In a key clash between two relegation contenders, the Sky Blues came away with the win over Derby County, thanks to an early goal from Maxime Biamou.
It wasn’t a brilliant performance from Coventry City, who were probably a tad too negative throughout the game and invited their opponents onto them. However, the Sky Blues did just about enough to repel Derby County’s attacking threat and were only really in danger of The Rams producing a moment of magic out of nowhere or scoring from a set-piece.
It was little surprise that Tyler Walker was taken out of the side after a series of increasingly tired and uninvolved performances over the past few games. However, it was a surprise that Mark Robins returned to a 3-5-1-1 system that had seen the team pick up just three points in the seven games it had previously been used in this season.
With just Maxime Biamou up front, and only Callum O’Hare making runs in support of him, the team lacked a reliable outlet in possession. While the duo combined for the game’s only goal, they were regularly receiving the ball under the attention of at least two or three Derby County players and were often either crowded off the ball or forced to run down blind alleys. Criticism has to go to our midfielders and wing-backs who were not urgent enough in their runs behind our attacking duo to provide adequate support.
Furthermore, the lack of numbers in attack often meant there wasn’t a reliable outlet to play the ball towards when under pressure in our third of the pitch, meaning we either had to concede possession or risk losing it in a dangerous area. Most notably, in the first-half, Dominic Hyam was forced into a back-pass to Ben Wilson, who was then pressured into a poor pass back to Hyam, which nearly led to a Derby equaliser. With an extra body or two in attack, that situation may never have presented itself, with the defence more confident that a long ball forward would find a Sky Blue shirt.
Although the number of players that we had in defensive positions – particularly in the centre of the pitch – restricted Derby to little in open play, we conceded a lot of set-pieces in dangerous areas because we were so deep. While the zonal marking system that we deployed was pretty effective against Derby’s inventive set-piece routines, there were a few especially dangerous dead-ball situations that could have gone in on another day.
It underlines the point that while such a negative approach can work in one game, in general, if you are inviting the opposition onto you and offering little threat on the counter, you always risk conceding to an individual moment of brilliance, a lapse in concentration, or a lucky bounce at a set-piece. The best means of defence is often preventing the opposition getting on the ball and threatening their goal, we didn’t do that enough in this game and were fairly fortunate to take the lead and see out the result.
O’Hare & Biamou Making It Work
A huge amount of credit for this win has to go to the attacking duo of Callum O’Hare and Maxime Biamou. With very little support behind them, their work-rate created what little attacking threat that we posed in this game and also occasionally helped slow down the flow of Derby County pressure. It wasn’t a perfect performance on the ball, but the goal was a due reward for a diligent performance without it from the duo.
Biamou was probably the more important of the two in helping the team to victory. He didn’t win every challenge that he entered, but he made himself consistently awkward enough that it meant Derby’s defenders had to take a touch or two after each duel to come away with the ball. That helped slow things down for Derby in possession and meant our defence had a little extra time to set themselves.
Similarly, O’Hare entered challenges in a manner that made it difficult for his opponent to easily come away with the ball from. In addition, his energy levels in that space between Derby’s defence and midfield provided Biamou with often his only option in possession and the team our main means of threatening on the counter-attack.
However, it was another showing from O’Hare and Maxime Biamou that underlined why they cannot be relied upon as an attacking duo in this division – especially with such little support from the players behind them. Biamou drifted wide a little too often in this game, leaving the team without a presence in the penalty area. O’Hare, once again, was often guilty of holding onto the ball a little too long, allowing opportunities to play dangerous passes or get shots away get away from him.
Biamou & O’Hare were effective in their roles for the situation the team was in for this game, they would have been even better with adequate support around them.
A Win By Any Means Is Just As Beautiful?
It was vital to get the win in this game and there is an extent to which that is all that really matters. It pushes us a little clearer of danger – although, Rotherham United’s postponement means we can’t be too sure of how far clear of the bottom three we really are – and keeps another team in the relegation picture. It’s a huge result for our season.
However, the concern with winning a game without having played well is that it is seen as a blue-print for future games rather than as simply a confidence boost that can allow the team to aspire towards better performances. If we replicate the same team selection, approach and mentality that we produced in this game, it is more likely to see us lose than win games over the long-run.
This was a win that relied a lot on the fact that we got ahead early, and that our opponents did not produce quality in attack despite being ceded control of the game. We have seen throughout this season that we lack both the defensive and attacking quality to make such a game-plan work, you only have to cast your mind back to Tuesday night’s loss to Middlesbrough, which was a similar performance in many regards.
That said, this was the seventh game in the space of 21 days and it has become apparent that we simply don’t have the fitness levels and squad depth to replicate the kind of energetic performance that saw us beat Brentford with such a short turnaround between fixtures. Getting the win in this game, by any means necessary, means we have the ability to aspire for better with a degree of comfort away from danger.
This was a game that taught us little that could enhance our survival prospects. The three points are on the board, now, let us forget that this game even happened.