After the high of Saturday’s emphatic win over Sheffield United, Coventry City were brought back to earth with a bump against a well-organised Hull City side.
The Sky Blues got off to the worst possible start, with Simon Moore letting Hull City’s first shot on goal slip under his body, and never really recovered. Looking manic and unsettled, the home side had their moments but lacked the composure required to convert them into the chances and goals that would turn the game around.
With Hull City grabbing a second first-half goal, from an excellent Ryan Longman strike after a corner-kick wasn’t cleared far enough, the game was effectively over. There may have been gripes over a few questionable refereeing decisions – with, at least, two good penalty appeals waved away, along with some controversy over a late goal-line clearance – but the Sky Blues were ultimately not good enough to take anything from this game.
The Problems Begin In Defence
The big team selection news heading into this game was Ben Sheaf being called into the back three, with both Kyle McFadzean and Michael Rose missing. While it is a position that Sheaf has played in the past – including his time at Coventry City, in the second-half of the Reading home game back in August – it clearly wasn’t ideal and was a source of concern prior to kick-off.
Whether a different, possibly better, decision could have been made is debatable. On one level, it may have been better to have switched from this Coventry City’s usual back three formation to a back four, to avoid having a player out of their natural position playing in defence. However, there is quite a difference between playing a back three and back four in terms of the positioning of the centre-backs and the full/wing-backs, that it probably would have been more disruptive to alter the positions of four players, rather than just the one, especially given that the Sky Blues have played a back three for the best part of three seasons now.
Furthermore, Ben Sheaf couldn’t really be faulted for his performance at the heart of the central defensive trio. As a defender, Sheaf’s reading of the game and timing in the challenge snuffed out several Hull City attacks rather impressively, while he stood up well to the physical threat of Tom Eaves. Sheaf also demonstrated his ability as a midfielder, picking out some great passes to get the team on the attack, while also not afraid to step into midfield when he spotted the opportunity.
However, the issue was that the defence as a collective did not seem to function. As impressive as Ben Sheaf was as an individual, he may well have unsettled those around him both due to his presence in the defence and the risks he was willing to take at times with the ball. Dominic Hyam and Jake Clarke-Salter both looked a little uncertain in themselves throughout the game, with Clarke-Salter leaving space in behind him that led to the first goal and Hyam giving the ball away in the build-up to Hull City’s second.
While Ben Sheaf showed that he is capable of filling in at centre-back – which could be useful going forward if the team needs to chase games – the team looked to be missing an edge in defence throughout the game. Coventry City were a bad combination of too open and lacking conviction in the challenge, making almost every Hull City attack look like a dangerous one. Maybe that is something that having an experienced defender in Sheaf’s place could have rectified, or maybe it was simply a poor showing from those around him that happened to coincide with his selection.
A Lack of Guile in Attack
As bad as Coventry City were defensively, this was a game that they had enough possession and changes to be able to turn around. Yet, Hull City’s defence were rarely troubled in a serious manner due to the familiar issues that the Sky Blues have in converting promising situations into clear cut chances.
After the high of Saturday’s win over Sheffield United, the hope was it would provide the team with that missing decisiveness in the final third that has often dogged this campaign. After a reasonably bright start in that regard, Coventry City reverted to type over the course of the campaign, with the starting front three, in particular, failing to stand up and be counted.
It was a particularly disappointing showing from Callum O’Hare, especially after those two goals at the weekend. As the link between midfield and attack, O’Hare too often drifted out wide and away from areas where he could play the strikers in on goal. Perhaps that was because, in the chances he had to do so, he constantly mishit his final ball, allowing promising situations to pass the team by. This was a game that demonstrated that O’Hare has a long way to go before he can consider himself one of the better players in his position at this level.
It didn’t help O’Hare in his efforts that neither of the strikers ahead of him weren’t particularly effective in holding onto the ball or linking the play themselves. Both Matt Godden and Viktor Gyokeres were a little too peripheral on the proceedings, struggling to impose themselves on the opposing centre-backs. It left the team with very little up front, making it difficult to turn good possession into good chances.
Aside from Gustavo Hamer producing something brilliant, Coventry City were a little too predictable in their approach. It was a case of either playing something hopeful into the forwards or slowly working the ball out wide to play in easily defendable crosses. It was a night when the Sky Blues were found wanting for quality when they couldn’t rely on their natural explosiveness.
Why Do Coventry City Cross The Ball?
Following on from that final paragraph, a key area where Coventry City were lacking in this game was when it came to crossing. With a lot of opportunities to put the ball in, the number of crosses that genuinely troubled the Hull City defence could be counted on one hand..
The frustration in that regard began with the wing-backs. Fankaty Dabo’s inability to pick out a team-mate with his final ball was the most notable issue, however, Ian Maatsen has to come in for criticism for cutting inside far too often from wide areas and not really looking to cross the ball at all. Maybe it is partially down to knowing that this team doesn’t really have the numbers or ability to attack headers from open-play, but there is improvement required from both wing-backs in their crossing.
Another area of frustration surrounds Viktor Gyokeres’ lack of goals this season from crossing situations. For someone of his height, it is an area of his game that is particularly lacking. The issue appears to be that he looks to drop back into space, looking for the pull-back, when the team has the ball in crossing situations, meaning he is rarely close when the decision is made to whip the ball into the box.
In games like this, it raises the question of why Coventry City even bother with crossing at all. From wing-backs who can’t or won’t cross to forwards who don’t appear to want to attack the ball, it feels an especially pointless exercise. However, the Sky Blues would be a much easier side to defend against, because it would lead to extra passes and extra time for opposition defences to set themselves, if they didn’t have that notional threat that crosses into the box provide.
That is why Coventry City need to keep up the effort when it comes to crossing. Part of it is simply a numbers game, eventually this team will score from a cross in open play. For the players and staff, the message is to work on improving the team’s effectiveness from crossing situations. In a game like this, against an opponent looking to funnel the Sky Blues out wide, it could not only be a weapon in and of itself, but would create space elsewhere by forcing teams to shift around to close crosses down.