Coventry City drew 1-1 against a struggling Derby County side, with the team’s play-off hopes looking to have dimmed a little further.
In a disjointed first-half performance from the Sky Blues, the one moment of fluency came via Callum O’Hare and Matt Godden, with the former setting the latter up to emphatically put the away side ahead.
However, Coventry City did little to add to their lead from that point onwards, with Derby County building a head of steam throughout the second-half. After seeing a couple of hopeful penalty appeals turned down, the Rams eventually got what they were looking for, with Tom Lawrence scoring from the spot after going down softly in the 18-yard box.
Nonetheless, there was enough time for Viktor Gyokeres to have two excellent chances that really should have won the game for Coventry City. However, it seemed to embody this team’s fading play-off hopes that the Swede fumbled both opportunities.
A Makeshift Team
With injuries and fatigue mounting, it was a challenge for Mark Robins to name a functional team for this game. Matters were made worse when Jake Clarke-Salter went off injured early on, leaving Coventry City with a back three containing just one natural centre-back. It makes it hard to be too critical of this performance, because the objective was chiefly to get through the game, rather than take it to Derby County.
In the circumstances, it was impressive that the Sky Blues managed to limit a home side desperately chasing safety, and showing some moments of quality, to almost nothing in open play. It was a sensible move from Mark Robins to position Dominic Hyam in the middle of the back three, where he could take charge of the back-line, allowing the wide centre-backs, Ben Sheaf and Jake Bidwell, to focus on individual duels. With Simon Moore putting in a commanding performance in goal, a makeshift Coventry City defence did a reasonable at holding the Rams at arms’ length.
It wasn’t the makeshift back-line that was the issue in this game, it was a lack of control and fluency further forward. It began at the back, where the defence seemed more concerned with getting the ball away from danger, rather than building attacks. In midfield, Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen rarely took command of proceedings. While, in attack, Matt Godden endeavoured but wasn’t quite the presence up front that the team could have done with to ease the pressure on them.
That shouldn’t be read as a criticism of individuals, it was a simple fact of the game that Coventry City were unable to establish anything like their usual fluency. The lack of available senior players clearly had an effect, but fatigue is probably the bigger issue, with several individuals looking to be running on close to empty.
The One Moment Of Quality
In what was a relatively sub-standard performance from Coventry City, the move that led to Matt Godden’s goal was especially notable. For the quality of quick-thinking and interplay, this is a goal that will surely have to go down as one of the best that the team has scored this season.
It began with Jake Bidwell playing a ball from the left side of the defence to pick out Callum O’Hare, who had made a run beyond Matt Godden to stretch the Derby County back-line. Quickly spotting the run of Godden, O’Hare exchanged passes with the striker to send the latter clean through on goal. Godden then had the confidence in his own ability to strike the ball on goal as soon as it sat up for him, surprising the opposing keeper and opening the scoring.
It was a goal that was reminiscent of the one that completed Godden’s hat-trick against Wycombe Wanderers in the League One promotion season, highlighting that this is the kind of attacking play that this team has been capable of for a long while now. The 3-4-2-1 system can lend itself to this kind of play when the attacking midfielders make runs beyond the centre-forward, because it suddenly overloads the opposing defence and creates space in the panic.
Maybe this is something that Coventry City should be looking to do more often, but it is probably easier said than done. In what was a game low on quality from a Sky Blues perspective, it really is a moment that should be celebrated for what it is. This is what this team can be capable of at its very best.
That one moment of quality aside, the story of this game was Coventry City attempting to repel heavy Derby County pressure. The game started with the home side having around four corners in a row before the Sky Blues had any time to settle on the ball, setting the tone for what was often a backs to the wall performance.
The pressure was particularly strong on Coventry City’s left side, where Ian Maatsen never really got a handle on Derby County’s Malcolm Ebiowei. In a manner reminiscent of the last meeting between the two sides, when Festy Ebosele constantly had the beating of Fankaty Dabo, it became apparent from early on that all Derby had to do to create panic in the Sky Blues back-line was to give the ball to their right-sided winger.
Almost all of Derby County’s best moments in the game came as a result of Malcolm Ebiowei running at Ian Maatsen. From opening up space for team-mates to put in some telling crosses, to leading to all three of Derby’s hopeful penalty appeals, it was clear there was a mismatch in that particular duel.
It may be a little unfair to judge Ian Maatsen on this showing, given that Mark Robins had made it clear prior to the game that he wanted to hand the Chelsea loanee a rest and was forced to put him on early due to Jake Clarke-Salter’s injury. However, Maatsen has tended to struggle in one-on-one defensive situations this season and maybe more should have been done by the manager to avoid leaving the youngster exposed.
As mentioned earlier in the article, a key reason why Derby County were in the ascendancy for much of this game was because Coventry City were panicky on the ball and thus rarely had control of possession. It has been a a theme in away games this season where the Sky Blues have taken the lead that they have lost composure on the ball and dropped deep. It took until Derby levelled the scores for Coventry City to rediscover that.
That is why it is hard to be too angry at the penalty decision that allowed Derby County to equalise. After doing well to take the lead, Coventry City retreated with little plan other than to hope Derby wouldn’t score. Maybe they wouldn’t have without the penalty call, but the pressure had been building and building throughout the second-half. It felt like if it hadn’t been via the penalty, Derby would have found another way to score.