It was a drab 0-0 draw between Coventry City and Luton Town, where neither team managed to get into any kind of flow.
Fatigue appeared to be a clear factor as the two sides laboured to a stop-start 90 minutes. With a little better quality in front of goal, either side could have nicked the win but it was a goalless draw where each team very much deserved their nil.
Off Colour Attack
Having been essential to our victory against Rotherham United at the weekend, it was notable just how little an impact our front three of Maxime Biamou, Tyler Walker and Callum O’Hare made in this game. With all three looking a little off colour, it limited our attacking threat to mostly set-piece situations.
Callum O’Hare’s performance was the most noticeable of the three. He touched the ball about as much as Walker and Biamou combined, getting into some decent positions but let down by some questionable decision-making. Aside from a decent reverse pass to Tyler Walker in the first-half, O’Hare looked like he was lacking a level of conviction in what he was doing. He remains an inconsistent and frustrating performer, with this game underlining where he needs to improve if he wants to become a genuinely dangerous attacking midfielder in this division.
The fact that it was largely up to O’Hare to make things happen in attack was down to how ineffective Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker were. Against a more disciplined and intelligent defensive unit than Rotherham United at the weekend, the duo struggled to win first balls and, when they did, struggled to link up with one another in dangerous areas.
With Tyler Walker tending to drift into wide areas when he’s having quiet games, it is important that Biamou does as much of the work outside the penalty area as possible in order to keep the more dangerous finisher of the two in positions from where he can score. It was especially disappointing from that perspective that it was Walker who won more aerial challenges (5) than Biamou (3), reflecting that the Frenchman was largely ineffective in his role in this game.
The caveat here is that fatigue is clearly a factor, with this being the sixth game the team has played in 18 days. While it was worth sticking with an attacking set-up that had given us something at the weekend that we had lacked in the weeks before, the better decision may have been to rotate one or two of the front three in order to maintain freshness.
If we were going to score in this game, it was likely to come from a set-piece. If we were going to score from a set-piece, it was likely to have been delivered by Gustavo Hamer towards the head of Leo Ostigard. 17 games into the season, it is remarkable that this combination continues to be such a reliable threat.
It speaks to both the quality of Hamer’s delivery and the movement and aerial ability of Leo Ostigard that they continue to link up so well from set-piece situations. Opposition teams must surely have figured out by now that this the combination that we are looking towards, yet they have struggled to contain them. Furthermore, it not only works so well because of the respective qualities of the two players, but, as we saw in the latter stages of the game, it can create space elsewhere as teams look to concentrate on marking Leo Ostigard.
Aside from their threat from set-pieces, the duo also looked the most likely to make things happen when the ball was in play. There was a spell early in the second-half when Hamer started to get on the ball more, which was when we started to pin Luton back in their own half. In addition, Leo Ostigard’s willingness to make overlapping runs from his right-sided centre-back position further pinned Luton back and created space for Fankaty Dabo to put in some decent crosses.
For both, the quality they offer has been counteracted for much of the campaign by their overall hot-headedness. It was encouraging to see a level of discipline from both in this game, which allowed them to demonstrate their individual quality. Despite picking up a yellow card in the first-half, Hamer never looked like picking up a second, instead, he focused on making things happen in possession. Ostigard barely put a foot wrong defensively in what was close to an imperious performance from the young Norwegian.
Three Substitutions In 180 Minutes
Going back to the point made earlier about fatigue, it is a concern that Mark Robins has been so reticent to make substitutions over the past two games. While he is limited by the relative lack of quality on the bench, there were a few players who looked out on their feet in this game, having played 180 minutes of football in the space of four days.
Having been 3-0 up at the weekend, there was little reason not to take off a few extra players in order to keep them fresh for this game. Leaving aside the chance of important players picking up injuries, that extra little bit of fitness gained at the weekend could have provided our forwards with that extra metre or two of pace to get into scoring positions that could have gotten us the three points here.
While I understand that Mark Robins probably felt that he had his most effective XI out on the pitch, we are in the midst of a gruelling fixture list and that effectiveness of individual players is going to be diminished by constant football. What’s most strange about this reluctance to make substitutions over the past two games is that we saw recently in the draw against Norwich City how effective it can be to keep fresh players in reserve to throw on in the closing stages.
This strange, compacted league season is likely to be defined by who manages their resources the best. The points lost due to fatigue and injuries could be the difference between relegation and survival.