For the second home game in a row, the Sky Blues came from behind to win with virtually the last kick of the game. Unlike the win over Nottingham Forest on opening day, this was a victory that owed more to sustained pressure from Coventry City than seizing upon a couple of key moments, in a sign that this team is growing into the new season at a promising rate.
The Sky Blues probably had the better of the first-half but never looked comfortable in defence. Reading seized a couple of loose pieces of Coventry City defensive play to win a penalty that they converted for their half-time lead.
The key moment of the game proved to be the introduction of Jamie Allen and Matt Godden into affairs at around the hour mark. While the two substitutes scored the game’s decisive goals, the win came thanks to the change in shape that allowed Fankaty Dabo to operate in his preferred right wing-back berth, as well as the attitude, determination and skill of the team’s creative players.
Making Makeshift Work
Mark Robins was left with a quandary in his team selection for this game. With two senior centre-backs in Jake Clarke-Salter and Michael Rose missing, the manager had to make a big call as to how to set up his defence. It was a call between changing shape, playing someone out of position or bringing in a natural centre-back who may not be of the requisite standard. Mark Robins opted to utilise Fankaty Dabo as a makeshift centre-back.
Perhaps it was something that Mark Robins should have known was not worth revisiting after it failed to work on the opening day against Nottingham Forest but it’s a decision that fans have to trust that the manager, seeing the players in training every day, is in a much better decision to make than themselves. Guessing, I would imagine that the call to try Dabo out at centre-back has been due to a concern over the lack of pace in defence.
While Reading’s goal was arguably the result of Dabo being caught out somewhat as a centre-back, the issue with the decision was less to do with Dabo’s playing in central defence and more to do with him not playing at right wing-back. Without wanting to pile on Julien Dacosta, the Frenchman was notably much less of an outlet on the right than Dabo had been over the past two-and-a-half games. The fact that Dabo’s first attacking foray once moved to right wing-back resulted in the equaliser, underlined this.
Moving Dabo to right wing-back came with another big call to make as to who to move to centre-back – or whether to switch formation – with Ben Sheaf shifted from his natural central midfield berth in order to plug the gap. It was a move that worked out quite well for the team, who were in the ascendancy against a Reading side trying to hold onto a result, Sheaf’s quality on the ball allowed the Sky Blues to control possession, make full use of the width of the pitch and ramp up the pressure.
When handed with makeshift options in football, it’s up to the manager to decide whether to attempt to minimise potential weaknesses or attempt to look to accentuate areas of strength. The circumstances of this game meant that Mark Robins ended up looking towards the team’s strengths of creative passing in an attempt to work around a shortage of defensive options. Against a different opponent, or with the game in a different state, those decisions would not necessarily be the same.
Promising Creative Hubs
The manner and purpose with which Coventry City set about chasing this game highlighted the increasing confidence among the team’s creative players that looks very promising at this stage in the season. While quite a few players are benefitting from having played together for over a season or two, the integration of newer faces is a further encouraging sign.
Gustavo Hamer continues to demonstrate that he is the kind of player willing to step up when the chips are down in a game. Whereas Hamer was doing a lot of the creative spadework on his own for much of last season he really seems to be benefitting this time out due to having players such as Ben Sheaf and Callum O’Hare around him with whom he can bounce ideas off.
This was evident in the winning goal, where Hamer and O’Hare combined brilliantly after getting to Viktor Gyokeres’ flick-on in order to slip Matt Godden in on goal. Throughout the second-half in particular, the quality that the trio of Hamer, Sheaf and O’Hare provided the team in possession was a key reason why the Sky Blues sustained pressure on Reading.
Another really promising source of creativity for this Coventry City side is from the wing-backs, Fankaty Dabo and Ian Maatsen. As discussed in The Wrap from last week’s defeat to Barnsley, it makes such a huge difference to the team’s threat to have enterprising options from wing-back on both sides of the pitch, this game further highlighted what a difference they can make. It’s not just that both Dabo and Maatsen get forward, it’s that they are intelligent and well-rounded footballers who make good use of the ball.
It is really quite exciting that, just four games into the season, there are these creative hubs in the team that can be leant on when the Sky Blues are under pressure in a game. There are still areas to improve upon in the team’s attacking play, but if these relationships can be developed further, this could make for a very exciting, attractive Coventry City side this season.
Better Defensive Shape Could Go A Long Way
As impressive as the Sky Blues were in possession for long periods of this game quite a lot of the defending on show was seat of the pants stuff. While the makeshift nature of the defence was a factor, there continues to be work for Mark Robins to do with this side on how they go about defending.
Throughout the game, this Coventry City side’s Achilles’ Heel of a lack of pace in defence continued to be apparent. This was exacerbated, once again, by the lack of protection that the midfield provided the back-line, which led to a few moments where the centre-backs were either one-on-one or outnumbered against pacey Reading attackers.
In the first-half, another issue with the team’s defensive shape was apparent, that when the wing-backs drop too deep, the midfield can get overloaded. Reading were allowed a few long spells in possession in the opening 45 minutes because of this, with it looking at times like a midfield two or three versus four or five in Royals’ colours, which was far too much work for Ben Sheaf, Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare to do effectively.
The goal came from Martyn Waghorn losing possession in midfield – having dropped deep from centre-forward – with there being no-one there to engage the ball before it found its way into the penalty area. This is an area that Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer have to improve upon, with the duo having been a little too easy to bypass without the ball in the opening few games.
It is still very early in the season and the Sky Blues have yet to name the same defence for consecutive games. Some of these issues can be ironed out with a settled back-line and time on the training ground, others look to be a case of assessing risk versus reward, others are a little more fundamental. As exciting as this team looks with the ball, what they do without it currently leaves something to be desired.