The Wrap: Middlesbrough – 0-1

For the second time in the space of a week, Coventry City were the better team for large periods of a game against a rival for the top six and came away empty-handed.

Played in blustery Teesside conditions, Middlesbrough attempted to overwhelm the Sky Blues with an energetic and aggressive pressing style while the away side carried a significant threat on the counter, led by the excellent Viktor Gyokeres in attack. With both sides creating some decent chances, the game looked well-poised heading into the second-half.

It was the early period of the closing 45 minutes where Coventry City had their opportunity to seize the three points. With Middlesbrough unable to get into any kind of rhythm, the Sky Blues eventually created two big chances in quick succession, through Kyle McFadzean, then Jordan Shipley, which were spurned. Soon after, Boro took the lead through Andraz Sporar, before seeing the victory out relatively comfortably.

A Swift Display

With Middlesbrough looking to press and hem Coventry City back into their own half, it was imperative that the Sky Blues carried a threat on the counter in order to spook the opposition out of such an aggressive approach. Led by a brilliant and relentless Viktor Gyokeres in attack, the Sky Blues produced some very slick football on the counter-attack, leading to some great chances that really should have put the team ahead.

For much of the 90 minutes, it was the Viktor Gyokeres show. Once again, the Swede’s combination of physicality, mobility, skill and work-rate made him an indefatigable presence in attack for Coventry City. Any ball played in his general direction was at least made into a contest, with Gyokeres usually winning it. Victories in those initial duels were followed up by direct and dangerous runs towards the Middlesbrough goal, leading to many of the Sky Blues’ best moments in the game.

Gyokeres was backed up ably by the supporting runs of Callum O’Hare and Jordan Shipley, as well as Jamie Allen from a deeper position. That attacking trident of Gyokeres, O’Hare and Shipley looks well-balanced, with Gyokeres leading the line, O’Hare able to drive forward with the ball at his feet and Shipley ghosting into the space that the industry of both Gyokeres and O’Hare opens up. The trio look to have a good understanding of each other’s games, which led to some intricate moments of one touch football that so nearly turned the match in Coventry City’s favour.

While that attacking set-up didn’t lead to an all-important scoring breakthrough for the Sky Blues, it looks like something worth persevering with. It was notable that Coventry City looked less likely to score once that attacking trio had been broken up via substitutions, serving to highlight that adding nominally more attack-minded players to a team doesn’t necessarily lead to greater threat.

Something Missing

This was the second largely positive, close to dominant, performance from the Sky Blues in a week that the team contrived to lose to a team at the top-end of the Championship. While luck plays a part, there is also a sense that Coventry City are missing a few of the required ingredients to win these key games against the better teams in the division.

The period of play that led up to the game’s only goal put this into sharp focus. At one end, Kyle McFadzean rattled the crossbar from a set-piece, with the ball then falling to Jordan Shipley, whose attempted finish from almost point-blank range ended up near the corner flag. Soon after, Middlesbrough broke quickly to drag both Dominic Hyam and Kyle McFadzean out of position, creating space for Andraz Sporar to nip in at the far post to score a tap-in.

On another day, perhaps Kyle McFadzean’s shot is a little lower, perhaps Jordan Shipley strikes the ball a little better, perhaps Andraz Sporar gets his finish wrong, but it is twice in the space of a week that Coventry City have come out of the wrong end of such tight margins in games they were well on top in. That the games came down to tight margins may well be the telling element.

Over the past three games, Coventry City have taken 50 shots and scored just two goals, at the other end, less than half that amount of shots have been conceded at the cost of three goals. It could well just be bad luck, but it puts into focus that this team is a little too profligate in front of goal and a little too soft at the other end. Games that could have been relatively comfortable victories have slipped away from the Sky Blues.

The important caveat is the financial disparity between Coventry City and the teams above them in the division. When Middlesbrough looked to turn the game around, they could bring on a £6 million midfielder and one of Arsenal’s star youth players, when Coventry City looked to turn the game around, they brought on a £1.5 million midfielder and a 32 year-old striker who has only scored once all season.

Given that, perhaps it is more prudent to focus on performances rather than individuals because Coventry City will almost always come up short against the top end of the Championship on individuals alone. Maybe it just isn’t the Sky Blues’ year but consistently turning out these kind of performances against some of the division’s better teams is what may foment better years to come.

How Not To Play When Losing

Having played so well only to fall behind, the most disappointing aspect of this performance from Coventry City was how they went about looking to turn the game around. It is especially frustrating given how often the Sky Blues have been able to turn games around from losing positions this season, but this was almost a textbook example of how not to turn the pressure on an opponent

After falling behind, Mark Robins very quickly moved to bring on Gustavo Hamer for Jamie Allen, then Martyn Waghorn for Jordan Shipley, which was the move that just about every Coventry City fan wanted to see. Theoretically, adding another ball-playing midfielder to the mix would provide greater control, while another striker would add another presence in the final third. The theory did not match the on-field product.

Neither substitute really got into the game, with Middlesbrough deserving credit for the manner in which they managed their leading position. The home side turned the midfield into a frantic, scrappy contest, meaning that Gustavo Hamer never really got the time on the ball with which to plot Coventry City’s attempted siege on the Middlesbrough goal. Martyn Waghorn, meanwhile, cut a frustrated figure due to that lack of service, with his main contribution being costly fouls that further broke up the flow of the game, aiding Middlesbrough’s cause.

As the clock wore down, the Sky Blues appeared to grow more and more frustrated at their lack of ability to get back into the game. Too often, passes were either under or over-hit as players tried a little too hard to force the issue. This added to the vicious cycle that further prevented Coventry City getting into the kind of rhythm they needed to turn the game around. Even with stoppage time stretched to well beyond the initially allotted four minutes, Middlesbrough’s march to victory was serene.

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