Coventry City further demonstrated their mettle as one of the stronger teams in the division with a confident, hard-fought victory over Middlesbrough at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
Having been largely on top in the first-half, Jamie Allen spurned a big opportunity to put the Sky Blues ahead going into the break. The miss could have proved especially costly as Middlesbrough started the second-half on top, imposing themselves physically and making it difficult for Coventry City to get out of their own half.
With Simon Moore producing a scarcely believable triple-save mid-way into the second-half, the momentum of the game swung back in favour of the Sky Blues. Middlesbrough started to fade and the home team sensed opportunities on the counter.
A break that began with a swift pass from Gustavo Hamer into Jamie Allen eventually set the impressive Viktor Gyokeres one-on-one with Middlesbrough’s goalkeeper. The Swede initially appeared to make a mess of the opening, pulling wide and allowing Middlesbrough to get men on the line, only to thread the needle for the finish.
The Sky Blues had to dig-in for the victory but looked largely in control of affairs from that point onwards, with Martyn Waghorn wrapping up the win in second-half stoppage time.
An Entertaining Team
It may be early days in the season, but to be sixth in the table is beyond the expectations of all but the most optimistic of Coventry City fans. Whether or not the team will stay around that position remains to be seen, but it isn’t currently there by accident. This is a team that plays good football, and continued to demonstrate that in this game.
Being well ahead of expectations may well be providing this team with the freedom to go out and play such a positive brand of football. In the first-half in particular, Coventry City put together some excellent passing sequences with just about everyone on the pitch contributing to that style.
The move that led to a gilt-edged chance for Jamie Allen in the first-half embodied what this Coventry City team is trying to do. From a break down the right via Fankaty Dabo, a chance was fashioned for Martyn Waghorn. Middlesbrough attempted to clear their lines, only to find Gustavo Hamer – the team’s deepest-lying midfielder – on the edge of the area. With five players in the penalty area, Hamer, Dabo and O’Hare combined with one-touch passing to play Jamie Allen in for an excellent chance. It was swift, positive, enterprising football.
It’s not just that this team is committing more bodies to the attack than it did last season, there is a bravery and confidence when the team is on the ball in the opposing half. While there is a missing element of predatory instinct when it comes to the final third, this is a Coventry City side made up of some very good technical footballers who are starting to realise what they are capable of.
The flip-side is that, by being so bold in possession, there is a risk of being caught at the back. That is why the team will need to be more clinical in the penalty area as the season progresses, but by tempting teams into taking risks, it is making for some thrilling games of football. This may have been a different game had Simon Moore not pulled off an excellent triple-save at 0-0 in the second-half, then again, falling behind could well have brought the best out of this Coventry City side – as seen in the two previous home league games.
A Counter-Attacking Threat
The second-half took on a different pattern to the first. Whereas the Sky Blues had largely been on the front foot, Middlesbrough imposed themselves on the second-half. However, it provided an opportunity for Coventry City to demonstrate their ability to threaten on the counter-attack.
This was another element of attacking play that wasn’t really in the team’s arsenal last season. The difference this time out is that Viktor Gyokeres in attack is someone who can carry the ball 20-30 yards up the pitch with reliability, with Fankaty Dabo and Ian Maatsen from wing-back also capable of turning defence into attack quickly via carrying the ball.
Along with Gustavo Hamer’s purposeful passing from the base of the midfield, Jamie Allen deserves a lot of credit in this game to how he aided the team’s counter-attacking threat. Notably, Allen was credited with the assist for Viktor Gyokeres’ opening goal – with the Swede doing most of the hard-work after receiving the ball from Allen. The midfielder’s direct running through the centre of the pitch with and without the ball gave the team purpose when transforming defence into attack.
Allen fully justified his selection in the team ahead of Ben Sheaf, who has started the season well. As it transpired, this wasn’t a game that was about the Sky Blues controlling matters with the ball and looking for a way through – which would have suited Sheaf. With Middlesbrough committing players forward as the match wore on, it required energy and quick thinking in the centre of the park to take advantage of the space being left by the opposition, which is where Allen excelled in this game.
This was a different kind of win against a different kind of opponent. It further suggests that Coventry City’s current position in the league table isn’t an entirely fortunate one.
Everyone Plays Their Part
The transformation of Jamie Allen from someone who looked out of their depth in the Championship last season into a genuinely impactful player at this level underlines the positive vibes around this Coventry City team at present. It is often the case that when a team is on good form, there are good performances from everyone involved as they all want to step up and play their part. There were a lot of players on the pitch other than Allen who look to be in a good place too.
From Simon Moore further demonstrating just why the club had confidence in making him the number one goalkeeper this season, to Kyle McFadzean continuing to defy fears that his powers are on the wane in the centre of defence, Jake Clarke-Salter and Dominic Hyam having the confidence to play as overlapping centre-backs at times in this game, Ian Maatsen a positive presence on the left of the pitch, Fankaty Dabo proving he’s both the one of the best right and left wing-backs in the division, Gustavo Hamer commanding the midfield expertly despite picking up a yellow, the aforementioned Jamie Allen, Callum O’Hare continuing to draw the attention of opposing hatchet-men, Viktor Gyokeres a handful in attack, to Martyn Waghorn looking more of a goal threat alongside him, everyone played their part in this victory.
The concern is that the squad is maybe a little thin in terms of quality if one or two key players pick up injuries. Right now, those that aren’t currently involved are going to desperate to prove their worth when they get their go. Players like Ben Sheaf, Michael Rose, Todd Kane, Jordan Shipley, Liam Kelly, Matt Godden, Jodi Jones, Tyler Walker, Matt Godden and, dare I hope for, Bright Enobakhare, are going to be champing at the bit to get involved in this team.
Winning games and playing well tends to beget a healthy competition for places. It will only strengthen Mark Robins’ hand further if confidence and form can be maintained.