The Wrap: Preston North End – 1-2

Coventry City surrendered a one-goal lead at Preston North End with a supine second-half display at Deepdale, continuing the team’s poor run of form away from home.

In an even first-half, an excellent, instinctive, finish from Tyler Walker handed Coventry City the lead and a chance to secure a first ever league win at Deepdale. However, the Sky Blues failed to build on that advantage, instead sitting back and allowing a Preston North End side that had been booed off at half-time to get their fans back on side.

The Sky Blues twice switched off in set-piece situations, first when they failed to properly clear an unnecessarily conceded corner to allow Preston’s commanding centre-back, Patrick Bauer, to head home. Then, the away side were caught napping with a quick free-kick that allowed the impressive Emil Riis Jakobsen to fire powerfully past Simon Moore at his near-post.

The Danger Of Deep Wing-Backs

One of the key tactical themes of this game was just how deep Fankaty Dabo and Ian Maatsen were in their respective wing-back positions. It was a key reason why the Sky Blues failed to have the level of control over the game they would have wanted, as well as why Preston North End were capable of building momentum when they needed to.

Most obviously, the deep positioning of the two wing-backs caused issues in the team’s attacking play. That loss of outlets in possession made it difficult for the team to string passes together, meaning that there was a reliance on quick counter-attacking through Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres, who faded as the game progressed. Furthermore, when Maatsen and Dabo got forward, the extra ground they had to cover allowed Preston to slow their progress down and get in position to defend the final ball.

However, the key issue that the deep wing-backs caused for Coventry City was that it made it difficult for Gustavo Hamer and Liam Kelly to apply pressure on Preston North End’s midfield. With Callum O’Hare playing a rather advanced role ahead of the midfield duo, it often meant that it was three or five for Preston against two for Coventry City in the centre of the park. It was a choice for Hamer and Kelly to step up and be played around or sit back and allow Preston to dictate possession.

In the first-half, this left the team very susceptible to quick switches of play as the midfield scrambled from one side to apply pressure and left space on the other side. In the second-half, it allowed Preston to have a large degree of control of proceedings.

This was perhaps a case of where taking a lead had a negative impact on a team’s performance. The deep positioning of the wing-backs had caused issues in the first-half, but, because the team were ahead, it was seemingly felt that there was little reason to change what had, nominally, worked. It would have been a brave decision for Mark Robins to ask the wing-backs to play a little further up the pitch, but it was that kind of bravery that was required.

It was fitting then that it was Maatsen’s poor touch that led to the corner from which Preston eventually equalised and it was Fankaty Dabo who gave away the free-kick from which Preston took the lead. Maybe if the wing-backs had pushed onwards, it would have caused other issues, however, this looks to have been a classic example of where the best form of defence is attack.

Slacking On Set Plays

Having been a side that, at the back-end of last season, had been so effective from set-play opportunities, this game felt a demonstration of the team having taken a backward step or two recently from dead-balls.

Callum O’Hare won a lot of free-kicks in this gam but, the Sky Blues were guilty of wasting those opportunities. A lot of the frustration with that goes in the direction of Gustavo Hamer, who often chose to shoot when he had the chance to put deliveries into telling areas. While Hamer may get the odd goal from free-kicks and corner-kicks, doing it repeatedly robs him of the element of surprise that may eventually get him that goal.

At the other end, the Coventry City defence allowed Preston North End some good opportunities from set-piece situations and it was little surprise that their two goals came from such situations. While credit has to be given to Patrick Bauer and Emil Riis Jakobsen for two excellent finishes, they occurred from avoidable situations from a Sky Blues perspective.

For the first goal, Ian Maatsen’s heavy touch allowed Preston a corner, which wasn’t fully cleared and allowed a second delivery for Bauer to score. For the second, Fankaty Dabo conceded a set-piece for a foul he didn’t need to make, with the defence then caught out by how quickly Preston took it.

Another key difference in set-pieces for Coventry City from last season is the loss of Sam McCallum’s long throws. While Preston North End didn’t threaten directly from their long throw-ins, it helped sustain pressure, which may well have been why such sloppy mistakes were made from Sky Blues players in the lead up to Preston’s goals.

While it is pleasing to see the progress that the team has made this season as a side that can control a game with their technical ability, there will be tight games likes this throughout the campaign where having something different up their sleeves can make all the difference. For Mark Robins, there is work to be done to restore the Sky Blues’ threat from dead-ball situations, as well as in how they deal with the danger at the other end.

Missing A Game-Changer?

Coventry City’s three key attacking players are Viktor Gyokeres, Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare, with only the latter of three on form on this occasion, it laid bare the lack of genuine game-changers in the rest of the side.

That’s not to say that players such as Tyler Walker, Matt Godden, Jamie Allen and Martyn Waghorn haven’t made effective contributions at times to this campaign but that, when Mark Robins was looking to his bench for a change in emphasis in the second-half, there was a shortage of genuinely game-changing options.

This is why Mark Robins took the gamble of bringing in Bright Enobakhare over the summer and why it could prove significant that it appears the move isn’t going to pay off. It sure would have been useful in this game to have someone like Bright Enobakhare to come on to provide both freshness and a different kind of attacking threat with Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare looking fatigued.

It’s not just that lack of a game-changing creative player that this squad is lacking from the bench, but a level of physicality in attack beyond Viktor Gyokeres. With Preston North End sitting back on their lead in the closing stages, having someone in the penalty area who could effectively challenge for headers and physically occupy defenders could have caused the uncertainty to create chances. Instead, Maryn Waghorn and Tyler Walker struggled to get in the game, with the former dropping deep and away from goal in order to get touches of the ball.

This comes with the territory of being a Championship club with one of the smaller budgets, genuine strength in depth for this level of football is going to be hard for the club to source. Until January, at the very least, there is nothing that Mark Robins can really do about this other than hope that the first-choice players can consistently make the difference. If the team is to sustain its current position in the league, it may come down to finding one or two game-changes from somewhere over the course of the campaign.

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