Coventry City played out a goalless draw at home to Birmingham City in a frustrating manner, with the home side struggling to take advantage of controlling the vast amount of the contest against an opponent that had set up for the point from very early on.
The best chances of the game fell to the Sky Blues in the first-half, but a lack of conviction saw the opportunity pass Coventry City by. The second-half saw a tiring Birmingham City make a number of cynical challenges to break the Sky Blues’ flow, resulting in an eventual, albeit harsh, red card, from which Coventry City were unable to take advantage of in the closing stages.
Out Of Puff Up Front
Had this game been played a few months ago, Coventry City probably would have found a way to win it comfortably. The home side enjoyed the majority of the possession and moved it into decent areas, but there was a lack of conviction when it came to the final ball. Whereas before, Coventry City would have had the confidence and composure to find an eventual breakthrough, each missed chance seemed to make the team more hesitant by the time the next opportunity came around.
Individual players are clearly lacking an element of mojo. Most notably, Viktor Gyokeres has lost that ability he had earlier in the season to burst past defenders and get shots off on goal. With Matt Godden alongside him someone who can be peripheral when not in scoring positions, it fell to Callum O’Hare, Gustavo Hamer and the wing-backs to supply the threat, something they currently don’t seem to be comfortable with.
As a collective, there also seems to be an issue that players aren’t making runs into the penalty area or in support of promising attacking moves often enough. There were a number of decent breaks for the team in this game, but moments of hesitancy caused by a lack of options saw the play funnelled out wide and to the wing-backs, allowing Birmingham City’s defence to re-set and deal with the eventual ball into the box. While confidence plays a part in this, moving the ball quickly and with intent in the attacking third is something that needs to be improved in order for the team to create better chances more reliably.
It is not as if Coventry City suddenly have bad players in attack, there were some genuine moments of quality from individuals in this game – most notably, bus Gustavo Hamer. However, the team has been overcome lately by a level of indecision that probably owes both to a lack of confidence and fatigue. The problem for Mark Robins is that there are few options available to him to either change things up tactically or hand players a rest. There isn’t another Viktor Gyokeres in this squad, nor another Callum O’Hare nor Matt Godden. This was evident in the lack of attacking substitutions that the manager made in this game.
While there may be one or two tweaks to be made, but the main hope for Mark Robins right now is that an attacking player comes into form until changes can hopefully be made in January – which can’t be guaranteed.
Back-To-Back Clean Sheets
It might not have been much of an achievement to keep a clean sheet against this Birmingham City side, but there was a danger that Coventry City’s lack of attacking spark would have allowed the Blues the opportunity to eventually nick something at the other end. The Sky Blues defence gave their opponents little hope of this happening, which hasn’t always been the case this season.
Whether the decision to start with Liam Kelly was the best decision from an attacking perspective is debatable, it did at least help shut down Birmingham City’s key attacking route of playing it long to Troy Deeney. The midfielder often dropped to just in front of the back three from long goal-kicks, keeping Deeney well-marshalled, aided by the centre-backs also competing well for headers against Birmingham’s target-man.
Kyle McFadzean, Dominic Hyam and Michael Rose also impressed at the back, once again, perhaps showing themselves to be the team’s best defensive unit. McFadzean caught the eye with another leader’s performance from the back – one lapse in concentration in the first-half aside – to underline what has been an impressive campaign for someone who had questions against his ability at Championship level heading into the season. With Hyam as reliable as he’s always been, Michael Rose impressed on the left of the back three, pretty much shutting down any threat down his side of the pitch.
With Troy Deeney negated as an attacking threat for Birmingham City, the only area where the away team threatened to conjure chances was from long throw-ins. However, the Sky Blues defended those situations fairly comfortably, underlining how well the team has been this season in dealing with opposition set-pieces, utilising a zonal marking system to good effect.
While Coventry City were up against an opponent that had few ideas going forward, they stayed switched-on enough to ensure that Birmingham City had almost no route to goal. If the team’s attacking play can pick up again soon, finding this defensive solidity could prove valuable over the longer term of this campaign.
Set-Pieces Wasted, Again
As well as Coventry City have defended set-pieces for the majority of this season, the flip-side is just how rarely they have threatened from them at the other end of the pitch. In a tight game where the team’s forwards were low on confidence, scoring from a set-piece would have completely changed the dynamic of the contest.
One of the key reasons why Coventry City have struggled to threaten from dead balls this season has been the deliveries of Gustavo Hamer. While he has the ability to put in dangerous balls, he is too eager to take on shots rather than whip it in, which can see a lot of set-piece opportunities wasted. The odd shot from a promising situation could prove useful, however, Hamer shoots a little too often from set-pieces for it to be a surprise.
On this specific occasion, another problem was that the team seemed to be instructed to float balls around the six-yard area from set-pieces, which was the exact territory from which Birmingham City’s tall goalkeeper, Matija Sarkic, could dominate. There should be a level of sympathy to the players for this as it can’t have been down to anything other than the instructions of the coaching staff, but it perhaps belies a lack of preparation or creativity behind the scenes in set-piece drills.
In light of the team’s struggles in the final third in open play currently and the fact that the transfer window doesn’t open until January, spending time working on attacking set-pieces could help win these kind of tight games and get confidence flowing again. The end to last season showed that Mark Robins and the coaching staff can make good use of set-pieces, it is time to start working on them again.