Coventry City went down to a limp defeat against Cardiff City in a game that underlined several issues that the team are currently facing.
In control of possession for much of the game, the Sky Blues struggled to convert that into clear-cut chances against a Cardiff side content to wait for opportunities on the counter-attack. After a few decent openings and penalty shouts in the first-half, Coventry City looked to be going through the motions in the second-half as tiredness caught up with them.
An excellent strike from Cardiff City’s Joel Bagan looked enough to seal the Sky Blues’ fate. A Viktor Gyokeres header aside, there was little response from the away side, who eventually conceded a second after getting caught up pitch in a vain attempt to salvage a point.
Possession Without Purpose
Coventry City had 64% possession but rarely looked like scoring in this game. Tiredness and the absence of Gustavo Hamer were surely factors here, but this was a performance that underlined how lacking in ideas this Sky Blues side can be when teams look to sit in against them.
This team’s two best attacking players, Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres, thrive on playing on the counter-attack. Gyokeres is at his best when allowed to run in behind defences, while O’Hare tends to be better when he has short amounts of time on the ball and can thus make quicker decisions with it. Aside from a few moments, neither really had the opportunity to show what they are capable of in full flow.
Instead, a lot of Coventry City’s possession ended up going out wide, where the wing-backs, Todd Kane and Jake Bidwell, were left with the onus to supply much of the team’s creativity. Due to the nature of the wing-back position, that involved a lot of crosses played into the box from either player, which the Sky Blues have rarely threatened from this season. Maybe Kane and Bidwell’s crossing could have been better, but there was a low percentage that they would find the breakthrough, not least because the slow nature of the build-up play allowed Cardiff City to keep any potential targets in the penalty area well-marshalled.
As the game wore on, the belief that a breakthrough would be found faded. Players were looking to one another to find moments of inspiration, which just weren’t coming. Instead, Coventry City looked increasingly purposeless without possession and were left to hope that their opponents were similarly lacking in inspiration in attack.
The Soft Underbelly
As frustrating as the team’s attacking play was in this game, this was a match that Coventry City could and should have avoided losing. As brilliant as it has been to see this team repeatedly come from behind from losing positions, that they have had to do so on a regular basis is down to an inability to keep clean sheets on a consistent basis.
Even before Cardiff City took the lead in the second-half, there were a handful of sloppy pieces of defending that could have easily been punished for the opening goal beforehand. From Max Watters being allowed a free header in the first-half, to Michael Rose’s slip that sent Cody Drameh clean through to set up Jordan Hugill for a bad miss. Coventry City were well in control of this game and the defence was under little pressure, yet the opposition looked the likeliest to score because of the lack of composure, concentration and organisation in the Sky Blues’ back-line.
Having recalled Kyle McFadzean to the back-line because of similarly sloppy moments in defence against Reading, the re-introduction of the experienced centre-back made little difference. Having lacked a physical presence last time out, Coventry City now lacked pace. It was hardly McFadzean’s fault, with Michael Rose really struggling to sort his feet out on the left of the back three, but it underlines that there isn’t a one-man solution to this team’s lack of sternness as a defensive unit.
Although Coventry City’s defensive record is far from disastrous, it is the continued conceding of first goals in games and the lack of clean sheets that has damaged the team’s play-off hopes, as much as a lack of clinical touch in front of goal. A lack of a settled back-line throughout the season probably hasn’t helped, but it is probably time for Mark Robins to consider ways in which the team can avoid the kind of silly moments in defence that were seen in this game.
This was the seventh game in 24 days, played with a thin squad that has been stretched further by some really unhelpful injuries. As much as the performances of individual players can be questioned in this game, it is clear that many are running on close to empty and Mark Robins has little option but to continue to play them.
The manager had, effectively, 13 outfield players to pick from for this game, 10 of which had played at the weekend and had looked tired. By contrast, Cardiff City could make four changes to their starting eleven to keep things fresh. It was hardly surprising that the home side looked fresher in the closing stages of this game.
January further underlined the challenges Mark Robins faces in sustaining a play-off bid with this Coventry City squad. Perhaps the club could have made a more impactful signing than Jake Bidwell, but that only one player came in – at the cost of one first-team player, Tyler Walker, leaving – shows that there wasn’t a lot that the manager could really do to strengthen the squad.
That is why injuries to Matt Godden, Liam Kelly and Josh Eccles over this period have been so impactful, that is why fans are calling for players such as Jodi Jones and Fabio Tavares to come into the team, this Coventry City side is desperately short on options and is left to hope that the shuffling around of a random combination of those players is going to somehow lead to a top six finish.
The hope is that going reasonably close this year will put the club in a position to get closer next year, and in the years to come. Whether that will prove to be the case remains to be seen, but it means that the team has been left short when it is has had a really good opportunity this season to make the top six.
This campaign is far from over, but the prospect of another three games over the coming week will surely only further stretch players that are already over-stretched. It is going to take something remarkable, probably out of nowhere, to put together the required form to make the play-offs.