Coventry City produced a stirring second-half performance to beat Bristol City 3-2 with ten men, from a losing position at the break.
It was a comeback that didn’t look likely at half-time. Coventry City had been on top in the first-half but created little due to a lack of quality in possession. It looked to be game over when Chris Martin scored from the spot after Ian Maatsen was sent-off for a professional foul on Bristol City’s Callum O’Dowda.
The second-half was much-improved from the ten-man Sky Blues. On top, Viktor Gyokeres won a penalty to allow Matt Godden to equalise, with the game only looking to be going in one direction.
It is a credit to the mentality of this Coventry City side that Bristol City restoring their lead around fifteen minutes later had little impact on the momentum of the game. Still on top, a goal from Callum O’Hare tied the scores, before Matt Godden went on to win the game for the home side with a stoppage time winner that brought back happy memories of Coventry City’s excellent early season form.
An Important Win
At half-time, this looked to be a performance of a side set to tumble down the league table. Largely in control of possession, the Sky Blues looked tired, short of ideas and toothless. Confidence looked to be at a low, when Ian Maatsen erred in conceding a penalty, the game, and the season, only looked to be going one way.
It wasn’t just an isolated showing from Coventry City, this was part of a trend. Since the last international break, the Sky Blues haven’t played with the same energy, composure and quality that they showed earlier in the season. A few important performers haven’t been at their best lately and it’s made it difficult for the team as a whole to maintain standards.
The game-plan for this match looked to be to control possession, switch the play quickly and draw Bristol City’s defence around the pitch in order to create chances. A big issue with that plan was that the wing-backs were lacking confidence and were taking extra touches, slowing attacks down, making it difficult to trouble Bristol City’s defence. Repeatedly turning to options that weren’t working reflected the shortage of ideas from a Coventry City side that has looked close to out of sorts lately.
It was far from a terrible display in the first-half but the Sky Blues made it easy for Bristol City to soak to pressure and meant that they only had to produce the odd moment of quality to give themselves a chance of taking points. It was hard enough to see Coventry City creating anything of quality with eleven men, to have any chance of salvaging anything with ten looked nigh-on impossible.
Change In Tempo Key
It looked like it would take major changes, possibly beyond the scope of what Mark Robins could affect from the bench, to turn the game around in the second-half. In the event, just one half-time change, and an increase in energy, proved to make a vital difference for the Sky Blues.
The one personnel change that Mark Roins made proved to be an effective one. Todd Kane’s introduction at right-back provided the team with a much-needed outlet and quality on the ball out wide. Kane helped the team play both more quickly and precisely, using the ball with purpose and making some key runs and challenges out of possession.
As well as Todd Kane played, it was the overall increase in tempo that turned the game around. It was a bold move to do so with ten men, this was reflected in the nature of Bristol City’s second goal when they caught the Sky Blues up the pitch. It may have owed to a lack of quality from the opposition but Coventry City seemed to relish the freedom with which they could attack the second-half, looking more like the side that attacked the early part of the campaign with such abandon.
While the comeback performance raises a question as to why it wasn’t possible to play that way in the first-half, when the Sky Blues could have been able to take the game away from Bristol City, it demonstrated just how good this team can when they play with their tails up. With a front two pressing, a midfield that can move the ball quickly and wing-backs capable of supplying quality in their final ball, Coventry City looked more like themselves with a man disadvantage than when at 11 versus 11.
If there is a lesson to be taken from this, game, it is that the Sky Blues are a better side when playing on the front-foot and quickly. Perhaps recent displays have been a result of the team playing under the pressure of their lofty position and feeling they have something to lose, the second-half performance was one of a team playing unburdened from pressure. It is Mark Robins’ job to find ways to manufacture that sense of freedom as he looks to keep the team going throughout the campaign.
Key Players Stand Up
In a season where the Sky Blues have been lifted by the quality of star individual a such as Gustavo Hamer, Viktor Gyokeres, the wing-backs and Callum O’Hare, recent performances have raised questions as to the just how sustainable those players’ early season standards were. This was a timely display from a number of players in the second-half to remind the Coventry City faithful of just what this team is capable of at its best.
From Hamer’s setting of the tempo in possession to give the team control and purpose on the ball, to Viktor Gyokeres making dangerous runs to stretch the Bristol City defence, to Fankaty Dabo looking more purposeful when moved to the left. With the team looking to be in a tricky spot, a number of players stood up to be counted.
To single one out, this was a key performance from Callum O’Hare at a key time for both the team and himself. For the first time in a while, there have been questions over his place in the side, O’Hare answered them emphatically with an electric second-half display. It wasn’t just that he scored but that he was constantly driving forward with the ball, beating defenders and producing quality moments with his touch and decision-making to add threat to the team’s possession.
It should be clear by now that this season will live and die on the performances of a handful of key players. Just as doubts were being raised about both the quality and consistency of Hamer, Gyokeres and O’Hare, this was a timely reminder of just how good these players can be. Maintaining those standards is a different question but it is hard not to feel right now that the timing of this display provides the shot in the arm required to pick things up after a rocky period on both a team and individual level.