The Sky Blues improved massively on recent performances to secure a vital first victory in six games against a Brentford side challenging for automatic promotion.
Mark Robins made two key changes for this game, by opting for two strikers and re-introducing Liam Kelly into the midfield, which had the desired effect of making the team look much more competitive and combative across the pitch. Preventing Brentford from getting into any kind of rhythm, the Sky Blues took the lead from the spot in the first-half, before grabbing a second after the restart by seizing on a loose pass at the back from the away team – with both goals scored by Tyler Walker.
From that point onwards, there was only going to be one winner. Coventry City maintained their energy levels from minute one to minute ninety, giving Brentford little hope of getting back into the game.
A Blueprint For Survival?
Before any analysis can be made of the tactical and personnel changes that contributed to the win, the biggest reason why this performance was so much better than what we’ve seen over the past few games was the level of belief, motivation and purpose with which the players applied themselves.
It underlines the gripes that many had with recent performances. While we are outgunned financially by the majority of teams at this level, you can mitigate the difference in talent with the right attitude and the right game-plan. This was a game won by the Sky Blues not only working harder than the opposition but by building a strategy around manifesting those energy levels into an organised press, anticipating loose balls and being combative at the back.
Although the two goals that we scored were a penalty and a defensive error from Brentford, they were errors that we forced upon them by having more players up the pitch than we have had recently and by those players working hard to make things awkward for the opposition. At the other end of the pitch, the defence was under little pressure for much of the match because we were putting so much pressure on the ball that it rarely got into dangerous areas. When we were under pressure, we were the right combination of forceful and calm to prevent danger manifesting itself.
Over the longer-term, we may need a bit more than good energy levels and having bodies forward, but in most games, it’s going to at least unsettle opponents and knock them out of their rhythm. To stay up, we’re going to need to get at least one win from every three games and if we apply ourselves in the same manner as we did in this game, that looks a realistic target.
The Difference Two Up Top Makes
A key reason why we not only won this game but held onto the three points so comfortably was that we were playing with two strikers in attack.
Most obviously, this meant that we had extra bodies forward so that we had more of a presence in the final third and thus posed more of a goal threat. For the first goal, Tyler Walker’s presence in attack afforded Maxime Biamou additional space to get his initial effort on goal, which he then chased down to win the spot-kick. For the second, we had an extra body to put Brentford under pressure from the goal-kick as well as to pounce on the mistake and convert it into a goal.
The secondary impact of playing two in attack is that it eased the pressure on the defence to have an extra target to aim at from longer-passes – which was a deliberate tactic from the team for much of the game. In addition, that extra intensity to support the press put pressure on the ball further up the pitch meant that Brentford struggled to build momentum when entering our half.
However, there were a few signs of the risk that Mark Robins was taking by removing a body from the midfield in favour of an extra forward. It meant that we were playing a midfield two – who appeared to be instructed to help support the press – which threatened to leave us short at the back on the occasions that Brentford managed to play through our press. It underlines the need to maintain energy levels, which could be difficult given the congested fixture scheduling this season, otherwise, we risk leaving our defence isolated in unfavourable situations.
Seeing Out The Win In The Right Way
One of the most impressive aspects of this performance was the manner in which the team saw out the result from a winning position. It’s easy, especially against a team you know is better than you, to forget the things you did to take the lead, by sitting back and inviting pressure, which is a trap that Mark Robins avoided falling into in the second-half.
Instead, the manager made substitutions focused on maintaining the team’s shape and energy levels, which ensured that we continued to disrupt Brentford’s rhythm in possession. All four strikers, and Callum O’Hare, played a key role in this victory by pressing the opposition defence as intensely in the 90th minute as they did in the first. Coupled with the defence and midfield maintaining their focus, it would have taken more than one moment of brilliance from Brentford to turn the result around.
For a team that has clearly been struggling for confidence recently, having the bravery to stick with a positive approach while holding onto the lead is an encouraging sign. While it’s easier to believe in what you’re doing when you are winning, it still takes a level of belief, and confidence, to stick to instructions when such an important result is on the line.