The Sky Blues fell short at Oakwell on their first away day of the league season, despite being in the ascendancy for much of the game.
It was a match played with plenty of effort from both sides but was arguably lacking in composure and quality, a swift, decisive counter-attack from Barnsley in the first-half proved to be the difference. From that point onward, the Sky Blues were in control but struggled to carve out too many clear-cut chances, perhaps knocked out of their flow a little by a series of niggly fouls from Barnsley.
Having toiled for much of the 90 minutes, an opportunity to salvage a deserved point presented itself from the spot in second-half stoppage time. However, Viktor Gyokeres produced a tame penalty-kick that was relatively easy for Barnsley’s keeper, Brad Collins, to read and allow the Tykes to come away with all three points.
A Good Effort
Having perhaps relied on emotion rather than outright quality to come away with the win last week against Nottingham Forest, the performance in this game was an indication that this Coventry City side may genuinely have something about it. The Sky Blues limited Barnsley to very little throughout the 90 minutes and played with a level of control and purpose in possession – it was just a lack of decisiveness when it mattered most that prevented the team taking anything from the game.
With pre-season having been disrupted for both the Sky Blues and much of the Championship, these early weeks of the season are likely to be a case of light sparring before teams get closer to their truer capabilities from September onwards. With that in mind, the indecisiveness on the part of Coventry City can be forgiven for a lack of fitness and understanding between team-mates still getting to know one another. In spite of those excuses, it was the Sky Blues that looked a more cohesive side than Barnsley, who made the play-offs last season.
There was a relentlessness to the Sky Blues’ performance, a belief that the game could be won despite the mounting evidence throughout the 90 minutes that it was probably not their day. Embodied by players such as Callum O’Hare, Gustavo Hamer and Fankaty Dabo, it was encouraging to see a Coventry City side refuse to believe that it had been beaten in a Championship game. It marks a vast improvement from the many nadirs in such belief that were apparent last season.
The question is whether that effort can be sustained and, if it can, will it be rewarded with consistent results? The answer is that it is simply impossible to know just two games into a season where players and teams are at very different levels of fitness.
As frustrating as it was to see Coventry City lose a game that they had largely been on top in, the team went about getting back into the game in the right manner. There is a need to add quality on top of that effort but it is early enough into the season to believe that it will come if that level of effort is replicated consistently.
The Difference Attacking Wing-Backs Make
One of the biggest sources of encouragement from Coventry City’s performance was the influence upon the game that both wing-backs – Ian Maatsen and Fankaty Dabo – had upon the game. It marks something of a sea change from last season, where Dabo struggled for fitness and McCallum rarely threatened opponents in their half of the pitch.
Dabo is someone who offers both relentlessness and quality down the right-hand side. For much of the game he had the beating of his opposing wing-back, Ben Williams, which provided the team with a consistent outlet in possession. The ability to provide a final ball is still something that Dabo has yet to develop at Championship level, but simply being available in possession allowed the team to control the game in a manner they may have otherwise struggled.
Similarly, Maatsen’s positivity from left wing-back allowed the team to play 20-30 yards further up the pitch due to the width that they had on either flank. There were some really positive exchanges between Hamer, O’Hare and Maatsen during the game that could prove to be a useful creative hub for the team if further developed. Additionally, Maatsen’s willingness to get crosses into the box early led to two of the Sky Blues best chances in the game.
There may be games this season where Maatsen and Dabo will struggle to get forward in the manner they did in this one, but the duo could well prove to not only be important as individual players but also for how they will enable players around them, and the team as a whole, to play better.
It would be remiss not to mention the circumstances in which the Sky Blues allowed a chance to salvage a point from a promising performance to slip through their fingers. It was less that Viktor Gyokeres’ stoppage-time penalty was saved than it was the fact that the Swede took it in the first place that is the talking point.
With Martyn Waghorn, a player who has scored 24 out of 29 penalties in his career, on the pitch, there are legitimate questions to be asked as to just why he didn’t take that spot-kick. It has emerged since that it was a case of there not being a designated penalty-taker and that Gyokeres therefore took the onus to take the penalty. The fall-out from this incident has highlighted why there perhaps should be a clearer hierarchy of penalty-takers in the squad.
The upshot of the circumstances involved in this penalty miss at a crucial juncture in a game is that it has put not just one, but two, of the team’s players under pressure for the immediate future. Gyokeres has, inevitably, taken a lot of flak for missing the penalty but it has also forced Martyn Waghorn on the defensive with the Coventry City fanbase – as was apparent from a series of tweets just after the match.
Just how impactful that might be on either players’ performances over the season remains to be seen. However, it is clearly not ideal and is something that could have been avoided. It is up to both Waghorn and Gyokeres to get over this quickly. For Mark Robins, this may well lead to a change in policy.