Safety was mathematically guaranteed despite Coventry City limping to a 1-0 defeat at St Andrew’s against Preston North End.
In game where neither side allowed the other to settle on the ball, the pivotal moment was a monumental misreading by Ben Wilson of a simple punt forward that saw the Coventry City goalkeeper bring down Ched Evans for a penalty-kick, which was scored by Preston’s Alan Browne.
From that point onwards, there was little threat of the Sky Blues mounting a comeback against an experienced and intelligent Preston North End side who managed the game to perfection.
A Game Of Throw-Ins
With neither team offering much quality in possession, either team’s threat from long throw-ins looked set to have a definitive impact on the outcome of the game.
In the Coventry City corner, Sam McCallum continued to cause problems for opposing defences with his accurate, curving throws. It has been a key part of our good form recently, not only because McCallum is capable of getting good distance and accuracy on his throws but the team has developed a good way in which to attack them.
For Preston North End, Tom Barkhuizen flung in a number of pacier bullets from the touch-line which our defence struggled to deal with confidently.
For either side, it wasn’t just about the direct threat that having effectively another set-piece to utilise posed, but the ability to get the team up the pitch and pin the opposition back. Furthermore, neither side offered much quality in possession, reducing any threat of goals coming from open-play and maximising the importance of set-pieces.
Although nothing came of the long throws in this game, it was a demonstration of how effective a weapon they can be. It has been a key reason why the Sky Blues have moved from a position of peril to safety as it’s helped get the team up the pitch in games where there hasn’t been the room, or the quality, to create in open-play.
Whether Sam McCallum stays around next season or not, it would be a useful weapon to retain in Coventry City’s attacking arsenal.
Although there was little quality on show from either side, Preston North End edged the contest, with their extra experience and speed of thought eventually making its impact known.
In midfield, the intelligence and intensity of Alan Browne in particular meant that neither Gustavo Hamer nor Matty James could settle on the ball. In this kind of game, Liam Kelly’s physical presence was clearly missed, with the Sky Blues brushed aside a little too easily in the middle of the pitch – especially once Hamer was booked.
Another key battleground was between the respective centre-backs and centre-forwards of the two teams. Ched Evans was just a little smarter and more cynical in the way in which he contested for the ball, causing uncertainty for just about every long-kick in his direction and winning a fair share of free-kicks too. At the other end, Maxime Biamou and Viktor Gyokeres worked hard but were a little too easy to be muscled off the ball, while Matt Godden and Tyler Walker struggled to get into the game when they came on.
Overall, it was a lesson in the street-smarts and intensity required to win tight games in the Championship. The performance in this game has to be caveated by the recent run of intense performances over a short space of time, but it also demonstrated that this is a team that cannot coast at this level of football.
A Good Time To Make Mistakes?
With safety mathematically secured due to results elsewhere, this was effectively the first pre-season game ahead of next season. As frustrating as it was to lose to such a glaring individual error from Ben Wilson, it hasn’t cost the team anything meaningful and will help sharpen Mark Robins’ focus as to what is required to improve this team.
Survival is, of course, something to be celebrated as an achievement for this team. This game went some way to demonstrating why survival is an achievement. Lacking quality in some key areas of the pitch, the goalkeeper position was a big issue for the team in this game, as it has been for much of the season.
Having been the hero in mid-week, Ben Wilson demonstrated why there have been doubts about his capability to be a number one goalkeeper at Championship level over the long-term. It wasn’t just about his horrendous misjudgement of a simple ball forward that led to Preston North End’s winning penalty, but also a poor decision to parry a shot in the first-half into the path of Ched Evans, as well as a mistimed run off his line earlier in the second-half that could easily have resulted in another penalty-kick.
Elsewhere, the lack of pace in the defence without Leo Ostigard was exposed on a few occasions, with Preston often threatening to get in behind once initial aerial challenges were lost. The midfield lacked the physicality and quality to get on the ball, some of the decision-making of our wing-backs in promising positions wasn’t great, and our strikers struggled to impose themselves on the opposing defence.
That said, it was a game lost due to one big individual mistake and where – at least in the first-half – the Sky Blues had chances to go ahead. Over the course of the season, we have gone from a team that was often comprehensively outclassed in this division to one that has won or lost most of its games recently on tight margins.
There are signs of progress but it was apparent in this game that the next step to improvement for this side is likely to come from adding at least three or four players who raise the bar rather than by the current squad making marginal individual improvements.