The Sky Blues were fortunate to salvage a point against bottom-placed, Derby County, having set-up to keep a clean sheet and conceded in the final ten minutes.
In what was a game between two sides lacking fluency and confidence in attacking areas, Derby looked the likelier team to score as the game wore on. An excellent cross from Nathan Byrne and powerful header from Colin Kazim-Richards looked to have handed them a crucial win, only for a stoppage time effort from the edge of the area from Gustavo Hamer to hand the Sky Blues a draw.
Fortune Favours The Bold?
The selection of Callum O’Hare in midfield in favour of Ben Sheaf suggested that Mark Robins was looking for his side to be more proactive in a game against a team bottom of the table. However, it was apparent almost as soon as Callum O’Hare lined up on the right of a 4-1-4-1 system, that the aim was to keep things tight at the back, in the hope of either avoiding defeat or, hopefully, nicking the win on the counter-attack.
The first-half almost saw the plan come to fruition. With both sides creating relatively little, had Callum O’Hare stretched a little further to reach an inviting Ryan Giles cross, or shown a little composure after seizing on a loose back-pass, the Sky Blues would have taken the lead. With the lead, we could have remained patient in our approach, knowing that Derby would become increasingly desperate in an attempt to get back into a crucial game.
In the second-half, our threat on the counter-attack diminished as we started to tire, meaning that Derby had time to find a way through us. It wasn’t exactly an onslaught from the home side, but it became increasingly clear as the game wore on that if one team was going to score, it was going to be Derby – or, rather, it wasn’t going to be Coventry City.
Although a point was eventually salvaged, it is a concern that, even against a team bottom of this division, we didn’t have the gumption to approach the game with an attacking mentality. While Derby are a team of greater resources than ourselves, they are clearly low on confidence and would have struggled to get back in the game had they fallen behind.
What Mark Robins may well argue is that it is still early days for us as a Championship side, we have yet to win away from home and that the situation didn’t require us to go all-out for the win. The focus at the moment is clearly on improving our defensive record – where we’ve gone from conceding at a rate of two goals a game to a goal every two games – which may require taking a step back as an attacking team while we develop confidence at the back.
Whether this is two points dropped due to timidness or a valuable point gained due to pragmatism will be judged at the end of the season by whether we stay up.
Mark Robins’ Attacking Allsorts
Having changed the game from the bench against at the weekend against Norwich City, it could be argued that Mark Robins did the same in this game. The move that led to our equaliser involved substitute Leo Ostigard putting the ball into the penalty area, with Wesley Jobello, Maxime Biamou and Amadou Bakayoko all in the box, which helped create the opening for Gustavo Hamer (who had started the game) to put the team level.
Attacking players were added to the team, the goal came from having those extra attacking players on the pitch. A smart move by Robins. However, aside from the goal, did it look like working?
The 4-1-4-1 system that we started with was first switched to a 4-2-3-1 when Biamou and Jobello were introduced. Derby scored five minutes later. The team then moved to something that looked like a 3-4-1-2 – with winger, Wesley Jobello, playing as a striker – when Leo Ostigard was introduced. It was hard to tell the intended shape from the final change, as Amadou Bakayoko came on for Callum O’Hare.
For stretches of the final ten minutes, the changes appeared to have caused the team to completely lose its shape. As a result, Derby remained on top as our forwards couldn’t get into the game, our defence had remained deep and the midfield didn’t know whether to drop back or push forward. Had it not been for a skewed attempted finish from youngster, Jack Stretton, Derby would have punished us for our shapelessness.
While it was that sense of chaos that may well have contributed to our equaliser, the constant tweaking of shape later on in the second-half threatened to cost us this game. Sometimes throwing extra attacking players adds to your attacking threat, sometimes it detracts from it by creating confusion. We saw both sides of how attacking substitutions can affect a team in this game.
Six Points From Four Games
During the international break, I calculated the rough points target we would need to stay up, which broke down to six points from every five games. We have reached that target in four games, which suggests that, despite the frustration over the performance in this game, this was a useful point.
Six points from five games is a fairly unambitious target, which demonstrates that survival is possible with modest improvements to our game. By becoming tighter at the back, we have kept ourselves in games and taken points – even if it has been to the detriment of our attacking threat. As tough as it may be to watch, that is likely to be the formula that will keep us up.
The area for improvement going forward is not just improving our quality in attacking areas, but being in control of games for longer periods. Being tight at the back is one thing, preventing the issue altogether by dictating the game to the opposition is the next step. It is going to take time to get there, but we will buy ourselves time to reach that point by continuing to take points from where we can get them.
Perfection isn’t the name of the game this season, it’s basic competence.