With the season entering a key phase, the Sky Blues produced an inadequate performance away at a Queens Park Rangers side with little to play for that heightens fears over relegation.
As soon as QPR took the lead in the second minute of the game, there appeared little prospect of Coventry City turning things around. The home side calmly held the Sky Blues at arm’s length for much of the game, adding to their lead before half-time and then taking the sting out of the game in the second-half by scoring a third just after Coventry City had looked to have woken from their post-international break torpor.
It was a routine victory for Queens Park Rangers, the Sky Blues will have to make things much harder for their future opponents in order to survive in this division.
Re-Learning Old Lessons
What was dispiriting about the manner of this defeat was that it played out like many other defeats we’ve had throughout this season, particularly in that opening eleven game period where we were leaking goals at an alarming rate.
The team selection was a clear attempt to get back to what had succeeded last season, but had proven to be inadequate this season. From the 3-4-2-1 to the restoration of Marko Marosi, Jamie Allen, Jordan Shipley and Matt Godden into the starting eleven, Mark Robins must have been hoping that his team could magically roll back the calendar 13 months.
Instead, the calendar rolled back by just six months as we re-learned lessons about this narrow set-up that we had been taught earlier in the season. Our narrow shape allowed QPR to stretch us in wide areas while it also meant that we couldn’t get a foothold in the game as the opposing defence could easily keep track of our front three and we had no means of getting behind their back-line.
QPR exploited the advantage they had in wide areas for the first goal, where they overwhelmed the right side of our defence, dragging Leo Ostigard out to plug the gap, leaving the back-line short in the penalty area to defend the eventual cross and header.
What was more agonising about our first-half display was less the goals that we conceded and more the lack of threat that we posed whenever we got on the ball. We had to work hard simply to keep possession and when we wanted to play the ball forward, Matt Godden, Jamie Allen and Jordan Shipley were either muscled off in the challenge or gave the ball away within their first two touches.
Having had two weeks to work on a formula that would keep us in the division, it was strange that Mark Robins returned to something that we have already seen not work for us this season. We’ll now be heading into a game in three days’ time hoping something different will work, which makes this two-week break feel like a missed opportunity.
If there is is anything that can be taken from this game, it’s that we learned that what we are currently doing is not going to keep us in this division.
While it is a negative to be forced back to the drawing board in the first game after the international break, conceding a third goal in the second-half should avoid the players and manager falling into the trap of believing that a better performance after falling behind may lead to points in other games. It’s happened on a few too many occasions this season and we’ve rarely backed up playing well in defeat with improved performances in the following games.
As much as the introduction of Tyler Walker, Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare improved our attacking threat, it was only really Gyokeres’ late free-kick that worked QPR’s keeper. There isn’t suddenly going to be a combination of our current players that will lead to the performances and results that we need to stay up, there is going to have to be a more fundamental improvement in our set-up and approach to games.
That said, losing games heavily clearly isn’t ideal in the situation that we are in at this stage of the season. Lessons that we learned today should have already been learned. The knock to the confidence isn’t going to help either.
If we can take this performance and result as a message that marked improvement is needed, something will have come out of this shambolic display.
Are We Simply Not Good Enough?
Although the set-up of the team in this game was questionable, a large reason why we lost was also because a number of players did not appear to be up to the standard of the opposition.
For the purpose of brevity, I won’t single out the individuals who didn’t look up to standard. The point is that we have seen over the course of the season that the number of players that we have who can make a difference in this division is few.
That makes Mark Robins’ job difficult to find a formula that works with this squad. Covering one player’s limitation often ends up leaving another’s exposed. If we try to be proactive, it leaves our defence exposed. If we try to be defensive, we struggle to create chances. As we saw in this game, a balanced approach tends to show up the short-comings of the entire team.
However, it would likely help this set of players if there was a coherent and consistent approach that they could refer to. It’s something that we moved away from over the course of the campaign in search of results and is part of the reason why we couldn’t just snap back into the set-up that had worked so well for us last year in this game.
Now that sense of identity is gone, we are more reliant on individual quality, which we don’t seem to have. Staying up is either going to involve at least one or two players producing match-winning moments and then holding on to points for dear life or stumbling across something that works.
As it stands, neither of those things look like happening. At least there is still time for that to occur.