With relegation starting to look a realistic prospect, the Sky Blues stepped up with a committed, battling performance to secure a much-needed win against Bristol City.
Big changes to the side were expected, and they came, with Coventry City playing with more intensity and effort as they fought for just about every ball. After taking the lead via a long throw, thanks to a well-placed Leo Ostigard finish, it felt like it would be a Sky Blue afternoon.
In what was a scrappy game, Tyler Walker taking a tumble for a penalty mid-way in the second-half proved to be a key step towards all three points. Matt Godden converted the spot-kick, making the win feel pretty secure until a Kyle McFadzean brain fade handed Bristol City a route back into the game.
Any panic was soon calmed when the Sky Blues pounced on a loose pass of the opposition’s, with Tyler Walker racing down the pitch, playing it to Callum O’Hare, who teed up Viktor Gyokeres to end the game as a contest.
Get It Into The Strikers Early
Much like most of our other better performances this season – the Reading, Rotherham and Brentford wins at St Andrew’s spring to mind – a lot of the Sky Blues’ success in this game came from getting the ball into the strikers at the earliest possible opportunity.
It didn’t lead to the pretty, passing football that I’m sure Mark Robins would ideally like to see this team produce, however, it was a style of play that not only allowed the strikers to be more involved in our play than they normally would be but helped cover for our tendency to make mistakes when under pressure on the ball in our own half. It is a little surprising that it’s not something that we have attempted to replicate on a consistent basis.
With Matt Godden and Tyler Walker chasing down just about every long pass sent in their general direction, they were aided in their attempts by the runs made by Callum O’Hare – and occasionally Matty James too – just behind them to give the team extra bodies around the ball in the opposition half. It meant that even if the first ball wasn’t won, Bristol City’s defenders couldn’t come away with possession easily.
We didn’t actually great a great deal from open play despite this move towards involving our attacking players more in our general play. The bigger impact of the change in approach was that it gave the team a release valve and prevented – with one notable exception – the team playing itself into danger in its own half.
Having found out throughout this season that this is a team with some key deficiencies, finding a way of playing that limits them as much as possible is going to be key to staying up. The performance in this game was just as important as the result, pointing towards a way of playing that could be conducive to getting the results that will keep this team in the Championship.
Intensity, Intensity, Intensity
Further to the previous point, what made the overall approach in this game so effective was that the team committed to it with such intensity.
On another day, it could have been a pretty disastrous plan not to seek any kind of control of possession. However, with Tyler Walker, Matt Godden and Callum O’Hare in particular committing to just about every forward ball played it made it difficult for Bristol City to settle into the game.
Nonetheless, we saw in periods of this game just how important backing up this approach with intensity throughout the entire team is. As soon as Bristol City could get past our front three, there was a pretty big space from their half to the line of our midfield that they could carry the ball into.
On a few occasions, Han-Noah Massengo and, the second-half substitute, Kasey Palmer threatened to carve us open with accurate passes behind our defence due to the lack of pressure we were putting on the ball in the middle third of the pitch. Against an opponent playing with more intensity and quality than Bristol City, it is potentially a dangerous plan.
Encouragingly, our players managed to find second and third winds at key intervals in this game to prevent Bristol City truly sustaining a spell of dominance. Nonetheless, there was enough of a warning sign that if we let our intensity levels drop at any stage over the remaining games, we may be punished.
An Easy Introduction To A New Position
The headline team selection decision for this game was the call to play Josh Eccles at right wing-back. Whether that decision would have been made had Dominic Hyam been fit, freeing Josh Pask to take the right wing-back spot, we don’t know, but it proved to be a pretty comfortable afternoon in a new position for the academy central midfielder.
Without doing anything particularly spectacular, Eccles made himself an option in possession, used the ball fairly well and got into a few decent positions – most notably, early in the second-half when he advanced into the Bristol City penalty area and fired a cross across goal. It was perhaps enough to believe that this is a role worth persisting with for him, however, he couldn’t have asked for an easier afternoon defensively.
According to WhoScored, Eccles made just one interception in the game and not a single tackle (at the time of writing) this was because Bristol City attacked almost entirely down our left side, giving Eccles almost zero defending to do. It means that we come out of this game not really knowing just how proficient Eccles is defensively in what is nominally a defensive position.
Having been low down the pecking order in his preferred central midfield position, the experience of simply being on the pitch and acquitting himself well at Championship level is a positive step in Eccles’ development. There will be bigger challenges to come, but it will be a help that he came out of a first introduction to a new position with ease.