Once again, Coventry City played some excellent football and once again, they came out of a game with less than they felt they deserved.
After a bright start to this midweek clash with Blackpool, it was the away side that took the lead via a swift counter-attack. With frustration in danger of getting the better of the Sky Blues, a swift break of their own, with Simon Moore releasing Viktor Gyokeres after claiming a Blackpool corner, levelled the scores at half-time.
Unable to take advantage of good spells immediately before and after the break, Coventry City tired, allowing Blackpool to take control of proceedings for an extended spell. That was until the closing stages of the game, where the Sky Blues created a number of chances, including playing Gustavo Hamer clean through on goal in late stoppage time, but were unable to take them as the team’s bad luck in front of goal continued.
A Familiar Feeling
This was another in a line of recent positive performances that were not reflected in the final scoreline. While it is part and parcel of a season that a team can go through a run of games of not getting what they deserve, it has starting to have gone on a little too long and it is becoming more frustrating than encouraging.
Nonetheless, it has to be noted that some of Coventry City’s play in this game was genuinely enthralling. In particular, Gustavo Hamer was clearly in the mood to take control of proceedings, picking out some wonderful passes to open the play up, getting forward, being willing to take on long shots and even breaking up play with authority. Had he shown a modicum more composure with that late chance – which was created partially via his force of will – this game to be remembered as a Gustavo Hamer masterclass.
Furthermore, the recent move to replace Kyle McFadzean with Michael Rose in the centre of the back three has added something to the Sky Blues’ build-up. The accuracy and bravery of Rose’s passing from central defence contributed some of the excellent flowing football in the opening period of the game. With Jake Clarke-Salter and Dominic Hyam capable of stepping into midfield when needed, this Coventry City side is becoming increasingly confident in bringing the ball out of defence, which allows the players ahead of them to gamble on making more enterprising attacking runs.
For all of the promising build-up play, the problem remains being able to put the ball into the back of the net. From genuinely bad luck with chances, to opposing teams producing unexpectedly brilliant pieces of defending and goalkeeping, to hesitancy in releasing the ball in the final third and a lack of composure when it comes to finishing, it is not just one issue with Coventry City in front of goal, it is everything.
There is only so long that a team can play so well without reward. Either the team will start to take their chances or the confidence will drop and those chances will stop coming. The period after Blackpool scored in this game saw what can happen if this run continues much longer, Coventry City’s passing started to become sloppy, touches heavy and free-kicks were conceded out of pure frustration at the feeling things simply weren’t going this team’s way.
What can be done to rectify this situation? The honest answer is probably nothing. This team has to stick to its beliefs in the hope that eventually the goals will come. The encouraging thing is that clearly that the belief is still there. From starting the game so well, to rallying towards the end of each half, this is a set of players willing to stick to how they’ve been told to play. It won’t take much for their luck to improve, but that may well be a process that will extend beyond giving Coventry City a chance of making the top six this year.
Looking For Another Gear
There was a period in the second-half where the game looked to have truly got away from Coventry City. Short on energy, the Sky Blues could only watch as Blackpool stroked the ball across the pitch, making them chase shadows and only able to come up for breath by whacking the ball away, handing Blackpool even more control. This was a period where the team needed a fresh injection of impetus from the bench, which they simply didn’t have.
Martyn Waghorn has found himself in the role of impact substitute of late, which doesn’t really seem to suit his game. A player that needs to have others around him in the final third to be impactful, with the team penned back in their own half, there was very little that he could do to affect the game.
The quest for that impact player has lasted all season. From signing Bright Enobakhare in the summer, to the hope that maybe Jodi Jones can return after the best part of four years out, when he had been playing in League Two, as a decisive Championship-level attacking player, it has become apparent that there simply isn’t that player available to Mark Robins who can change games from the substitutes’ bench.
It means that when the team runs out of steam, it can be difficult to turn things around. It makes the late rally in this game all the more remarkable as it was generated off the willpower of some very tired players alone, however, had Blackpool just a touch more quality, the game would have been over before that stirring final period.
It adds to the sense that maybe this is just not Coventry City’s year. January has passed and unless someone from outside the regular starters suddenly steps up, that extra player that this team probably needs isn’t going to arrive. To get to the stage where the Sky Blues have a strong starting XI for the Championship is great, but that next level will be having a strong squad that can offer Mark Robins the option to change things up when required.
The Grind Continues
After 120 minutes on Saturday, to expect a 90 minute performance in midweek with such a thin squad was hopeful. It was remarkable how vibrant Coventry City were in the early period of this game but it eventually caught up with them in the second-half as Blackpool dominated for an extended period.
Like with other aspects of this team, Mark Robins has no real option other to hope that key individuals can play through the challenge of the relentless fixture schedule ahead. Ideally, players such as Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare could have their minutes managed more strategically but at this moment in time, there aren’t adequate available replacements for them in the squad, meaning that Mark Robins simply has to cross his fingers that this run of games doesn’t catch up with some of the team’s key players.
The news that both Liam Kelly and Josh Eccles are now out for the best part of two months only adds to Mark Robins’ woes. Coventry City are down to the bare bones at the worst possible time in the season, in the midst of a run of three straight weeks with midweek games.
At a crucial stage of the season, Mark Robins has been left to find creative ways to manage the workload of his squad rather than go all guns blazing. As much as this reflects the club’s lack of financial power, this also down to bad luck with injuries that could happen to any team – most notably, Matt Godden picking up appendicitis means that the manager can’t rotate his strikers.
It is another thing that has gone against Coventry City of late, making recent performances all the more remarkable. How long it can go on for like this remains to be seen.