For the second time this season, the Sky Blues lost 2-1 to Nottingham Forest having felt they had played well for much of the second-half.
This time around, it was the Sky Blues who took the lead, with Maxime Biamou finishing swiftly after the team won the ball high up the pitch. However, the game’s momentum reversed from that point until early in the second-half, with Nottingham Forest targeting our weakness at full-back to create the two goals that won them the game.
For the rest of the second-half, Coventry City dominated possession, pinned Nottingham Forest into their own half and got the ball into good positions. Poor decision-making and a lack of quality meant that the Sky Blues couldn’t convert dominance into goals, meaning Forest were largely comfortable with their one goal lead.
Forced Into A Tactical Change
The 4-3-3 shape that had seen us take four points from the past two games looked to be working fairly well up to the first goal in this game. Biamou, Gyokeres and O’Hare were pressing well, linking up nicely and offering an outlet in possession, the midfield trio were snapping at Forest’s heels and looking tidy on the ball.
While the defence still look exposed in wide areas, the goal that we scored demonstrated that if we could win the ball high up the pitch, we could avoid Forest pinpointing that Achilles’ Heel. The problem that we had from that point until half-time, was that there just wasn’t pressure being applied on the ball, which allowed Nottingham Forest to dictate the game and isolate our weak-spot in wide areas.
Just five minutes after we took the lead, Forest played a ball in behind Josh Pask, who was skinned by Sammy Ameobi as he tried to recover his position, which allowed space for a pull-back to Lewis Grabban to level the scores. It became increasingly obvious as the first-half wore on that not only were our full-backs exposed but that there were uncomfortable in their roles – Pask, being a centre-back operating at full-back, Sam McCallum having played much of his senior career at wing-back.
That is surely what informed Mark Robins’ tactical change at half-time, which saw Josh Pask taken off and Sam McCallum pushed up to left wing-back. While it wasn’t enough to stop Nottingham Forest creating another overload out wide – isolating McCallum on the left – it at least led to a positive second-half performance and perhaps taught the manager an important lesson about how best to set up the players he currently has available.
Another Good Second-Half Performance Against Nottingham Forest
The two substitutions that Mark Robins made at half-time, Michael Rose and Julien Dacosta, each made a positive contribution to what was a largely dominant second-half performance – ignoring the own goal that Michael Rose scored.
With Dacosta providing an outlet on the right flank and Rose constantly available as an option for a pass, it allowed the team to not only control possession but get the ball into good areas. Dacosta in particular had a good game, stretching the play from right wing-back and putting in several really telling deliveries. If anyone was going to turn the game in our favour, it looked like being Dacosta.
Those extra options in possession allowed Gustavo Hamer and Matty James to run the show in central midfield. Each of them took it in turns to sit close to the three centre-backs to act as the first pass out of defence, while the other pushed forward in order to link up with the front three. It made for some really controlled passages of play where we were just one good pass from breaking open a tight opposition defensive unit.
Although our dominance in the second-half was a product of Nottingham Forest attempting to sit on their lead, we imposed pressure on them by moving the ball quickly and intelligently. This team has been behind a lot this season and not played like that, which is why there is some encouragement to take. The challenge now is to replicate on a more consistent basis and when the game is level.
Toothless In Attack
Nottingham Forest registered just six shots in this game, versus our 14, but looked the likeliest team to score for much of the contest – even if the teams were only separated by an own goal. With just 39% of possession, Nottingham Forest were much more purposeful and efficient than ourselves in their use of the ball, focussing almost entirely on getting it into dangerous areas rather than looking to exert pressure through time on the ball.
The reason why we didn’t come out of the second-half with a goal was due to the inefficiency of our attack when the ball got into the final third. Despite combining for the first goal, nothing else quite came off for Callum O’Hare and Maxime Biamou, while Viktor Gyokeres was largely peripheral. As much as we got the ball into dangerous positions, Brice Samba in the Nottingham Forest goal had a pretty comfortable evening.
As much as we are missing some key attacking players in Matt Godden and Tyler Walker, whether they would have solved the issue that we saw in this game of making poor decisions or being hesitant when in good positions is debatable. Godden and Walker are among the Championship strikers with the lowest shots per game, highlighting that the problem is creativity rather than a lack of a quality striker.
A lot rests on the shoulders of Callum O’Hare to be that link between midfield and attack. He is someone that can be either marked out of the game by opponents or simply have an off day, as he did in this game. Without that link, we are relying on quality from our wing-backs – which we only had on one flank in one half – or by going more direct into the strikers – who perhaps don’t quite have an all-round game at this level to be threatening.
The difficulty Mark Robins this season has been in ensuring the team remains tight at the back, while figuring out an attacking plan with a cast of players that has rotated due to injuries. This team hasn’t had a lot of time or opportunities to figure out how to dominate games and break opponents down, which is what we saw in this game.
With games on the horizon against teams who are likely to dominate against us, there may not be too many chances to learn from this experience. This is why it was so costly to lose this game.