Coventry City made a belated return to action as they fell to a limp home defeat to a Millwall side that had struggled to put out a competitive team heading into the game.
It was clearly a contest between two sides that had played little football of late, with plenty of misplaced passes and mistimed lunges into challenges that may have otherwise been sharper. The Sky Blues had the better of the first-half but struggled to find that final touch to take control of proceedings.
There had been hope of refinement from a Coventry City perspective in the second-half, but there was little improvement in the event. It left the game hanging on a tight margin, which fell Millwall’s way when Tom Bradshaw took advantage of a loose ball from a set-piece to take advantage of the Sky Blues’ profligate and lacklustre approach to the game.
Before any serious analysis of this game can begin, it should be noted that it was a contest played under rather unique circumstances. Both teams had been without a competitive match in 18 days and Millwall were reported to have had just 12 fit senior outfield players heading into the contest. It was destined to be a strange game and so it proved to be.
Coventry City probably had the better of the contest, certainly in the first-half, however, it appeared that the lack of sharpness engendered a lack of fluency. There were a number of openings in this game that fell astray for the Sky Blues from players making poor decisions, which may well have been down to having played so little football over the past month.
As for the opposition, the particular difficulty of their preparations for this game contributed to their own, backs-to-the-wall performance. From very early on, it was clear that Millwall were intent on slowing the game down and breaking up the play in order to hold onto the clean sheet. They may have approached this differently had they had closer to a fully-fit squad to pick from.
The end result was a contest that lacked any flow and was decided by a set-piece. It may be to Coventry City’s fault that the end result was in any doubt given that they had preferential circumstances entering the game, but neither is it overly suprising how the game panned out.
An Attack That Didn’t Work
One of the key reasons that Coventry City failed to take advantage of this opportunity to get back up and running was the configuration of the attack – as well as the midfield. Aside from a few moments, the Sky Blues struggled to put Millwall’s goal under sustained pressure and create clear-cut chances for either Matt Godden, Tyler Walker and, later in the game, Viktor Gyokeres.
Starting with both Matt Godden and Tyler Walker up front felt a decision influenced more by Viktor Gyokeres’ recent poor form, as well as Martyn Waghorn’s unavailability, than how it would actually work. As has been seen repeatedly in this pairing of goal poachers, the lack of a hold-up player alongside them forces them into areas of the pitch they are unsuited to, makes it difficult for the ball to stick in the opposing half, and, ultimately, makes it harder for either of them to get in goalscoring positions than if they were playing independently of one another.
It’s not that Matt Godden and Tyler Walker do not work hard outside the box, the fact of the matter seems to be that playing them together means that neither of them can really do the thing that they can do best. Viktor Gyokeres’ introduction later on at least offered something different, but the game had slipped away from Coventry City, even at that point, before the late goal was conceded.
Another key issue in the attacking set-up of the Sky Blues in this game came even further back than strikers. With Walker and Godden struggling to make the ball stick in the final third, it required the midfield to take control of proceedings. However, that was made difficult by Liam Kelly’s presence in the central midfield duo, with the club captain often too deep and lacking in quality on the ball to influence the game.
As much as Ben Sheaf endeavoured to glue together midfielder and attack, there was too often a yawning space in that area, which gave Coventry City’s attacking players too hard a task and meant that the wing-backs – which are, so often, important to the team’s creative play – had limited influence on proceedings. It would be too extreme to state that Liam Kelly is incapable of impacting games at this level, however, this was not the game for him.
Just one of the aforementioned issues may have been possible to overcome, in tandem, Coventry City’s set-up hindered them too significantly to give themselves a chance of scoring in this game.
Time To Do Things Differently?
For all of the mitigating factors, for all of the talk of how Coventry City are performing above expectations, this defeat does not come in isolation. It is now two wins in twelve games for the Sky Blues, which is too long a period of a season to write-off as simply bad luck or ill circumstance.
What had worked so well earlier in the campaign no longer seems to be. Teams are better-prepared for what Coventry City can throw at them, while the Sky Blues themselves are lacking in the vibrancy that once defined them. For much of this game, this was a Coventry City side waiting and hoping for something to happen but struggled the to find the power to make it so.
Perhaps the late switch to a back four was a hint of one of the options that Mark Robins may have up his sleeve in order to change the trajectory this Coventry City side are on. While the circumstances of the game – crucially, that Millwall had little reason to test that back four by throwing players forward – have to be taken into account, having that extra body forward at least changed the dynamic in attack from the rather limp affair that had preceded it.
With the January transfer window set to open, there is the hope that adding a couple of quality attacking/creative players could make a difference, however, the bad news is that there appears to be little scope to make those kind of moves unless key players are sold. Nonetheless, some form of change will be required sooner rather than later because this team is on a bad trajectory at this moment in time.
Whether it’s a change of shape, change of personnel or a change of luck, it is looking like a change of some kind is needed. If not, this could be a trying second half to what has been such an enthralling campaign.