Coventry City claimed victory in a chaotic, and rather low-quality, game against Reading in order to breathe life into the team’s flagging play-off hopes.
Against a Reading side in rotten form, the Sky Blues looked to have handed a team in desperation a life-line by allowing them to take the lead in a lifeless first-half display. However, a Gustavo Hamer strike deflected home by Dominic Hyam meant that the game was level at the half-way stage.
Coventry City then took the lead early in the second-half, with Michael Rose heading home from a corner-kick, but were unable to take control of proceedings. Soon enough, Reading levelled from a corner of their own, before the Sky Blues were forced back into life with their most dominant period of the game.
With Reading’s Junior Hoilett picking up a second yellow card not long afterwards, a swift piece of play saw Viktor Gyokeres send Ian Maatsen through for a heavily-deflected effort that proved the game’s winning goal. Despite both the man and scoreline advantage, Coventry City contrived to produce a nervy final 25 minutes that threatened to put the three points in doubt.
With Reading the second-worst defence in the league and on a run of seven defeats in a row, this really was an opportunity for Coventry City to hone their eye in front of goal. Despite scoring three times on the way to claiming victory, this was a performance that a level or two below the recent standards that have been set.
After a reasonably bright start, the Sky Blues never really took control of this game. It allowed a nervous-looking Reading side to settle into what was largely a low-quality contest. In what should have been a match that was about Coventry City demonstrating their superiority, the final score largely reflected the side that took their chances the best.
For much of the first-half, it appeared that dynamic would be enough for Reading to claim victory. While the Sky Blues mustered some decent openings – most notably, Viktor Gyokeres’ early chance – they were punished for leaving Lucas Joao unmarked in the penalty area to fall behind in yet another game. It was only in first-half stoppage time that Coventry City gained any flow in possession, which was rewarded by a scrappy finish from Dominic Hyam to make it level at half-time.
Taking the lead so early in the second-half probably didn’t suit the Sky Blues, who looked nervy at the back throughout the 90 minutes. With Reading impelled to take the game to Coventry City, the away side immediately became timid both in their positioning and use of the ball, allowing the Royals to quickly build pressure and level the scores.
That Coventry City’s best period of the game came after surrendering such a hard-fought lead was especially frustrating. For about ten minutes in the lead-up to Ian Maatsen’s goal, the Sky Blues played with a calmness and composure that had been absent for much of the game. The red card helped tip the balance further in Coventry City’s direction, but the winning goal came via the longest period of quality either side produced over the 90 minutes.
One goal and one man up, the Sky Blues contrived to give Reading hope of scraping a result. It has to be noted that fatigue and a lack of confidence was probably a factor here, but Coventry City could have done better to take the game away from the home side. There was a real lack of nous in the team’s play, as they too often searched for neat little interchanges in the hope of getting on the counter, rather than utilising their score and personnel advantage to keep Reading at arm’s length.
Injury time was a microcosm of how needlessly chaotic Coventry City made the game. Instead of slowing the game down, the Sky Blues searched for a fourth goal on multiple occasions on the counter-attack. By committing players forward, it nearly presented Reading with the openings at the other end to salvage a point.
This was a victory that was far from undeserved, but it was one that could have been attained with a higher degree of comfort if Coventry City had they played with more game intelligence. If this win is to be parlayed into a charge up the table in the fixtures to come, that is what this team is going to have to quickly develop.
The Wrong Wing-Back Pairing?
There were a number of issues with this Coventry City display, but quite a few seemed to stem from the selection of both Todd Kane and Jake Bidwell in wing-back role. From the lack of fluency in possession, to the defensive vulnerability, to the overall air of sloppiness, it was less about the individual performances of Kane and Bidwell and more about the limiting effect of playing them simultaneously had on the team.
The wing-back positions are especially important for this team as the Sky Blues play a system without natural wide players otherwise. It demands a high level of proficiency both technically and athletically from whomever is selected in the roles. While players lacking in either regard can still play a role in that position, the issue here seemed to be that the sum total of technical and athletic proficiency that Todd Kane and Jake Bidwell were providing the team came up short.
On the right, Todd Kane has shown this season that he can be an asset to this team when he can be played into crossing positions. The issue for Kane was that because Viktor Gyokeres was being so well-marshalled by Reading’s defence, it was up to him to carry the ball forward down his side of the pitch in order to get into dangerous areas, which he struggled to do. This limited both his and the team’s opportunities to threaten down his side of the pitch.
While Jake Bidwell was similarly limited on the left due to the team’s inability to go from back to front in to Gyokeres quickly, his issue throughout his short time at Coventry City seems to be that his starting position is a little too deep. That said, the former Swansea City player enjoyed probably his best spell either side of half-time when he finally got into advanced areas – playing a small role in the build-up play that led to the set-pieces for the opening two goals – but he struggled to sustain it.
Maybe it was simply a bad day for both players. It shouldn’t be disregarded that Todd Kane is just back from a spell out injured and Jake Bidwell is still clearly getting up to speed with his team-mates. However, the impact on this occasion of having two wing-backs that were, for long periods, unable to get up the pitch, was that it gave the rest of the team two fewer options on the ball, hampering efforts to dictate the game through possession.
The shortage of options available to Mark Robins right now meant that he had little option but to play Todd Kane and Jake Bidwell. For both players, it is imperative that they offer more drive and purpose from their respective flanks when next selected, otherwise, it robs this Coventry City of a lot of what had made it so impressive for much of this campaign.
A Win Is A Win
The tone of this article thus far highlights that was not a particularly good performance despite the final result, but Coventry City were in a situation heading into this game victory in and of itself meant more than how it was attained. It is not just that the Sky Blues have been pretty unlucky to have just taken four points from their past four games, but the wider context of having dropped into the bottom-half on the back of a longer-term run of just four wins in seventeen games.
Whether or not Coventry City go on to sustain a play-off challenge between now and the end of the campaign, ending this season on a positive note may be important nonetheless. Runs of bad luck and form can happen over the course of a campaign, but it can give away to a sense of listlessness that can seep away at the mentality of the club when it goes on for too long.
It may not matter in tangible terms whether the Sky Blues finish seventh or seventeenth, but a positive finish to this league season could prove a useful springboard for the next one. As much as recent performances have shown that this team isn’t that far from making the breakthrough to the upper echelon of the Championship, learning what it takes to claim results is just as important as a process to go through.
Furthermore, this season is far from over. While it looks like Coventry City have a little too much to do to make the breakthrough to the top six, they can overtake fifth-placed Huddersfield Town with wins in the two games in hand that they hold. It might be too much to ask of this team right now, but winning this game means that this season continues to matter. If that can be sustained for as long as possible, anything can happen.