Coventry City can count themselves as unfortunate to have come away from Loftus Road with nothing to show from another promising performance.
In an entertaining first-half, the Sky Blues were the more threatening side, creating some good opportunities despite seeing relatively little of the ball. That continued into the second-half but there was an increasing sense that an opportunity to beat a good Queens Park Rangers side had slipped away. That was underlined when QPR’s Lyndon Dykes beat Simon Moore from the edge of the area with a decent strike from slightly out of the blue.
From that point onwards, Coventry City looked powerless to rewrite the hard luck narrative of the game. Looking increasingly ragged, QPR took advantage of that to make it 2-0 with around 15 minutes to go and wrap up the three points.
Heading In The Right Direction
Perhaps it was because this performance came at the scene of the team’s lowest ebb of last season, perhaps it was simply because it was against a genuinely good team in Queens Park Rangers. Whatever the context, this was a performance from the Sky Blues that underlined the team’s growth since last season.
For much of the opening hour, Coventry City were the better side at Loftus Road. Despite Queens Park Rangers having the lion’s share of possession, the Sky Blues were energetic without the ball and zippy with it. With Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn running relentlessly in attack, Callum O’Hare, Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf making good use of the ball in midfield, and wing-backs, Ian Maatsen and Fankaty Dabo, offering enterprise from out wide, this was a Coventry City team that looked purposeful whenever they got on the ball.
Furthermore, another quietly confident display from Simon Moore in goal further underlined how this team has improved from last season. The former Sheffield United goalkeeper has proved to be a calming presence between the sticks over the first five games of the campaign. Able to claim crosses with a minimum of fuss, solid in his distribution and with some good saves in his locker, Moore has offered an authority in goal that the team had been missing last season.
While the defence has looked the weakest area of the team, the fact that Mark Robins has yet to name the same back three in consecutive games this season has to be taken as a mitigating factor. Just how good any combinations of the team’s centre-backs are remains to be seen, but it is an early enough stage of the season to have believe that there are improvements in defence to come once the manager is able to establish a settled back-line.
To come out of a largely positive performance with a defeat is frustrating, but it was a showing – away at a good team in Queens Park Rangers – that demonstrated that there is substance to Coventry City’s start to the season. There are things to be worked on, but it’s refining things the team is already doing rather than having to completely change course in the manner that the team did on a few occasions last season.
The Rotation Of Strikers
With four strikers in the squad of roughly equal standing, it looks to be a case this season of Mark Robins rotating his options to maximum effect. The double substitution around the hour mark of Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn for Tyler Walker and Matt Godden looks to be the start of a recurring theme of this campaign.
In the event, the decision to bring Tyler Walker and Matt Godden on contributed to the team’s defeat. With the Sky Blues having to work hard without the ball for the majority of the game, the work-rate and hold-up play that Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn were offering the side was essential in getting the team up the pitch. As much as Walker and Godden endeavoured after coming on, they didn’t offer that same presence and quality in the opposing half, allowing QPR to take control of the game.
While it’s worth bearing in mind that both Tyler Walker and Matt Godden have only recently returned from injury, they were probably the wrong strike partnership for the circumstances of the game. The duo both do their best work in the penalty area, it makes little sense to hand them roles that require them to move away from where they are most effective.
Mark Robins commented after the game that the double substitution in attack was effectively forced by Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn having run themselves into the ground over the first hour. As players build fitness over the next month or so, it should prove to be a case of Mark Robins mixing and matching his strike options so that his in-game changes can better take advantage of tiring opponents.
This is a season where fans will probably have to disavow themselves of the notion that there is a set, preferred strike partnership for this Coventry City side. Instead, it will be a case of assessing opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, and figuring out the best way that the team’s four options in attack can best take advantage of them, over the course of a 90 minutes.
Killer Instinct Is Missing
Although Coventry City can count themselves as unfortunate not to have won this game, in the ascendancy for much of the opening hour, creating some good chances and conceding slightly against the run of play, there was a lack of conviction apparent in the team’s play in the final third that cost the team some good opportunities to take the lead.
There were multiple occasions throughout the 90 minutes where the Sky Blues got into some very good positions but let themselves down by taking extra touches, lacking an element of conviction in the finish or simply making the wrong decision with the final pass or shot. By contrast, Queens Park Rangers were more aggressive and clinical in their play in similar areas, which is why they came out as victors.
It is a lack of experience and confidence from most of Coventry City’s attacking players which is why this excellent opportunity to beat a team likely to finish in the top six pass them by. It is well known that players such as Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres are missing that killer instinct in the final third. This season is likely to come down to whether they discover it.
For all the encouragement from this performance, this was a warning sign of where this campaign may go awry for the Sky Blues. Taking advantage of periods in games where a team is playing well is not just important in terms of winning individual matches but in maintaining confidence throughout a season. It is early enough in the campaign to believe that performances like this will be rewarded, but there is a risk that repeated showings like this will beget poor form, which can beget a lack of confidence, which can make it difficult to get back up to the standards that have been set in this early stage of the campaign.
For now, it is good enough that the team is playing well. There has to be a wariness that this may not always be the case.