Coventry City won their first away game of the season since August as they emerged from a clash with a struggling Hull City with all three points.
It looked set to be a rampant showing from the Sky Blues early on, with Matt Godden scoring from an excellent Ian Maatsen cross in the ninth minute and further opportunities coming against a shambolic Hull City defence. However, those opportunities were not converted into goals, setting up a tense final hour or so as Coventry City threatened to give Hull a reason to believe they could get a positive result in this game.
In the end, the one goal was enough to win it for Coventry City against a Hull City side that struggled to create much of genuine quality. A valuable three points for the Sky Blues, but there is improvement required to translate that into a further run of results.
An element of the frustration surrounding this game was that there was the opportunity here to put a struggling and, at times calamitous, Hull City side to the sword. Through a combination of some good work from Coventry City’s attacking players and some shoddy play with and without the ball from Hull’s defensive players, the Sky Blues really should have made it a more comfortable result.
The game’s only goal came from some really swift and decisive play from Viktor Gyokeres, then Ian Maatsen and Matt Godden. First, Gyokeres carried the ball forward dangerously, with the tackle on him allowing the ball into the path of Maatsen, who didn’t hesitate in picking out Matt Godden with an excellent cross, allowing the latter to put Coventry City ahead.
Most of the further opportunities that Coventry City had were the result of the work-rate of the trio of Callum O’Hare, Matt Godden and Viktor Gyokeres in attack. There has been a lot of debate recently as to what the team’s best attacking line-up, there was a compelling case at times in this game for the current trident to stay in place.
There looks to be a good understanding developing between the trio, who combine a good work-rate out of possession with some promising moments of combination play with it. Notably, Matt Godden is starting to demonstrate that he is much more than a penalty area centre-forward, capable of dropping deep and using the ball well. Viktor Gyokeres looked more fluent than recent showings here, with a handful of really threatening carries of the ball. Callum O’Hare may continue to frustrate with his final ball, but that ability to play quickly on the turn means he is a player opposing defences will always have to deal with.
That combination of threats meant that the Sky Blues had an element of unpredictability in their attacking play. While the quality of the final ball or finish wasn’t quite there, the sense that any one of the Coventry City’s front three could drop deep or run in behind meant that Hull City were often scrambling to deal with the away team when their attacking players were able to get into this game.
Overall, this wasn’t the kind of performance from Coventry City that fans have been accustomed to for much of the season. Instead of dominating the game with possession and chances, the Sky Blues allowed Hull City to keep themselves in proceedings by dropping deep instead of staying on the front foot. Given recent showings, this was a continuation of concerning trend.
While the set-up after taking the lead may be a deliberate strategy by Mark Robins in order to work on the team’s defensive shape and keep more clean sheets, a key issue in this game seemed to be that both Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer in central midfield were off-colour. That meant that Coventry City couldn’t get into much of a rhythm with the ball in order to take the sting out of the game, instead, the team was looking to either kill the game off on the counter or hope that the opposition couldn’t find any quality going forward.
Both Hamer and Sheaf were guilty of trying complicated passes when simpler balls would do. They may argue that the, once again, deep positioning of the wing-backs robbed them of useful outlets to help them keep possession, but it would have made a huge difference to the comfort of this victory had the duo been able to recycle the ball reliably and thus prevent Hull from building the head of steam they threatened to in the latter stages of this game.
The change later-on to introduce Jamie Allen for Matt Godden and thus add a player in midfield helped the Sky Blues see out the win by being a little more compact without the ball and providing an extra option when they were in possession. It is perhaps an indication that it is quite difficult is to control games with a midfield two, especially when that duo isn’t on top form.
Given that it may be too much to expect Gustavo Hamer, Ben Sheaf or the team’s other midfield options to play themselves quickly back into form, it may be an idea to provide them with some help with an extra colleague in the middle of pitch. Otherwise, it is going to be difficult for the Sky Blues to play in a similar manner to their earlier performances this season.
The (Winning) Ugly
It is often said that it is the sign of a good team when they are able to win without playing well. The problem with that maxim is that it confuses not playing well with being a good team. It is possible to be a bad team team and win games, which is something rarely spoken of.
There are some major positives to take from this game that could become important in the weeks to come. It ends a run of five away games, and three overall, without a win and is a first clean sheet in six. While it seems like performance standards have slipped recently, simply putting three points on the board will help restore confidence and perhaps get the team back on track.
Nonetheless, this showing from the Sky Blues felt a continuation of recent themes of being slightly toothless in attack, unable to control games in midfield and inviting a little too much pressure on the defence. If Mark Robins and the players use this result as an example of the kind of performance required to win games, the team could quickly fall from its current, lofty position.
While it may be unrealistic to expect Coventry City to stay in 4th-place throughout the season, this team has shown for much of this campaign that they are deservedly in this position. There has been some excellent, controlled showings from this side against some good teams and this was a sloppy one against a poor team. This team has set itself a standard and it has started to fall short of it recently.
Whether it matters or not whether this result was gained in a less than convincing manner will become apparent in the games to come. This victory has ended some unwanted recent trends but it was also a continuation of some other causes for concern. What happens next will be just as, if not more, important than this result in isolation.