid getting sucked into the relegation battle, the margin for error and room for excuses has worn down.
Every team is likely to endure bad luck. Good teams manage it, bad teams let it define them.
How Much Can Be Read Into This Defeat?
It’s fair to say to that we didn’t cope well with going down to ten men. Blackburn were already looking to press us high up the pitch, having an extra man gave them that additional willingness and ability to exert pressure on us. For ourselves, we barely did anything to adapt to the change in the dynamic of the game, continuing to pass out from the back, which fed right into Blackburn’s hands.
It was apparent at times here that we weren’t prepared to play with a back four. The full-backs left too much space between themselves and the centre-backs, which Blackburn’s front three constantly made use of. In addition, Kyle McFadzean was too proactive in pushing up to try and win the ball, leaving space behind him that contributed to each of three goals we conceded in the second-half. However, we’re probably unlikely to switch to a back four any time soon.
The substitutions after Blackburn’s second goals reflected that the game was no longer being treated as competitive by Mark Robins. Matt Godden and Sam McCallum were clearly being rested ahead of Tuesday night’s game against Middlesbrough, while I doubt that outcast, Gervane Kastaneer, will be used in much meaningful action this season. There was no way we were getting back in the game from two goals and a man down, there was no reason to put much effort in an attempt at a comeback.
You would hope that there aren’t going to be many more games this season where we’re going to have to deal with being down to ten men with the majority of the game to play. That said, the number of sloppy mistakes and the lack of quality on show at times here was disheartening.
If there is nothing to read into this game, the players must demonstrate that with a positive performance – and result – in our next game. The concern is that this defeat at a stage of the season where the league table is starting to take shape could define us.
Why The Short Passing?
The most infuriating thing about this display was the manner in which we constantly played ourselves under pressure against Blackburn’s press once we were a man down. It belied a lack of adaptability, perhaps even character, from our players that they robotically followed what must have been the main plan regardless of the change in circumstances.
Taking a step back though, the problem with changing the approach is that we don’t have forwards who can reliably win long balls. Furthermore, with our wide threat coming from our wing-backs, they need time to get up the pitch to support our attacking threat. If the ball goes long, it leaves them with a lot of running to do without the guarantee that they’ll be able to get involved in the play.
Perhaps Mark Robins should have been more proactive in changing things up from the bench, even if meant taking a player off before half-time. Any one of the front three could and perhaps to allow for a change in shape that could have allowed us to play over Blackburn’s press, or at least mitigate the threat of them getting in behind us. However, it’s hard to argue that there was game-changing quality among our substitutes.
This short passing approach has been what has taken us into the Championship and the danger is that if we abandon it – even for specific in-game circumstances – that we get into habits that don’t suit the set of players that we have. It’s hard to see the system, style or individual quality that we aren’t currently utilising that would immediately make this team a mid-table Championship side.
The time may come soon for Mark Robins to try doing things a little differently but changing things up comes with the likelihood that it will take time to hone and convert into results. The decision rests on how much the manager believes what we’re currently doing will benefit us in the long-run, even if it leads to painful short-term experiences like this one.