In a game that Coventry City really needed to win, the team came up massively short in an inadequate showing that would appear to leave the team in significant danger of soon moving into the relegation zone.
Setting up in a 3-5-1-1 system that left the team lacking in much of an attacking threat, it was effectively game over once Cardiff City’s Kieffer Moore turned Leo Ostigard inside-out before finishing to put his team ahead. However, the Sky Blues made sure that any hope of rallying from that set-back would be in vain with two comedic pieces of defending to hand Cardiff a three-goal lead.
Dominic Hyam mustered a goal once the Sky Blues finally awoke from their torpor, but it was far too little, too late.
The most dispiriting thing about this performance was the lack of any sense of what the team was trying to achieve. Were we looking to keep possession? Were we looking to be direct? Were we looking to sit back and catch Cardiff on the counter-attack? Were we looking to trouble them with a pressing game? Just how Mark Robins had envisioned how a win in this game would have played out is anyone’s guess.
It perhaps goes back to the change to a defensive mindset that was caused by our poor start to the season. In moving away from the identity that won us the League One title last year, the team seems to have lost a sense of purpose. This team has been built on a blue-print that has since been abandoned.
We have a set of defenders and midfielders that want to keep possession, but we have seen over the course of the season that this has led to defensive problems of our own making. While we have picked up points by reverting to a more defensive game-plan, there is a lack of nous and physicality in that area of the pitch that has cost us a number of goals and points.
In attack, it’s not just a lack of quality but the lack of a defining quality that has exacerbated issues at the back. We lack the pace to get in behind teams, the physicality to impose ourselves and way too reliant on Callum O’Hare and Gustavo Hamer to supply creativity on the ball – while also not committing the bodies forward to provide options for our playmakers.
It all adds up to make us a very soft touch when we’re not at our best – sloppy at the back and little threat going forward. There have been a few too many of these kind of showings these season, which have been made even worse by an inability to take full advantage of our better showings.
Don’t Wait To Change When It’s Not Working
While this was a game lost as a result of defensive lapses that are hard for a manager to mitigate against, it was clear from quite early on that the way the team had been set up was not conducive to a winning performance. That is why it was especially perplexing that Mark Robins took until the 60th minute mark – 14 minutes after we had conceded a third goal – to change things up.
Cardiff City set up with three at the back, with their wing-backs and two central midfielders defending deep, which meant they could easily contain our attacking threat of Maxime Biamou and Callum O’Hare. By scoring the first goal at around the half-hour mark, their game-plan had succeeded and ours had failed. Cardiff had no reason to take the risk of committing more players forward and we simply didn’t have enough attacking players on the pitch to cause their defensive shape problems.
As much as Mark Robins may have wanted to give the players he selected a chance to react to conceding the first goal – as well as probably not feeling he had the adequate options on the bench – Cardiff grabbed a second goal before half-time and making it even more difficult to correct our inadequate game-plan.
While it was understandable to not want to make a change before half-time, it was bizarre that nothing was done at that stage of the game in an attempt to salvage the result. Whether it would have made a difference to the manner in which we conceded the third goal is debatable, but it felt as if it was partially driven by the lackadaisical attitude that the team had played with in the first-half that shouldn’t have been allowed to continue.
This was a game that we fell behind in because several players just weren’t at the races, but this was a defeat that was caused by failing to take proactive steps to correct a poor performance.
A Huge Problem In Attack
It’s probably not a great idea to set a team up in a system where you only attack with two players. If you do, you probably wouldn’t choose to do so with a pairing that has mustered just one goal and three assists in thirteen games.
As much as Callum O’Hare and Maxime Biamou haven’t played particularly well individually for much of that run, it doesn’t help the type of players that they are to leave them so isolated for much of the game. Biamou is a hard-working target-man who isn’t mobile or a good enough finisher to play as a lone centre-forward. Just what Callum O’Hare’s best position is remains a debate, but he has consistently struggled when playing as the sole number ten.
Biamou and O’Hare are having to do so much work off the ball that they rarely get into dangerous positions, when they do, they are faced with having to beat at least one or two defenders to get decent shots away. They are players that desperately need support, but it’s hard to identify who can come into the team to provide it.
Even if Matt Godden and Tyler Walker were fully fit, they’re not the kind of strikers that can help create chances. The big January signing of Viktor Gyokeres hasn’t really convinced since coming in. Ryan Giles was pretty much allowed to leave. Amadou Bakayoko and Wesley Jobello have only been used under duress. Gervane Kastaneer and Marcel Hilssner were loaned out because they weren’t up to the standard the team needed them to be. If Jodi Jones had been fit at any stage of this season, he probably would have had to shoulder a lot of the creative and goalscoring responsibility of this side.
It is increasingly looking like a significant issue that we haven’t been able to upgrade our attacking options since promotion from League One. As much as the result in this game was driven by defensive lapses, it would have been much more of a contest had we been able to put Cardiff’s goal under any kind of pressure until it was far too late. The biggest challenge Mark Robins may well face over the final months of the campaign is in eking out enough goals from this attack to get the points we need to stay up.