A game against the league-leaders, Reading, looked set to compound Coventry City’s terrible run of recent form. However, the Sky Blues produced a determined, energetic performance against the Royals in order to battle for the three points in a surprisingly entertaining game between the two teams that had, up to this point of the campaign, taken the fewest shots in the division.
Gustavo Hamer rounded off a neat set of interchanges around the penalty area to put the Sky Blues ahead. Reading looked to have produced a moment of quality in the second-half to reverse the momentum of the game, through a well-placed finish from Lucas Joao. However, Coventry City responded with a poacher’s effort from Matt Godden and a thumping strike from outside the area from Sam McCallum to win the game. A stoppage-time goal from George Puscas made it a nervy finish, but it proved to be too little, too late.
Some Big Changes Were Made
Mark Robins made some bold calls in his team selection for this game. The formation was switched to a 3-5-2, Kyle McFadzean was dropped from the defence and Maxime Biamou started in attack for the first time this season. It wasn’t just the result that proved those changes changes correct, but the overall performance and endeavour on show.
Perhaps we were aided by a less aggressive opposition press than we’ve seen in recent weeks, nonetheless, the most obvious benefit of the change in shape and personnel was the greater poise we looked to have in possession – aside from a few hairy moments early in the first-half. Playing our best defensive ball-player in Leo Ostigard in the heart of the back three gave the team a little more fluency passing out from the back. In addition, there were more obvious passing lanes down either side of the pitch.
On the right side, Michael Rose could either play to Gustavo Hamer or Fankaty Dabo, who, in turn, had each other, as well as one of the strikers to pass to. On the left, there was a similar vertical axis between Dominic Hyam, Jordan Shipley, Ryan Giles and the strikers. It was Ben Sheaf and Leo Ostigard’s job to keep the play moving from side to side.
Gustavo Hamer and Jordan Shipley were particularly important in our performance here, providing the link between midfield and attack. In contrast to the last time we played with two up top – against Brentford – the front two were much less isolated and, in turn, linked well with the rest of the team. The first goal was a testament to Hamer and Shipley’s support of the attack, with Shipley initially getting in the area, before Hamer arrived late to smash Godden’s tee-up into the back of the net.
Overall, the team looked more energised, more robust and more competitive than we have seen in recent weeks. Perhaps a sign that the fear factor at this level is starting to wear off.
Endeavour Over Quality Is Alright For Now
As improved as this performance was, it was still far from perfect. The game was fairly level in terms of chances created, with Reading slightly edging it, reflecting that we lacked a level of control across the 90 minutes.
From some sloppy passing in our defensive third, to the ease with which we allowed Reading’s forwards to get into dangerous positions, the amount of fouls we gave away, and a few bad decisions here and there when presented with attacking opportunities, there are clear areas of improvement.
Yet, we got the win and that’s alright for now.
We’re still clearly getting to grips with this level of football. The players have clearly struggled at times with the pace and physicality of opponents in the Championship. Along with some of the bad luck we’ve had with injuries and a general lack of fitness as a result of our extended pre-season, it is understandable that we have yet pick up consistent results or performances. However, there was a danger that we were losing too much ground to salvage if we ever got up to speed.
It’s still going to be a while before the players start to feel comfortable in the Championship. That’s why it’s important that we take opportunities to get all three points when they’re presented with us. This was far from an immaculate performance, but by putting in the right amount of endeavour, we got our reward.
Let’s Start To Keep Some Clean Sheets
The clearest area for improvement at the moment is reducing the amount of goals we concede. We’re currently an average of two goals a game, which makes it very difficult to pick up results on a consistent basis.
While Reading produced two excellent finishes for their goals, we could have done more to make those shots more difficult, or have prevented them happening altogether. The first stemmed from a sloppy pass from Ben Sheaf, with the midfielder then struggling to assert himself to prevent Lucas Joao turning and getting his shot away. The second resulted from our defence getting sucked towards the ball, rather than the extra bodies Reading had thrown into the penalty area.
Moreover, the back three were left isolated on several occasions in one-versus-one situations that they were probably always going to be second-best in. As energetic as the midfield was, they struggled to offer much of a defensive shield – which is why the decision not to start Liam Kelly remains questionable.
In addition, the 3-5-2 set-up left space for Reading’s full-backs to run into and isolate our wing-backs, who often left space in behind them, leaving the back three further exposed.
It’s a combination of naive decision-making, an inability to cope with pace and physicality, and our tactical set-up that has left our defence looking exposed at this level of football. Winning games is always welcome, but we won’t make the jump to getting them consistently if we cannot stem the flow of opposition goals.