The Wrap: Luton Town – 0-1

Coventry City went down to a 1-0 defeat at home to Luton Town in a game that continued a number of trends that has seen this season go awry.

Looking largely the better team in the first-half, misses from Matt Godden and Viktor Gyokeres meant that the Sky Blues couldn’t take advantage from several decent openings. Instead, a poor Michael Rose mistake from a long punt forward allowed Luton’s Elijah Adebayo clean through on goal to win the game for the away side.

From that point onwards, there was little danger of the score being reversed, with Coventry City doing little to unsettle the opposing defence and create chances. Late misses from Callum O’Hare and Ian Maatsen reflected that, even when the Sky Blues were in dangerous areas, they lacked the clinical touch to convert them.

It was a game that Coventry City could have won and definitely should not have lost.

Three Strikers, Little Threat

The big story when the team was announced was Matt Godden, Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn all starting in the same line-up. The shortage of options in attacking midfield clearly played a role in this decision but the hope was that having three strikers in the same team would improve the team’s attacking threat.

There was promise of that proving to be the case very early on, when a move involving Martyn Waghorn and Viktor Gyokeres saw Matt Godden get a good shot on goal. From then on, there were a few neat touches and one-twos between the front three here and there, but little of what any of the front three did involved threatening the Luton Town goal.

Martyn Waghorn had been tasked with playing just off the front-line, and while he did reasonably well to receive the ball in tight areas, he lacked the ability to then play on the turn and involve his attacking colleagues ahead of him. While Waghorn wasn’t lacking in effort, he spent too much of the game facing his own goal, laying off the ball back into midfield and slowing the play down.

This meant that the team had to bypass their own number 10 in order to begin to threaten Luton Town’s goal. This was mainly through playing balls into the channels for Viktor Gyokeres to chase down or Gustavo Hamer making lung-busting runs from central midfield. With Matt Godden neither involved in the build-up play nor getting on the end of chances, it was especially pointless having two extra strikers on the pitch.

Perhaps the reason why this new attacking configuration didn’t work was because neither Matt Godden nor Martyn Waghorn are fully-fit and Viktor Gyokeres is completely exhausted. The question is whether it would work even if all three were at peak fitness, and it’s hard to see. Matt Godden offers slightly too little outside the penalty area, while Martyn Waghorn lacks the technical ability to operate as a ten, which, in turn, forces Viktor Gyokeres to do too much work outside the penalty area.

Moreover, playing the three together asks a lot of the rest of the team to carry the creative burden. Aside from Gustavo Hamer, there were too many players on the pitch for Coventry City not capable or willing to step forward to help create and score chances. Playing three strikers only made the team’s task that bit more difficult.

Attacking Movement Lacking

Following on from that last point, another key issue in Coventry City’s attacking play in this game was the poor movement from players off-the-ball, which often caused moves to slow down or break apart entirely. Against an opponent in Luton Town that was largely content to sit in on their one-goal lead, the Sky Blues did little to unsettle their defence and created very few clear-cut chances while chasing the game.

A key theme of this game was Gustavo Hamer having the ball and being forced to pause when searching for his next option. From the wing-backs sitting too deep, to the players ahead of him standing still, looking at Hamer and asking for the ball, the midfielder could only play square passes unless he could produce something truly spectacular.

Whether this is a lack of confidence or coaching, is not clear. It felt at times in this game that players were not willing to gamble on making enterprising runs either with or without the ball and were instead pausing in promising positions or making safe passes to team-mates, killing a number of promising moves.

The lack of off-the-ball movement to open up space around the opposing penalty area means that Coventry City are relying on individual brilliance to take defenders out of the game. From the wing-backs to the midfielders to the strikers, too often, players are receiving the ball in positions where they have to burst past multiple opponents before they are in a position to produce a final pass or shot. When so much effort has to go into getting in dangerous positions in the first place, it is little wonder that the final ball can so often be lacking.

It was telling that it took for the introduction of Fabio Tavares before the Sky Blues truly unsettled Luton Town’s defence late-on in this game. The youngster gambled on making runs in behind, leading to an excellent chance for Callum O’Hare. It offers the promise that maybe Tavares can provide that useful point of difference this team needs in attack, but perhaps he is simply yet to be afflicted by the issue his senior colleagues have been.

Defence Has To Take Responsibility

As much as this game exposed Coventry City’s continued inability to create and score chances, this was a defeat that was caused by a sloppy piece of defending from Michael Rose. Too often this season, the Sky Blues have been forced into chasing games from similar defensive lapses and it’s only because the struggles in front of goal have been far more notable that the defence hasn’t come under scrutiny.

It has been this sloppiness at the back that is a key reason why Coventry City aren’t further up the table. With just nine clean sheets in 35 games, only six Championship sides have kept fewer. As brilliant as it is to see a team come from behind from losing positions, it has meant that the Sky Blues have drawn a number of games they could have won and lost a number of games they could have drawn.

Perhaps the defensive sloppiness goes hand in hand with the attacking issues. Not scoring enough goals places pressure on the defence to be immaculate. It was only one mistake from Michael Rose that saw the opposition score, but Viktor Gyokeres made at least three in his finishing at the other end that could have changed the complexion of the game.

However unfair that is, defending far more about being immaculate than attacking. That the defence could switch off in the manner it did for the game’s only goal reflects that this Coventry City side doesn’t really seem to value clean sheets. There seems to be an over-eagerness to win the ball back as quickly as possible and get playing, rather than dealing with the threat of the opposition. There isn’t enough focus placed on keeping things tight, which is why this Sky Blues side has leaked so many sloppy, silly goals throughout much of this campaign.

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