The Wrap: Stoke City – 1-0

On what threatened to be a difficult night for Coventry City, the Sky Blues returned to winning ways with a hard-working and, at times, eye-catching performance to beat Stoke City at the CBS Arena.

For much of the opening hour, Coventry City were the better side but without looking likely to score. With Viktor Gyokeres missing a big chance when played clean through on goal by a poor Stoke City pass from defence, it looked set to be one of those evenings.

However, the introductions of Callum O’Hare and Martyn Waghorn for the game’s closing period helped the Sky Blues make the breakthrough. Soon after, some good pressing saw Viktor Gyokeres receive the ball on the edge of the penalty area to hit a strike that gave the team the lead. From then on, there was little doubt as to the final result.

The Return of the Gyok

On a 13-game run without scoring and having spurned an excellent opportunity in the first-half, it would have been reflect that maybe Viktor Gyokeres’ early season form was simply a flash in the pan. As important as the Swedish striker’s eventual winning goal in this game could prove to be for his confidence, this was a performance from Gyokeres that was about so much more than finally breaking his goal drought.

Even during that barren streak, Viktor Gyokeres was still the kind of striker who could make his presence known on games. His combination of physicality, ball-carrying ability and turn of speed makes him someone very difficult to contain, especially as Gyokeres is also a prodigiously hard-worker. It hasn’t necessarily been poor finishing that has let Gyokeres down in this recent goalless run, rather an inability to get into scoring positions.

It is probably little coincidence that Gyokeres’ return to scoring form in this game coincided with the absence of Matt Godden. While the latter’s goals have accounted for Gyokeres’ cold streak, his presence in the side has meant Gyokeres has had to drop deeper, making it difficult for him to get into scoring positions. Without Godden in the side, Gyokeres can play on the shoulders of the opposing defence and utilise his explosiveness to burst through on goal.

For the opening 65 minutes of the game, Viktor Gyokeres played a key role in giving the team a presence in attack. In a starting line-up that otherwise lacked pace and ball-carrying ability, Coventry City could easily have been overwhelmed and unable to turn defence and attack without Gyokeres putting in the hard yards up front. The Swede consistently made himself available for balls played out of defence, meaning there was always an out-ball to relieve pressure and get up the pitch.

The introductions of Martyn Waghorn and Callum O’Hare for the final 25 minutes lessened the requirement for Viktor Gyokeres to play with his back to goal, thus he could focus entirely on playing on the shoulder of the opposing defence. That the ball came to Gyokeres for his goal was down to being free to allow other players to put the effort in away from goal, while the chance the Swede had late in stoppage time further demonstrated his greater freedom to get into dangerous positions.

Whether Viktor Gyokeres can return to the level of scoring he produced earlier in the season or not, this performance – as well as the one against Queens Park Rangers – underlined that he is a striker that is better off when deployed as the closest player to the opposing goal. Moreover, the team as a whole seems to look a better, more fluid unit with Gyokeres in that role. It raises a potential quandary when Matt Godden is back to full fitness, for now, Gyokeres, and the team, look in a good place to go on an improved run of form.

Substitutions Tip The Balance

Coventry City looked the likelier team to score in the opening 65 minutes, but there was an underlying sense that the team wasn’t quite doing enough to put the ball in the net. From neat approach play where the trigger to shoot wasn’t quite pulled in time, balls into the box not quite finding a Sky Blue shirt, to an overall lack of conviction when decent opportunities fell the team’s way, it looked set to be another frustrating game in front of goal.

That was until Martyn Waghorn and Callum O’Hare were introduced, giving the team that greater sense of threat in attack and converting a good performance into a winning one. It was a bold move by Mark Robins to change the shape of both the midfield and attack by taking Gustavo Hamer off and switching to two up front, but O’Hare and Waghorn added the purpose and drive in forward areas that had been missing earlier in the game.

With just a goal apiece to their names this season, what Waghorn and O’Hare provided was less about a direct goal threat themselves, but in forcing the opposition into uncomfortable areas. Waghorn provided a level of guile in the final third, often sandwiching himself between Stoke City defenders, to open up space for those around him. Callum O’Hare, meanwhile, offered the ball-carrying and dribbling ability to get Stoke City’s defence on the turn. Against a tired defence, the duo were especially impactful.

Sometimes, double changes can be an admission from managers that they got something wrong with their initial team selection, this was clearly a deliberate strategy to wait until later in the game to step things up. After knocking on the door with the hard-running efforts of the opening period, the introductions of Callum O’Hare and Martyn Waghorn helped blow it down.

A Well-Coached Side

Mark Robins has hardly been dealt the best hand recently. While teams around Coventry City in the Championship table have spent January adding shiny new signings to their squad, Robins has had to contend with a spate of injuries, a lack of a form striker and having to shoehorn players who have played little football this season into uncomfortable positions.

Under another manager and at a different time for the club, a starting line-up that featured Josh Eccles at right wing-back and Callum O’Hare on the bench could have been read as an act of desperation. That the players Mark Robins selected went out, set about their duties to a tee and beat a much more expensively assembled opposition, looking the better team in the process, is a testament to the work that the manager and his coaching staff are doing on the training pitch.

From the passing patterns, the co-ordination in the press, to the shape without the ball, it was clear that every player on the pitch knew exactly what their job was. That someone like Josh Eccles could come into the team out of position and not look at all uncomfortable underlines just how ingrained the team’s shape and system is. When Eccles had to go off later in the game, Julien Dacosta came in from the cold and put in a similar shift.

With the team on a relatively poor run of form, hit by injuries and some rotten luck in front of goal, it would have been easy for that structure to fall apart. That the players knew to stick to their duties in the knowledge they would eventually get their rewards demonstrates just how well-regarded Mark Robins and his coaching staff are by the people they work with on a daily basis.

Perhaps recent times have shown the limits of what is possible in the Championship with a relatively low budget, but this win – alongside several recent positive displays – shows that good coaching can take a team a long way. Maybe it isn’t enough to make up the gap to the play-offs, but it means that this is a Coventry City side that has always been capable of avoiding long poor runs of form. If a team has the right ideas and works hard to apply them, they will get their rewards more often than not.

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