In a crucial game against a team just one point below the Sky Blues, Coventry City produced their best performance of the season to win 3-1 against Rotherham United.
With Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker in inspired form in attack, Rotherham struggled to keep a handle on our threat. Maxime Biamou gave the Sky Blues the lead in the fifth minute via a Tyler Walker flick-on, with Walker soon getting himself on the scoresheet by snaffling up a loose ball in the penalty area. It could have been more by half-time, but the game had been won in the first-half. A goal apiece from either side in the remaining 45 minutes meant the game finished 3-1 to Coventry City.
Playing Over the Press
Last season, Mark Robins had been close to dogmatic in his insistence on this team passing out from the back. While it won us promotion, the team that caused us the most problems on our way was Rotherham United, who played an intense pressing game that completely disrupted our passing rhythm.
It had appeared that Mark Robins would look to stick with the passing approach following promotion to the Championship, in the belief that a sense of continuity would reduce our learning curve in this division. However, we have found this season that there are a considerable number of teams in this league who could replicate the intensity of Rotherham’s pressing game, which has been a major factor behind our poor start and dreadful defensive record.
It was significant then that Mark Robins elected to change our approach in this first league meeting with Rotherham since both sides were promoted to League One. The Sky Blues clearly went more direct, thus limiting the opportunities for Rotherham to catch us out in the press. Furthermore, with Rotherham committing so many players forward in order to put pressure us, there was space to exploit in behind their midfield and defence.
Changing the approach didn’t just work because it exploited the weaknesses of the opposition, it also played into the strengths of the players that we had on the pitch. Most notably, the physicality and mobility that the combination of Tyler Walker and Maxime Biamou had up front not only made the longer passes stick but created danger by committing Rotherham defenders into challenges they were second-best to. Walker and Biamou’s menace was supplemented by Callum O’Hare, who was a persistent threat driving into the space between Rotherham’s defence and midfield created by the front two.
Having sacrificed control of possession in exchange for an attacking threat, it was essential that the defence stood up to Rotherham’s physicality (which they did), along with what was effectively a two-man central midfield. Liam Kelly took on a large portion of the defensive responsibility in the middle of the park, which left Gustavo Hamer free to roam and break things up a little further up the pitch – although, there were moments where the roles were reversed.
The change of approach worked so well that this game was effectively over within the first 45 minutes. Aside from a questionable penalty decision, Rotherham couldn’t figure out a way back into the game. It was a tactical victory that facilitated, and was aided by, some excellent individual performances.
Tyler Walker & Maxime Biamou: The Way Forward?
Having looked an effective strike-pairing in the game against Watford prior to the international break, it’s been a surprise that Mark Robins has chosen not to continue with Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker up front in the four games since. With both getting on the scoresheet in this match, it further underlines that the duo may be our best route to goal at this moment in time.
While Biamou is a more physical, less mobile centre-forward than Walker – who could be described in opposite terms – what makes them so threatening as a strike partnership is that they are each capable of holding defenders off and running in behind. That was in particular evidence for the first goal, where Tyler Walker, with his back to goal, played Maxime Biamou through, but we saw on several occasions throughout the game that each player was comfortable playing either role in attack.
The upshot of having two strikers who can dovetail so effectively is that it should continually make it difficult for opposition defences to get a handle on the duo. If they can keep it up, it will force teams to be constantly concerned with having to deal with both of them at the same time, which can engender panic, create space for our other attacking players, and reduce the number of players opponents can bring forward without risking being exposed at the back.
However, it may not always be the right option for every game. Having two up front costs us a player in midfield and, as we saw here, a level of control. It didn’t matter on this occasion as the threat that Walker and Biamou posed more than made up for a lack of control, but in tighter games against teams who can threaten with domination of the ball, having a strike partnership could cost us potentially valuable defensive solidity and thus make that extra attacking threat less of a factor.
Pulling Away From Danger
The win in this game has moved us six points clear of danger with an upcoming fixture list – with only two of our next eight games against top-half teams – that provides us an opportunity to move further clear of the bottom three. It feels a far cry from where we were in at the international break in November, when we looked one of the division’s worst teams and in danger of getting cut-off from the rest of the division.
What’s been remarkable about our turnaround over the past five games is that it’s only taken a modest improvement in performances to get us into this excellent position. The ‘easier’ set of fixtures has to be considered a key factor, but becoming more solid in defence – without being outstanding – has gone a long way.
The hope is that the easing of pressure and increased confidence that comes from consistently picking up points will engender further improvement in our performances. At the moment, we are having to fight every tooth and nail in games in order to give ourselves a chance of taking points. Achieving a level of dominance in games is the next step for this team.
For now, continuing to eke out points is probably good enough for this team. If we want to establish ourselves in this division and avoid concerns over relegation, better, more controlled and consistent performances are required.