Coventry City were left to wonder ‘what could have been’ despite salvaging a late draw against Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium.
The Sky Blues were well on top for much of the first-half, only for Huddersfield Town to score from their first shot on goal. Undeterred, Mark Robins’ side continued to look to force the issue, only to find new and bizarre contrivances to fail to score from.
With it looking like another one day in which Coventry City had abandoned their scoring touch, a teasing cross from Jodi Jones deep into second-half stoppage time saw Matt Godden glance home a header that secured a point for the away side, which really should have been all three.
The Right Performance
This was exactly the kind of positive, energetic display that had been left behind in recent weeks by this Coventry City side. When Mark Robins named a starting line-up featuring just one up front – in Matt Godden, who can struggle in that role – and the right-footed Fankaty Dabo at left wing-back, there was a concern that the Sky Blues had set themselves up to be meek in their approach, the product on the pitch was quite the opposite.
The box midfield allowed Coventry City to crowd Huddersfield Town out in the centre of the pitch. With Jamie Allen and Callum O’Hare closing down tenaciously, Ben Sheaf and Liam Kelly aided the team’s efforts to choke their opponents of life in the middle of the park by stepping up and applying pressure, giving Huddersfield little room for manoeuvre.
The one moment where those efforts in midfield fell apart was when Lewis O’Brien got past his opposite numbers in Sky Blue, to play Harry Toffolo in on the left, who picked out Danny Ward to score from a pull-back. It was a well-worked goal from a Huddersfield Town perspective, but it was one that could perhaps have been prevented with better closing down in midfield – including Todd Kane at right wing-back.
That aside, what was so impressive about much of this Coventry City performance was that the energy was allied with invention and purpose when the ball had been won. Callum O’Hare and Jamie Allen produced some wonderful pieces of combination play to create space around the Huddersfield Town defence, while Ben Sheaf contributed by getting forward and picking out some smart passes. At times, the opposition could only sit back and watch as Coventry City played around them.
A key feature of the Sky Blues’ play for much of this game was the outlet that Todd Kane provided on the right side of the pitch. The wing-back’s willingness and quality in crossing situations is fast becoming an asset for this team, meaning that his team-mates are increasingly gambling on getting on the end of his balls into the box, which is creating danger – albeit, not quite the desired end product.
Despite going a goal behind, Coventry City persevered with this zippy, energetic approach. It could have been easy to be disheartened by the number of missed chances, but the players stuck to what they have clearly been coached to do and that was rewarded with a late equaliser that resulted from a period of sustained pressure.
With 65% possession and 22 shots, if Coventry City can maintain this performance level, the results will soon turn around.
When A Late Comeback Loses Its Lustre
As amazing as it was to grab another point from the jaws of defeat – not least because of the involvement of a certain Jodi Jones – this was an opportunity to claim a much-needed three points that passed the team by. From Callum O’Hare’s first-half misses, to the opportunities from set-pieces, to the general lack of aggression in the final third, it was the Sky Blues, rather than the opposition, that denied the team victory here.
While being able to claim points from losing positions is, in general, the sign of a good team, the continued requirement for this Sky Blues side to come back from the dead is a cause for some concern. Coventry City have the worst defensive record in the division in the first-half of games – along with one of the worst scoring records – questions have to be asked as to just why that is the case.
Based on the evidence of this game, some of it may just be down to bad luck. Coventry City created more chances than their opponents but fell behind to the first chance Huddersfield Town had. On other occasions, it has been a case of the Sky Blues looking cagey and somewhat timid earlier in games.
Perhaps this is a team that is better suited to chasing games than holding onto their current position. As well-executed as the possession-based approach has been this season, it has been apparent that this can play into the hands of opponents that press high up the pitch. This tends to be something opposing teams are more likely to do when level or behind, which perhaps explains why Coventry City have often had to salvage points from losing positions. That could well be something that is possible to be worked on in training.
That is maybe less the case as to why the Sky Blues failed to win this game, from simply not being clinical or decisive enough in the final third. For all the energy that players such as Callum O’Hare, Jamie Allen and Liam Kelly bring to the table, they have shown over their Coventry City careers that their goal threat is limited, which is an issue when they make up a key part of a team’s attacking line-up in games such as this one. Whether that is something that can be solved with the current squad or requires an injection of killer touch in the transfer market, it is a key area that is likely to define the rest of the campaign.
The Transformation of Kyle McFadzean
Heading into the season, there was a case for looking to move Kyle McFadzean out of the starting line-up. While those intangible qualities of leadership that he provides could be difficult to replace, the occasional errors and increasing lack of pace were a concern for a player who will be 35 by the end of the season.
However, the vice-captain has been playing his best football ever in a Coventry City shirt. It really is a remarkable transformation for a player of his age, Kyle McFadzean has not only cut-out the silly errors but looks more agile and mobile than ever before. If there was a player of the season vote right now, it would be hard to find a reason why McFadzean wouldn’t win it.
There have been two key transformations in Kyle McFadzean’s game that have been especially impressive to see. The first is how comfortable he has looked playing the role as the covering centre-back in the back three. Against forwards that should be much quicker than him, McFadzean has rarely been caught out for pace this season, even when left in one-against-one situations.
The other transformation has been this nice little trait that McFadzean has added to his game in order to buy himself a little more time on the ball. When being closed down while facing his own goal, the centre-back has started to choose to turn away from his opponent and into space, resisting the urge to simply boot the ball out of play. It really underlines his confidence at the moment to even try that, let alone pull it off as reliably as he seems to be able to do.
Perhaps age will soon catch up with Kyle McFadzean, but he has done an excellent job of defying it thus far this season. While there was nothing especially spectacular about his performance in this game, it’s time that some specific praise comes his way.