A third win in a row has all but secured Championship survival for Coventry City.
In a low-key first-half, a brilliant piece of play from Callum O’Hare set Tyler Walker up to put the Sky Blues ahead. The second-half became frantic as Stoke City searched for a route back into the game, eventually finding an equaliser via a rocket from Jacob Brown after Gustavo Hamer gave the ball away on the edge of the penalty area.
There only looked to be one winner from that point, but the Sky Blues put themselves back ahead thanks to a long throw from Sam McCallum that found its way to Maxime Biamou at the back post. Any euphoria at reclaiming the lead was soon calmed by another fantastic Stoke City strike, this time from Sam Clucas after a Tommy Smith cross had caused chaos in the Coventry City defence.
Somehow, the Sky Blues found a winning goal with 12 minutes to go, as Viktor Gyokeres belatedly looped in an effort from the edge of the area. After being made to work for it, Coventry City eventually held out for all three points.
Having dug out some important wins over the past two games, the first-half of this game offered moments of promise of what this Coventry City side could do when unburdened by pressure.
In particular, Callum O’Hare and Gustavo Hamer played with a sense of freedom that hadn’t been seen from either of them in a little while. The duo looked confident on the ball, kept their heads forward and dovetailed nicely to create some decent openings.
Hamer really did look like someone playing with a weight of pressure off their shoulders. From flicking 30-yard passes to open up the play, some, powerful, audacious volleys from the edge of the area, to just generally looking like he had time on the ball, this was the Gustavo Hamer that had been this team’s best player for much of the season.
Similarly, O’Hare was much more involved in our attacking play than he had been recently. Not only did he offer his usual tireless running without the ball, but he produced a number of moments of quality with it. His assist for Tyler Walker’s goal was both a wonderful piece of quick-thinking and a well-weighted pass, demonstrating that he may just have consistent, defence-unlocking quality in his feet.
Furthermore, it was encouraging to see Tyler Walker make himself an influence on the game. Beyond his goal, he both linked play nicely when he needed to and offered a willing runner to our creative players ahead of the ball. With doubts starting to grow about his ability to be a goalscorer at Championship level, this was a step in the right direction.
While the second-half saw the Sky Blues play with a nervousness of a team that knew it had something to lose, moments such as Viktor Gyokeres’ brilliant winning goal should provide encouragement that this Coventry City side can cause problems at this level when playing in a more proactive manner.
Exposed In Wide Areas
The clear area of danger for the Sky Blues in this game was in wide areas. Stoke City deserve a lot credit for the way in which they worked the ball out wide, switched the play quickly, created overloads, loaded the box and put in a consistent array of crosses into dangerous areas.
That danger was partially allowed to build-up as a result of our 3-4-1-2 shape. Not only did it mean we only had one natural wide player on either side of the pitch against two, sometimes three, Stoke players, but the wing-backs were often positioned a little too deep, applying little pressure on the ball before it was whipped in.
In the second-half, this was exacerbated by Callum O’Hare, Tyler Walker and Matt Godden staying a little too high up the pitch when out of possession, meaning that Matty James and Gustavo Hamer had to cover a lot of ground defensively. This not only helped Stoke overwhelm us out wide but probably contributed to how panicky and rushed both players started to look in possession – most notably, leading to Stoke’s equaliser.
Fatigue also has to considered as a factor in our difficulty in containing Stoke’s biggest area of threat. With Matt Godden and Tyler Walker tiring in the second-half, it hampered our ability to close Stoke down high up the pitch and prevent them getting the ball into dangerous wide areas. In addition, there was more than a hint of tiredness about both wing-backs’ performances, which may have been why their positioning was often a little cautious.
Mark Robins’ substitutions went some way to remedying this, with Maxime Biamou and Viktor Gyokeres not only providing an injection of energy to pressure Stoke’s defenders in possession, but also willing to drop deep and do their defensive duties when Stoke got into our half. Aided by a solid goalkeeping performance from Ben Wilson, we did just enough to prevent an area of weakness costing us points.
Ben Wilson Impresses
For someone who can’t have been expecting to play a single minute of league football this season, this has been an incredible campaign for Ben Wilson. He has now played more games in a season than he has ever before, and, more importantly, is currently the team’s number one goalkeeper on merit.
For much of the season, Wilson’s place between the sticks has felt like it has said more about Marko Marosi than himself, he showed in this game why he has earned the faith of Mark Robins. It wasn’t just about that fantastic save from Connor Taylor in the first-half, but his decisiveness under pressure and his calmness in commanding his penalty area.
Even now, it seems unlikely that Wilson will be the team’s number one goalkeeper next season, but, having had a difficult career, he has proven that he is capable of holding his own at Championship level. At the very least, he has earned his place in the squad for next year.