It was a deserved point away the league leaders for a depleted Coventry City side, further weakened by Mark Robins resting key players amid the congested run of fixtures to come over the next month.
Having started energetically, Norwich City looked to have moved in control of the game before benefitting from a tight penalty call to move ahead. As the game wore on, it was apparent that the Sky Blues could take a least a point from the game with a little more quality in the final third. It looked set to be a missed opportunity, before Maxime Biamou bundled in an equaliser after an excellent pass from Gustavo Hamer put Ryan Giles in position to cross the ball into Norwich’s six-yard box in the 89th minute.
Beyond the changes forced by the absences of Marko Marosi and Sam McCallum for this game, it was apparent from the team selection for this game that Mark Robins was prioritising the team’s efforts towards Tuesday night’s important game at Derby County. Most notably, Tyler Walker and Gustavo Hamer were rested, with Amadou Bakayoko and Jamie Allen handed rare starts.
The team selection sent the message to both the players and the fans that the pressure was off for this game. The risk Mark Robins took was that a heavy defeat and poor performance in this game could have heaped pressure on the team to get a result against Derby County next time out. However, the point gained in this game looks to have made it the right call.
Introducing an entirely fresh and energetic front three of Amadou Bakayoko, Callum O’Hare and Jamie Allen meant that we could put pressure on Norwich City high up the pitch. What was most impressive about the way we pressed our opponents wasn’t the intensity but the discipline. We pressed high when opportunities presented themself, but we stayed compact as soon as Norwich moved into our half, forcing them to produce quality to break us down.
From around the 20 minute mark, Norwich settled into the game and began to produce the quality they needed to break through us. Their ability to play diagonal passes in behind our defence was down to not only to the quality they had on the ball but the intelligence of their forwards to make well-timed runs that dragged our defence out of position. It led to a handful of chances, eventually drawing Ben Wilson off his line for the incident that led to the penalty.
The goal theoretically gave an injury-hit Norwich side the ability to remain patient, conserve energy and control the remainder of the game. What was most impressive about this performance was the manner in which the Sky Blues maintained their energy levels after going one goal down, while continuing to play with enough discipline to force Norwich to remain engaged in the game for the rest of the 90 minutes.
It may have been late in coming, but the equaliser was fully deserved. The substitutes in the second-half helped the Sky Blues up the ante, and wear a fatigued Norwich side down to the point that they were holding on. Our opponent’s injury issues have to be taken into consideration as an important factor here, but it’s the second game in a row where Mark Robins made some big calls with his team selections and gotten it right.
An Opportunity Missed?
While the point in this game was a testament to Mark Robins managing his resources effectively across a congested fixture list, it comes with the regret that we could have taken all three – and moved five points above the relegation zone – had we started the game with our strongest side against a depleted and clearly fatigued Norwich City.
Although Amadou Bakayoko, Jamie Allen and Callum O’Hare put in a great effort in closing down Norwich’s defence, it was achingly apparent at times just how much the team was missing a level of presence and decisiveness in the final third. Jamie Allen in particular was guilty of taking too long to make his mind up when in good positions, although, the entire starting XI appeared to be suffering from acute vertigo when close to goal.
The introduction of Gustavo Hamer and Tyler Walker around the hour mark not only increased the quality we had on the pitch, but led to a notable upping of the sense of urgency when in the opposition half. Without dominating possession, the chances we created after the substitutions were made were of a much higher quality than before, putting Norwich’s stand-in goalkeeper, Michael McGovern, under much more pressure.
However, what we did in the second-half may not have been possible without the effort put into the first-half and the fact that Norwich City were 1-0 and were looking to manage the limited number of fit players they had available. Starting with a stronger team may not only have put more pressure on our performance but it would have made it difficult to up the ante in the manner that we did in the closing stages of the game.
We’ll never know what exactly what the impact could have been, but the result and resting of players puts us in a good position heading into an important next game.
Ben Wilson’s First League Start: In Focus
As a goalkeeper who has only just now made his 50th career league appearance at the age of 28, Ben Wilson is not going to have many better opportunities to establish himself as a number one at this level of football as he currently has now. While the signing of Lee Camp ahead of this game suggests there is a lack of confidence in Wilson to see the team through the period where Marko Marosi is injured, it appears that he will keep his place in the side until he lets the team down.
Albeit based on very limited evidence, the main strength that Wilson appears to have over Marko Marosi is his willingness to claim crosses. Marosi has a strong tendency to punch away telling deliveries, Wilson showed on at least one occasion in this game that his important catch against Cardiff City on Wednesday night may not have been out of character for him.
There were a few nervous moments in possession early on – including one delayed touch that nearly allowed the ball to roll into the net from a back-pass – which may have led to Wilson distributing the ball a little too fast from that point onwards, but it didn’t feel as if his inclusion in the side had much impact in our willingness to play out from the back.
The most notable area of weakness in this game was a seeming over-willingness to come off his line. Wilson was a decent touch away from leaving a tap-in for Marco Stiepermann when the game was at 0-0, while the, admittedly harsh, penalty decision may have been avoided had Wilson been more circumspect in sweeping up behind his defence.
Aside from a period in the first-half, Ben Wilson wasn’t overly busy but, aside from the penalty, made saves when he needed to. One game is clearly not enough to judge a goalkeeper on. There is clearly a reason why Wilson has played so few league games at the age he is at, but this performance should at least calm his nerves that he can hold his own in the Championship, even if it is just for the odd match.