It was a case of both glass half-empty and half-full for Coventry City as they came away from an out-of-form, but talented, Blackburn Rovers side with a 1-1 draw.
The negativity from this game came from the manner in which the Sky Blues allowed Blackburn to gradually take a hold of the game in the first-half, before conceding a fairly cheap goal as a result of statuesque defending from a few too many in the Coventry City back-line.
The positivity from this game came from how the Sky Blues rallied in the second-half in order to force an equaliser via a smartly worked cross and knock-back that allowed Matty James to score. In addition, Coventry City did well to prevent Blackburn creating much for the remainder of the game, particularly as they had just ten men on the pitch for the final ten minutes of the contest.
The Perils Of A Narrow Formation
Blackburn Rovers dominated possession in this game, which was largely a result of their full-backs constantly being available for the pass. This was allowed to happen because the 3-5-2 formation that we lined up in tends to leave the opposition full-backs free.
Whether we were attempting to press Blackburn Rovers high up the pitch or not, we struggled to disrupt them from building up long spells of possession – particularly in the first-half – because they constantly had at least one player available out wide as an option to relieve pressure. Furthermore, with Blackburn intent on switching the play regularly, when we finally got across to cover one of their free men, the ball was then swept to the other side in order and caught our defence both out of shape and flat-footed.
Furthermore, the battle on our left between Sam McCallum and both Harvey Elliott and Ryan Nyambe seemed a mismatch for much of the game. With Elliott constantly looking to drift inside in order to play passes behind our defence, McCallum had to be cautious about positioning himself too wide. However, with Blackburn’s right-back, Nyambe, wide and high up pitch, McCallum couldn’t position himself too narrow. This was exacerbated, in the first-half in particular, with Nyambe looking to have the advantage in one-against-one foot-races between him and McCallum, which contributed to Blackburn’s opening goal.
Although we seemed to get to grips with Blackburn’s aggressive use of their full-backs in the second-half, that threat continued to persist and meant that our wing-backs, midfield and wide centre-backs could never be too sure about their positioning. In fact, when we switched to a 3-4-1-2 when Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare were introduced, it made it even more difficult for us to meet their full-backs in possession due to the loss of a central midfielder in favour of an attacking midfielder.
This is the peril than can be caused by playing with a narrow system. The squad having lacked natural, fit wide players for much of the season, it’s curious that it’s seemingly taken until this point of the season for it to be targeted so obviously. Fortunately, Blackburn didn’t do enough with that advantage out wide, beyond scoring that first goal.
Along with the main tactical theme of this game, this was a Coventry City performance characterised by a number of mistakes, particularly in defence. It is to the players’ credit that they didn’t let the mistakes they made define the game and rallied in order to earn the point.
It underlines something that is likely to be important in our bid for survival. This is a team that is probably lacking the quality in several key areas in order to put together a consistent winning streak in this division. We are probably going to concede a fair few more pretty soft, avoidable goals – such as in this game – the key is in not letting a mistake turn into bad performance and a bad performance turn into a bad result.
The two players who were probably most at fault for Blackburn Rovers’ goal, Sam McCallum and Dominic Hyam, epitomised this attitude that we need to embrace. They had cost the team a goal and weren’t playing particularly well in the first-half, but they made sure that they continued to work hard, concentrate and fulfil their duties for the team. Blackburn continued to attack down their side of the pitch but the threat gradually diminished because both McCallum and Hyam were tenacious and focused in their roles.
Moreover, this was a game where we didn’t really impose ourselves or get into any kind of rhythm in attack. However, the team persevered in their individual roles and battles, slowing down Blackburn’s flow in possession and forcing them to work hard and eventually have to try different things in order to create – which they struggled to do. It made for a low-quality contest, but that suited us.
A Well-Worked Goal
Possibly the only piece of quality that the team produced in this game was the move that resulted in the equalising goal. Although much of the game highlighted the perils of playing a narrow 3-5-2 system, this was a goal that demonstrated the benefits of it.
Jordan Shipley, playing on the left of the midfield trio, drifted into a wide position, which allowed him to link up with Sam McCallum, who drove forward towards the byline from his left wing-back position. McCallum’s high and looping cross offered little hope for Tyler Walker to directly head the ball on goal from, but because the right-sided central midfielder, Matty James, had made a run into the penalty area, it meant that he had the option to cushion his header towards the onrushing midfielder to finish.
At its best, a 3-5-2 system provides a team the security of three at the back, natural width, as well as extra bodies in midfield in attack. However, it not only requires the team to have the ball but also for the players that system to make purposeful runs with and without the ball in order to create overloads and stretch opponents.
There were two overloads caused by our system for this goal. The first came from that link-up between Shipley and McCallum down the left side. The second came from having an extra midfielder in the penalty area in the form of Matty James.
It was a moment of quality and execution in a Coventry City performance that largely lacked those two things. For much of the game, we simply didn’t have enough control of the ball in order to threaten Blackburn in this way. The midfield were rushed in possession, the wing-backs were too withdrawn, which meant the strike pairing were too isolated to make things happen. However, it was a moment that showed the players understood what they had been asked to do and spotted an opportunity to execute those instructions when it presented itself.