The Sky Blues slipped unceremoniously to a 3-0 defeat away at Reading. It was a performance lacking in both attacking threat and defensive composure, with the team failing to put the opposition goal under any pressure and giving away a slew of easy chances for Reading to take advantage of.
Having had the better side, Reading’s Lucas Joao battered through the Coventry City defence to hand his side the lead. From there on in, the Sky Blues got worse, sloppy in possession, hesitant in attack, timid in defence.
The game ended 3-0, with Coventry City down to ten-men, it could have been a much bigger defeat and with another man or two sent off.
Risk Without Reward (Again)
After a vibrant performance last time out in the league against Millwall, it looked as if, now that we had found our feet in the Championship, this team was ready to return to the kind of possession-based, proactive football that had seen us win promotion from League One. This game was a reminder of just how far we are from consistently being able to impose our style of football on opponents at this level on a consistent basis.
Until the first goal, the Sky Blues had just about had the better of the game. Callum O’Hare and Leo Ostigard both had excellent chances to put the team ahead, but once Reading took the lead, they never looked in danger of surrendering it.
As neat and tidy as we looked in possession for periods of this game, we really struggled to put the opposition goal under pressure. This was down to both an inability to get players into shooting positions and a lack of willingness to take shots on.
Debutant centre-forward, Viktor Gyokeres, epitomised our attacking performance, showing the occasional good touch but failing to get a shot on goal and never really getting himself in a position to get one off. With Callum O’Hare and Jordan Shipley struggling to offer much in support, it was hard to see where the goals were going to come from in open play.
Furthermore, our attempts to be more positive than we had been in recent months left the team dangerously open at the back. Almost all of Reading’s chances stemmed from loose passing in our half, which our defenders lacked the pace and nous to cover for. We were fortunate in the end that not only did Reading fail to add to their three-goal lead but that we ended the game with ten-men – with Leo Ostigard making two similar challenges to the ones Kyle McFadzean made for his two bookings.
This game was a reminder of just why Mark Robins had made the team so defensive following the November international break. By attempting to be more proactive, all the team did was leave itself more open at the back without the benefit of being more threatening going forward. If we continue to play like that, it will soon be time again to revert to our defensive bunker in search of the points to keep us in the division. We are going to have to see the rewards of being attacking soon.
Dominic Hyam’s Loss Of Form
For the first time since we were in League Two, Dominic Hyam is going through a rough patch in a Sky Blue shirt. Outmuscled for Reading’s first goal and beaten for skill for Reading’s second, Hyam is struggling to exert the same quiet authority that he has shown in the Coventry City defence over the past two-and-a-half seasons.
Having coped admirably with the difficult role as a right-footed defender playing on the left of a back three – which can often take a centre-back into positions a full-back would usually occupy – it has become increasingly apparent how awkward it is for Hyam to be playing on his weaker side. Most obviously, it means he often has to take an extra touch to receive the ball, thus inviting the opposition into pressing him, but we are also seeing some deficiencies in Hyam’s positioning and timing of the challenge that partially stem from having to defend across his body.
Mistakes are starting to beget mistakes for Hyam and it looks like his confidence has dipped. Ideally, Hyam would be given a spell out of the side to get him out of the firing, but there simply isn’t an alternative for him on the left side of the defence – regardless of Kyle McFadzean being suspended for the next game.
It is becoming increasingly clear that a left-footed central defender needs to be added to the squad to prevent that weakness in playing Dominic Hyam there in being targeted. In the here and now, it is up to Hyam to play himself back into form. He has at least shown that he can play well at Championship level, he now has to prove it again.
A Deficient Midfield
Another key reason why this was such a poor performance was that the midfield just didn’t impose itself either with or without the ball. It’s too early to judge whether Matty James & Gustavo Hamer will work as a midfield duo, but there was something fundamentally lacking in their partnership in this game that meant that neither was able to stand out.
Billed as a Liam Kelly replacement, it was apparent in this game that James isn’t the same physical presence in midfield as Kelly is. That lack of physicality left the onus on Gustavo Hamer to play the enforcer role in the middle of the park, which took away from his ability to get things going on the ball and risked him picking up bookings.
Without that physical presence to free up Hamer, it was hard to see in this game what Matty James added to the set-up in midfield. He played a few really good passes and there were some decent exchanges between himself and Hamer, but it provided little impetus to our attack.
Perhaps the issue is that Matty James is not Liam Kelly and we attempted to play as if he was. If we are to see the best out of a player who was integral to a Barnsley side that climbed the Championship table earlier in the season when he was there, perhaps it’s a case of changing the midfield to suit him. In a partnership with another midfielder who looks to be positive in possession, he didn’t offer anything additional from an attacking or defensive stand-point.