After a ten-day break in which the club’s return to Coventry had been announced, a dispiriting 2-0 defeat at Luton Town served as a reminder that the Sky Blues still have work to do before they can look ahead to next season.
Maxime Biamou hitting the post when clean through on goal at 0-0 represented a key moment in the game from a Coventry City perspective, however, they may have done little to change a game where the team was, for a man, second-best to their opponents. Luton Town scored from a swift break mid-way into the first-half to move ahead, then made it two when Ben Wilson flapped at a cross and Kyle McFadzean handled the ball on the line.
From then on, it was a case of two teams going through the motions, with ten-man Coventry City doing little to threaten Luton’s comfortable two-goal lead.
When A Defensive Game-Plan Comes Unstuck
Scoreline aside, this was a performance that wasn’t all too different than the one that we witnessed in our previous game against Derby County. The difference this time around was that we didn’t take the couple of chances that we created at 0-0 and our defence failed to stand firm under pressure.
In setting the team up in the same 3-5-1-1 formation as last time out, the emphasis was primarily on keeping a clean sheet, with anything Maxime Biamou and Callum O’Hare could muster out of thin air at the other end a bonus. While the game could have been very different had Biamou scored from one of the two big chances that he had, the set-up of the team meant that once we went a goal down, the only way we could react in a meaningful way was to make changes.
However, as against Cardiff City and Norwich City over the past month, Mark Robins was denied the opportunity to change things up in an impactful way because the team went two goals (and a man) down before half-time. It provides a case for perhaps making changes while the game is still in a state to be affected, even if that involves breaking the unwritten rule in football of not making substitutions before half-time. Or you could set the team up in a manner that doesn’t rely so heavily on not conceding the first goal.
As much as this was a game decided by key individual failings from some of our players, the team was set out in a manner that put too much of an emphasis on individual players to be near-flawless. A more proactive approach, while carrying its own risks, may have at least given the team the opportunity to react to falling behind before it was too late.
Ben Wilson’s Worst Performance
Although most Coventry City fans would agree that Ben Wilson has done little in his stint in the side to warrant the starting position in goal for next season, the very least that could be said about his performances prior to this game was that he hadn’t done too much to let the team down. This game provided proof to the suspicion that Ben Wilson is just not a particularly good goalkeeper – especially at Championship level.
The key moment in Ben Wilson’s – and perhaps even the team’s – game was a flap at a cross inside the first ten minutes that presented Luton Town with an open goal that they failed to take advantage of. It was a let-off in that moment, but it signalled to Luton that they could take advantage of Wilson’s lack of authority on high crosses. It became a persistent theme throughout the rest of the game, and resulted in the penalty and red card incident that ended the match as a contest.
Wilson probably could have done better with Luton’s opening goal, which has hit at a good height and close to his body, but this was a performance that was less about those key moments and more a general lack of confidence that he seemed to have in the basics of his game. He didn’t seem to want the ball at his feet, slicing several clearances into touch, and it clearly seemed to affect the defence in front of him – who, themselves, weren’t blameless for this defeat.
As aberrant as this performance for Ben Wilson was versus his general level since breaking into the team, it has felt like it has been coming. With Marko Marosi also having struggled this season, Mark Robins must have been hoping that Ben Wilson could hold the fort between now and the end of the season, where our inadequacies in goal could be more decisively addressed. Instead, this performance has presented the manager with a big decision to make ahead as the season enters a key phase.
A Long Way To Survival Yet
The combination of a key victory last time out against Derby County and the announcement of the club’s return to Coventry has drawn the attention away from the survival battle that the team is in. This game, after an extended break, was a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done before we can look ahead to what next season may have in store.
More than anything, this was a game that highlighted why this squad belongs in the lower echelons of the Championship table. Although we were set-up perhaps a little too negatively, the key moments of this match came down to a lack of quality in important areas of the pitch – Maxime Biamou missing two big gilt-edged chances at 0-0, Ben Wilson and the defence blundering for both of Luton Town’s goals. Additionally, the overall inability of the team to lay much of a glove on Luton was also the result of being lacking in several key areas of the pitch.
With two goalkeepers that haven’t projected confidence throughout the campaign, a defence packed full of players that are equally capable of making costly errors as each other, a midfield unable to consistently impose itself on opponents and a set of strikers that have struggled for form in front of goal, it is clear why this team is currently in a relegation battle.
It’s been a season where every step forward seems to have been countered with a step or two back soon after. We haven’t won back-to-back games and our best run of form stretched to an eight-game unbeaten run where we won just three times. Fortunately, we have done enough at this stage of the season not to be relying on a miraculous run of form to stay up, but getting even as few as three wins out of our remaining ten games doesn’t seem certain.
Unless we suddenly see a marked improvement in performances with players suddenly raising their performance levels, every point we gain between now and the end of the campaign will be hard-fought. We are likely to be relying as much on the inadequacies of others to stay up as we are on what we can do. It is going to be a while before we can properly look ahead to Championship football at the Ricoh Arena next season.