The Sky Blues came out of a clash with a Watford side challenging for promotion with a creditable draw that could, and perhaps should, have been a win.
The first-half was probably the chief opportunity to claim the scalp of a side that were in the Premier League last season. The Sky Blues played with energy and determination to prevent Watford getting into any kind of rhythm and forced a handful of decent opportunities that were ultimately spurned.
Tiredness appeared to take hold in the second-half, allowing Watford to come into the game and create a few moments of panic in the Coventry City penalty area. However, the Sky Blues remained resolute at the back while offering the occasional threat on the counter-attack to ensure that it was a competitive contest right up to the final whistle.
Back To 3-5-1-1
After reverting to a back three for the second-half of our previous game, against Nottingham Forest, and playing well, it was little surprise to see Mark Robins retain that set-up to the defence for this game. What was slightly surprising was the sacrificing of a striker, Viktor Gyokeres, for an extra midfielder, Jamie Allen.
It initially looked as if the personnel changes would see the team line-up in the 3-4-2-1 system that got the club promoted last season but Jamie Allen ended up playing, mostly, alongside Matty James and Gustavo Hamer in a deeper midfield role, rather than alongside Callum O’Hare in support of the lone striker, Maxime Biamou.
There were two key benefits to this slight change in system. First of all, having an extra body in central midfield helped provide extra defensive support for the wing-backs, with one of the midfielders available to shuffle over and prevent the wing-backs getting isolated against Watford’s quick and skilful wingers. Secondly, it freed Gustavo Hamer, who is probably our biggest goal threat at the moment, to allow him to push forward and get into dangerous areas in support of Callum O’Hare and Maxime Biamou in attack.
With Matty James tidying and organising things at the base of the midfield trio, Jamie Allen was equally free to push forward. James’ role not only freed others to support the attack but also to press Watford’s back-line. This was more the case in the first-half than when the team tired in the second, but the midfield forced a number of turnovers of possession in Watford’s half that led to a few decent openings.
While the tactics helped, it was the energy and determination from the players that saw the Sky Blues that made it difficult for Watford to get going and consistently threaten the opposition area throughout the game. It is a far cry from the performances against the division’s stronger teams earlier in the season where we appeared overawed by the supposed quality of the opposition. The players weren’t afraid to assert themselves and go toe-to-toe with some of the best players this division has to offer. If we can replicate that level of performance consistently, we will give ourselves a decent chance to win some of the tough games we have ahead of us.
Leo Ostigard Leads The Defence
If there was one player who embodied the gutsiness of this Coventry City performance, it was Leo Ostigard. The Norwegian has a wild streak to his game that leads to errors, but he manifested his natural level of aggression expertly to marshal the dominant physical presence of Watford’s Troy Deeney.
With Kyle McFadzean absent from the side over the past few games, it has left the back-line both inexperienced and without a key figure in the air. Ostigard has answered that call superbly and it meant that he not only won his individual battle, but it seemed to feed into the confidence of his central defensive colleagues, Michael Rose and Dominic Hyam, who, for different reasons, had reasons to doubt their ability heading into this game.
The exciting thing about a central defensive trio of Ostigard, Rose and Hyam is that it provides the team with extra ability to push up the pitch, knowing that they have less of a reason to worry about being caught out for pace and that all three centre-backs are comfortable receiving the ball. That might not have quite been on show in this game, but the second-half display against Nottingham Forest demonstrated that this youthful back three can aid the team’s efforts in taking the game to opponents.
A Lack Of Proactiveness From The Bench?
Having looked the likelier team to score in the first-half, the second-half could have gone either way. The key reason for that being that the team’s energy levels gradually dropped off and the midfield was less able to put pressure on the ball, which invited Watford forward.
With the attacking players in particular looking fairly spent from around the hour mark, it was almost agonising to watch it take until the 86th for Mark Robins to make a non-injury-enforced change. However, I think the manager’s reticence was understandable given the options available to him.
Chiefly, the amount of injuries that we are carrying at the moment has left Mark Robins with few, if any, genuinely game-changing options from the bench. In an ideal world, players like Will Bapaga and Fabio Tavares would have been nowhere near the first-team picture, but have been forced into filling out the bench due to the injury situation.
Additionally, any of the senior players that Mark Robins could have introduced would have changed the balance of a team that was competing well with a strong Watford side. As much as someone like Viktor Gyokeres could have made a difference had he been given longer on the pitch, the difficulty is that introducing him either changes the shape of the side or requires his team-mates to provide him with a different kind of support than they would have to provide Maxime Biamou.
Although earlier substitutions could have provided the team with the uplift in energy that could have won the game, it could equally have disrupted what was largely working well for us for much of the match. That is the risk and reward that comes with making substitutions, given the lack of strength on the bench right now, the balance of those decisions is more towards risk.