Coventry City claimed an incredible away victory at Bristol City to give their hopes of making the Championship top six this season a shot in the arm.
Playing swift, counter-attacking football in the first-half, the Sky Blues claimed the lead when Gustavo Hamer spotted Ian Maatsen in space with an excellent pass, for the latter to finish confidently from.
Bristol City raced out of the traps in the second-half and put the Coventry City goal under sustained pressure. When Chris Martin levelled the scores from sleepy Sky Blues set-piece defending, there only looked to be one winner.
Riding out the storm, there was enough time left in the game for Gustavo Hamer to produce a sensational run forward from his own half to the edge of the Bristol City penalty area, picking out Viktor Gyokeres to secure all three points for Coventry City.
There is only one place to start when analysing this game, Gustavo Hamer. If it hadn’t been clear how much this Coventry City side had missed the midfielder during his two-game suspension, Hamer stepped up on his return with a performance that epitomised just what he is capable of at his very best.
For the first goal, Gustavo Hamer found a pass through the Bristol City defence that very few at this level are capable of. While he had time and space on the ball to pick the pass, the accuracy and weight of the ball was perfect, with Hamer executing it with a degree of nonchalance. It is the type of purposeful forward passing the team has missed in his absence, allowing the forward to receive the ball in space, making their job of finishing much easier.
It wasn’t just about the assists for Gustavo Hamer, but the all-round manner in which he marshalled the midfield, particularly in the first-half. When on top form, Hamer just looks a yard sharper than anyone else on the pitch, able to nip in front of opponents in 50-50s, read the bounce of the ball, play a pass to a team-mate just as they’ve found space. In a game where Coventry City were looking to break with speed and accuracy, Hamer gave the team the fluency on the ball in order to execute that strategy.
Bristol City did a better job of containing Gustavo Hamer in the second-half, which was a big factor in how they turned the game around after half-time, closing him down higher up the pitch. It only served to underline Hamer’s importance even further, with the Sky Blues unable to get anything going on the ball for an extended period, allowing the home side to build pressure.
When given the sniff of an opportunity late in the game, Hamer produced an assist for the winning goal that truly encapsulated just what it is that makes him great. The second-favourite to get to a loose ball, Hamer not only makes sure he wins it but instantly drives at the space that has been opened up. Eschewing the opportunity to play an early pass to either Callum O’Hare or Viktor Gyokeres, Hamer drives towards the penalty area, committing the Bristol City defence until he finds the opportune moment to play in Viktor Gyokeres in enough room to pick his finish, but not too much to let the goalkeeper close him down.
This would have been a very different game without Gustavo Hamer on the pitch. On a tangible level, Hamer . Moreover, the balance of play would likely have been further in Bristol City’s direction, without Hamer’s energy and harrying in the middle of the pitch. It was a truly excellent performance.
And, he didn’t get booked.
The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw
For much of the past two seasons it has been a constant wish for Coventry City fans that the team could find a quick, technically-skilful, goalscoring attacking midfielder to play alongside Callum O’Hare. In the three games that Ian Maatsen has played in that role, he has ticked all three of those boxes, scoring two goals in the process.
Ordinarily, most would assume that playing a left-back in an attacking position is a defensive measure. Ian Maatsen has demonstrated that a player’s natural position matters less than their inherent attributes as a footballer. At left wing-back, Maatsen is quick, skilful and gets into scoring positions, he has provided the same thing in an attacking midfield berth.
The benefit of playing Maatsen further forward is twofold. The first is that playing higher up the pitch makes it easier for him to get into scoring positions. The two goals that he has scored in his new position haven’t been the only chances he has had in the three games he has played there, he has consistently shown an ability to make runs beyond the centre-forward, or around the penalty area from which he can shoot.
Secondly, Ian Maatsen’s pace provides the team with another outlet on the counter-attack. With Viktor Gyokeres almost completely out on his feet with fatigue at the moment, Maatsen’s ability to stretch the play in advanced areas is crucial, as was seen in the number of pressure-relieving runs he made over the course of the minutes he was on the pitch in this game. Importantly, not only is Maatsen fast, but he is technically-adroit enough to beat defenders, helping make sure the ball sticks when it is played to him.
While it may well have been something that Mark Robins has tried out due to a lack of options, when Ian Maatsen is compared to the team’s other forward players, he looks more and more like the ideal player to slot into the third attacking position. Finding a third source of attacking threat, beyond Viktor Gyokeres and Callum O’Hare, could be the kind of thing that transforms a season that was petering out into something more memorable.
The Defence Gets Through A Difficult Evening
This is the kind of game where the result can distort the analysis. Without Gustavo Hamer’s brilliance, this could well have been remembered as another game where Coventry City’s defence buckled under pressure. Instead, they are seen as the heroes who held firm in the face of an onslaught. The truth probably lays somewhere between that, but the efforts of the back-line, and goalkeeper, on a difficult evening deserve credit.
For much of the first-half, the Coventry City back three did a pretty good job at containing Bristol City’s in-form front three. There were a few moments where Antoine Semenyo and Andreas Weimann almost found themselves in dangerous areas, but there was often a Sky Blue foot in their way, preventing them from threatening the goal.
Against a mobile and free-scoring Bristol City attacking unit, Coventry City’s back three were aggressive, perhaps surprisingly so. With Kyle McFadzean looking to keep Chris Martin well-marshalled, Jake Clarke-Salter and Dominic Hyam weren’t afraid to track either Andreas Weimann or Antoine Semenyo well up the pitch. This risked getting caught in behind, but that rarely happened.
The weak element of Coventry City’s defending was in wide areas, where Todd Kane and Jake Bidwell continue to struggle. While Bidwell probably had one of his better performances since arriving at the club, which isn’t saying much, Kane really struggled. A sloppy pass behind his own defence in the first-half summarised a sloppy overall performance, consistently looking under pressure with and without the ball and fortunate not to be punished for it.
Overall, there was perhaps a little too much inviting of pressure in the second-half, which wasn’t the defence’s fault, and more the lack of energy ahead of them. Unable to get up the pitch, the Sky Blues encouraged waves of Bristol City attacks and could have conceded more than the single goal that they did, which came from switching off at a set-piece.
Simon Moore in goal played a huge role in preventing the dam bursting. The goalkeeper rarely produces anything spectacular, but this performance was an example of his calming influence. Claiming a number of crosses with ease, Moore was off his line to snuff out attacks brilliantly on two occasions, when a lesser keeper would have either have been beaten or conceded a penalty. This is the difference that Moore has made this season, which is easy to take for granted.