In one of the most important games of the season thus far, Coventry City came up short in a drab performance lacking in quality, decisiveness and urgency.
Things would have been different had Gustavo Hamer and Maxime Biamou done better with the good chances they had in the first-half, however, the Sky Blues failed to up the ante as the game wore on in search of a goal that would have taken the team a long way towards a realistic survival points tally.
The inability to score means that the pressure will only increase with the passing of each of the final nine games.
A Dearth Of Creativity
A lot of focus on this game from a Coventry City perspective will be on the three big chances that we had in the first-half that Gustavo Hamer and Maxime Biamou spurned. While those chances going in would have undoubtedly changed the game, the reason why we didn’t win came down to the failure to create much of any substance beyond the first-half.
Whether it was because the defence played well or that Wycombe weren’t quite at it in attack, there was little threat of us conceding in this game. Leo Ostigard seemed to have a handle on Uche Ikpeazu in Wycombe’s attack, while the away side’s other attacking players did little to trouble the rest of our defence until very late on. It was a case of whether we would score, which we failed to do.
There was just one change made to the side that lost in midweek to Luton Town – the enforced one of Michael Rose for the suspended Kyle McFadzean in defence – but there was a key tweak to our shape, with Gustavo Hamer pushed forward to make it a 3-4-2-1, akin to the system that had found success last season. While there were some decent moments from O’Hare, Hamer & Biamou in the first-half, they lacked the composure and decisiveness between them to reliably convert promising situations into chances and goals.
Our best moments in the opening period of the game came via catching out Wycombe’s high defensive line, but because of the make up of our forward line, there was a lack of pace to make the most of it. Wycombe appeared to adjust in the the second-half, forcing a change in system in order to pose different questions of their defence.
In a crucial fixture, the team failed to take a hold of the game and force the issue as time ticked onwards. With a lack of composure and decisiveness on the ball, our best route to goal looked to be hopeful punts forward. However, that meant Wycombe were never too far away from regaining possession and holding onto the point they seemed keen on gaining.
This was a game that came down to a few big early chances, but it didn’t need to. If we are going to stay up, improving the ability to create is going to be as important as avoiding the shambolic defensive moments that have littered our campaign.
When Substitutions Make Things Worse
As bewildering as it seemed that Mark Robins opted to persevere with just one up front in a game where the onus was on us to win, the performance following the move to a strike partnership went some way to justifying that decision.
The change came at the cost of structure in midfield, which seemed to bifurcate the team between defence and attack. That inability to pressure and hold onto the ball in the middle of the pitch seemed to simultaneously leave our back five a little too deep and the front three too far up the pitch to impact the game.
Some of the blame for that loss of structure must go on Matty James and Gustavo Hamer, who struggled to impose themselves in midfield without the presence of Liam Kelly. They were caught out on a few occasions for either attempting to press the ball and leaving space behind them or sitting too deep and allowing Wycombe to get on the ball. However, it was a difficult job for two players whose primary strengths lay with the ball than without it.
Moreover, none of the five substitutions Mark Robins made in this game improved the team’s performance. Julien Dacosta looked sloppy, Josh Pask nervous, Tyler Walker struggled to get into the game, Matt Godden was too often asked to compete for aerial challenges, Ben Sheaf’s introduction robbed us of an attacking player at a key juncture of the game.
However, there’s only so much that Mark Robins can do with a squad that is lacking players that stand-out at this level and with quite a few only just returning from injury. The lack of impetus in the closing stages of the game may well have owed just as much to a lack of freshness in the players coming on as it did the seeming lack of structure in the way the manager attempted to change the game.
The Holy Quartet
Mark Robins has stuck with largely the same team over the past four games, which appears to be down to a desire to find a way to play the quartet of Liam Kelly, Matty James, Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare in the same team.
Although recent games feel like they have hinged on some big misses from Maxime Biamou in attack, we have had five shots on target and two goals over the past four games. While dropping one of Kelly, James, Hamer or O’Hare would be a bold call, we are going to struggle to stay up creating so few chances and scoring so few goals.
It’s not that any of those four players are not talented, it’s just that playing all of them at the same time effectively dictates that we have to play one up front (a back four, with two up front, being the main alternative). The situation is exacerbated as only one or two of those four players at any one time gets up in support of that lone striker, limiting the team’s overall attacking threat.
As much as we saw the downside later on in this game of reducing that structure in midfield in favour of another striker, we are not creating enough chances or scoring enough goals in this current set-up to justify persevering with it. It puts a lot of pressure on both our defence and Maxime Biamou to be impeccable, when we have seen continually this season that they are not.
There is a difference between selecting the most effective team and the best 11 players. That may involve making tough calls over talented individuals in favour of improving the team.