It was a disastrous evening for Coventry City, who looked tired, unprepared and naïve in their approach to a challenging Championship away trip to Luton Town.
Falling behind early to a poor penalty decision from the referee, the Sky Blues were unable to get back into the game from that point and were architects of their own downfall. Against an intense, hungry Luton Town press, Coventry City played right into their opponents hands by continuing to pass short and sloppily in front of their own goal.
After conceding a shambolic second after failing to recover from a set-piece, Coventry City made the classic error of chasing an early deficit rather than waiting for a half-time re-set. Two sloppy goals conceded from the team attempting to push up made a difficult situation an impossible one. A fifth goal, conceded from, once again, poor passing in the defensive third in the second-half, further underlined Sky Blue deficiencies that had been earlier exposed earlier in this game.
Stay In The Game
Would this game have been any different had the referee spotted that Jake Clarke-Salter’s tangle with Luton Town’s Elijah Adebayo had been outside the penalty area? Almost certainly not. However, falling behind so early may well have played a role in how frantic the opening 45 minutes became for Coventry City.
There was an extent to which the pace of the game was imposed on the Sky Blues by their excellent opposition, however, there was little recognition apparent that the team’s approach was feeding right into Luton Town’s hands. It wasn’t just the continued passing from the back, it wasn’t just the apparent frailties in a few individuals, there was a complete lack of composure in the performance of many in Sky Blue on the pitch.
From Simon Moore being overly hasty with his distribution, Gustavo Hamer rattling into challenges, to Jamie Allen, Callum O’Hare and Martyn Waghorn trying too many one-touch passes in attack, there was far too much haste in individuals which fed into how fraught, stretched and easy to pick off the team overall were.
At a goal or two down, the team were in a difficult, but salvageable position mid-way through the first-half. The players failed to recognise they were in a damage limitation situation up until half-time and were completely out of the game due to being punished by Luton quickly turning defence into attack on two occasions. Sometimes it is worth not scoring in order not to concede, the first-half of this game for Coventry City was such a situation.
What has been so impressive about this team this season has been its ability to figure out and adapt to the opposition. What was so disappointing about this performance was the complete inability to change things up when it became necessary. More than anything, it was a deeply naïve performance.
The Left Side Sags
Along with Luton Town’s intensity in the press, a key theme of this game was how they exploited the left side of Coventry City’s defence. On a torturous night for both wing-back, Ian Maatsen, and centre-back, Jake Clarke-Salter, Luton took advantage of that area of weakness for three of their five goals.
Jake Clarke-Salter endured an absolute nightmare that may rank as one of the worst individual performances by a Coventry City player in a long while. Perhaps he was unsettled by the early penalty decision, but he failed to get a grip on his own performance and made mistake after mistake.
Although the penalty decision against Clarke-Salter was, quite simply, incorrect, the tangle belied his inability to deal with Luton Town’s Elijah Adebayo. Allowing the forward to get the wrong side of him, Clarke-Salter made the poor decision to lay hands on Adebayo in order to recover, providing the opportunity for his opponent to fall to ground and get a decision from the referee. A smarter player would not have flailed in an attempted recovery, an even smarter player would simply have not put themselves in that situation in the first-place.
For the third goal, Jake Clarke-Salter isn’t helped by Kyle McFadzean allowing his opponent to get goal-side of him easily, but his role in the defence has been to provide cover for those kind of situations and he failed to do so. For the fourth, Clarke-Salter could arguably have made a better attempt to close down a cross which was, subsequently, poorly dealt with by his fellow defensive colleagues.
Clarke-Salter received little protection on a difficult night from the man playing ahead of him, Ian Maatsen. The fellow Chelsea loanee may well be in the side to play a primarily attacking role from wing-back, but he left too much space behind him, adding to Clarke-Salter’s to-do list in this game. To make matters worse for Maatsen, little of what he did from an attacking perspective came off.
It was clearly a difficult night for the duo, both of whom have been largely impressive prior to this game. Hopefully, both Clarke-Salter and Maatsen will come out of this experience as better players, it is important that they do. Future opponents will look to the left side as an area of weakness, Clarke-Salter and Maatsen are going to have to be prepared to deal with that.
A Learning Experience?
It has been a fantastic start to the season but it was inevitable that there would be a time where the Sky Blues would be sent back down to earth. It is almost impossible to go through a season having everything go a team’s way – in both the League Two and League One promotions, the team suffered heavy defeats (Yeovil at home, Rotherham United away, respectively) – how the players and coaching staff learn from what went wrong here will define the subsequent direction of the campaign.
A key learning from this game is that this Coventry City side can be forced into errors through intense pressing. Whether other teams in this division are capable of enacting the kind of intensity in the press that Luton Town did remains to be seen, but, as a team in the top six, future opponents are likely to want to replicate Luton’s game-plan in order to claim a scalp.
With that in mind, better strategies of playing past intense pressing will have to be found. It’s not simply about punting it long to play over the pressure, but demonstrating that the team can carry a threat when going longer, thus negating the temptation to fully commit to the press against the Sky Blues. In Viktor Gyokeres, Coventry City has a forward that can make something out of longer passes, potentially making him an even more important player than he currently is.
The specifics of how this game went wrong are only important to an extent. A heavy defeat can engender the sense among the players that a swift response is needed. Chasing a reaction would be a mistake given that the team has been excellent for the majority of the nine games prior to this one. There are lessons to be learned, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that this Coventry City side has made it into the top six at this stage of the season on merit.