The Wrap: Millwall – 2-1

Coventry City returned to winning, and goalscoring, ways with an encouraging display away at Millwall that brought back memories of last season’s League One title victory.

The game’s opening goal had more than a slice of fortune to it, with Jordan Shipley’s initial shot turned in on the rebound by Millwall defender, Jake Cooper, but was the reward for a swift attacking move involving Fankaty Dabo and Callum O’Hare. Similarly, a heavy deflection from a Gustavo Hamer shot put the Sky Blues two ahead.

Mark Robins’ side took great encouragement from their lead and threatened to grab a third goal during the rest of the first-half and start of the second. As the players tired in the later stages of the game, Millwall started to ask questions of the Coventry City defence and won a penalty that threatened to make it a nervy finish. However, the Sky Blues did enough to manage the closing stages of the game for see out a comfortable win.

Jordan Shipley Makes An Impact

A very subtle change in system seemed to make all the difference for the Sky Blues. Having gone on a four-game streak without a goal, Mark Robins’ solution was not to add an extra striker to the team but to push one of the midfield three a little further forward and return to the 3-4-2-1 system that we had found such success with last season.

The key personnel change that Mark Robins made for this game was to bring in Jordan Shipley in place of Jamie Allen. It was a bold call after some encouraging recent performances from Allen, as well as Shipley’s struggles to impose himself at Championship level this season. The game’s opening goal proved the wisdom of Mark Robins’ decision.

With Fankaty Dabo winning the ball in the Millwall half and playing it to Callum O’Hare, it was Shipley making a run beyond the centre-forward, Maxime Biamou, that turned the turnover into possession into a golden opportunity. Shipley may have been fortunate that his missed shot rebounded off an opposition player for the goal, but the move wouldn’t have opened up in the way that it did without that enterprising run from the academy graduate.

Furthermore, Shipley being a presence in the opposition half helped reduce the burden on Callum O’Hare as the sole link between midfield in attack. By having less attention on him and being played in a slightly wider position than usual, O’Hare consistently found pockets of space that either turned the opposition defence or forced them to foul him.

Playing extra strikers doesn’t necessarily make a side more threatening as an attacking unit. It’s about getting on the ball, moving it into good areas and having players that can get into space that causes opposition defences problems. The inclusion of Jordan Shipley and the impact that decision had on the side was a key reason why our attacking threat improved in this game.

A Good Team Makes Their Own Luck

Both of the goals that we scored in this game had an element of luck to them, however, it was luck that was earned from being the bolder team for much of the game.

After a cagey opening period, the first goal was, as dissected above, down to good movement and interchange between Fankaty Dabo, Callum O’Hare and Jordan Shipley. The second goal was almost entirely down to Gustavo Hamer’s force of character, both in winning the foul and then reacting first to his free-kick hitting the wall in order to take a second shot that deflected into the back of the net.

What was most encouraging about this performance was how much confidence the players took from those two goals. The ball constantly seemed to drop our way, which often looks like luck when it happens but is down to players being bold and sharp when challenging for loose balls. The team played with a zip and energy that was reminiscent of some of our very best performances last season.

It really should have been a more comfortable win. The players constantly caught Millwall flat-footed in their own half to force some brilliant openings. That we were unable to kill the game off was down to the poor decision-making and general lack of decisiveness that has dogged our recent performances.

However, the players should take encouragement from this game that if we play with that same level of belief and energy, we can cause teams in this division serious problems. If we can start doing what we did in this game more consistently, slices of fortune will continue to come our way – as will points.

Another Penalty Conceded

Another reason why this win wasn’t as comfortable as it should have been was the concession of our eighth penalty of the league season. It is a worrying trend that shows no sign of abating.

Part of the reason why we are giving away so many penalties this season is that we have been forced to defend more often due to the quality of the opposition. We are more likely to concede penalties because opponents are getting into our penalty area more often this season than they were last year.

However, that doesn’t forgive quite a lot of the challenges our defenders are making in the penalty area. There’s only one or two penalties that have been contentious, most of the others have been down to our players hacking down opponents in the 18-yard box. Dominic Hyam’s challenge against Troy Parrott was another example of this.

Just why our defenders make such poor decisions in challenging opponents once in the penalty area is not quite clear but it’s clearly a thing that our defenders are willing to risk bringing players down in order to win the ball, rather than attempting to hold them off and wait for support. We’ve probably been lucky on a few occasions not to have given away more penalties given this proclivity to be so aggressive in the challenge in the penalty area.

Whether it’s down to the way the defence has been coached or a lack of composure when in one-on-one situations, it’s clearly something Mark Robins needs to address. If you subtract the goals conceded from penalties, we would have four more points. It doesn’t sound like a lot given the number we’ve conceded, but it could be very costly come the end of the season if the relegation battle gets tighter.

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