Coventry City recorded an impressive victory over league-leaders Fulham at Craven Cottage to remind the division just what this team is capable of.
Looking a threat on the break for much of the game, the Sky Blues took the lead via a Michael Rose header from a Gustavo Hamer corner to take the lead in the first-half. A second followed not long after, with Viktor Gyokeres’ strike catching Fulham goalkeeper, Marek Rodak, out to give Coventry City a commanding position heading into the break.
While Fulham looked to move through the gears in the second-half, the Sky Blues continued to threaten on the counter and had chances to kill the game off before the home side pulled a goal back through Bobby Decordova-Reid to set up a tense finale. However, a defensive error from the Cottagers in the closing stages of stoppage time allowed Gustavo Hamer to tee up Callum O’Hare to secure the three points for Coventry City.
Not A Fluke
Heading into the game, the presumption would have been that, for Coventry City to win, they were going to have to get incredibly lucky. In poor form, with little to play for and not even able to name a full complement of outfield players on the bench against the division’s best team, on the verge of promotion and able to name a bench with players they spent upwards of £50 million on, it was not a ridiculous assumption that Fulham were comfortable favourites.
While there was an element of fortune to Coventry City’s victory, with Fulham generating 28 shots and scoring just once, Viktor Gyokeres’ goal deflecting in off the goalkeeper, and the final goal, a complete gift from Fulham’s defence, the Sky Blues’ performance ensured that luck could fall in their favour. Holding a good shape out of possession, energetic in the challenge, and playing some great combinations on the counter-attack, Coventry City both limited Fulham’s ability to settle into a rhythm and posed a consistent threat whenever they got on the ball.
There were similarities between this performance and the one on Tuesday night against Nottingham Forest, with the key difference being that it was Coventry City this time that took the lead. Additionally, there have been multiple other performances this season of a similar standard that have gone unrewarded. For all the talk of how this team has overachieved this year, this level of performance suggests that this set of players has been perfectly capable of achieving something greater than the mid-table finish they look set to attain.
These kind of displays could very well be the springboard to greater success next season, but they could also represent a missed opportunity. Improvement on this campaign is not guaranteed, for a multitude of factors. That is why this kind of result, as enjoyable as it is to experience, has to be seen as frustrating, because it represents that the end of this campaign need not have had to play out as the damp squib that it looks set to.
The Midfield Makes It Happen
The platform to this Coventry City victory came from midfield. Mark Robins made a slight tweak in this game, dropping Jamie Allen back into a deeper position to make it a 3-5-1-1, rather than the 3-4-2-1 that had been deployed last time out. That trio of Ben Sheaf, flanked by Jamie Allen and Gustavo Hamer in the centre of the pitch proved to be especially effective.
With Ben Sheaf playing the deepest of the three – although, with some licence to push forward – it allowed Jamie Allen and Gustavo Hamer to search energetically for opportunities to get into Fulham’s faces, without the fear of leaving space in behind them. What could have been a formation that left Coventry City with just one up front, saw them regularly get three or four players around the ball in the final third due to the runs that Allen and Hamer made from midfield.
It was yet another opportunity for Gustavo Hamer to demonstrate the strides he has made over the second half of this campaign, combining some wonderful moments of technical quality with excellent reading of the game to make him look a step or two ahead of most on the pitch. His assist for Callum O’Hare’s goal epitomised this, snapping the ball away from Tim Ream in the Fulham defence before laying it on a plate for his teammate, but it wasn’t the only moment where Gustavo Hamer opened the game up by catching Fulham completely unawares through expert timing in an interception.
Furthermore, Gustavo Hamer’s set-piece delivery was excellent, leading to not just Coventry City’s first goal, but further opportunities beyond that. Likely aided by the coaching staff identifying that Fulham’s goalkeeper, Marek Rodak, was not the most confident in claiming crosses, almost every one of Hamer’s set-pieces lead to moments of panic in the home team’s defence. For all his talent, Hamer’s end product from dead balls can underwhelm, but his accuracy in this game underlined just what a switched-on performance it was from the midfielder.
This is not to denigrate the efforts of Jamie Allen, Ben Sheaf and Callum O’Hare. In fact, Hamer was so effective because his team-mates played at a level closer to his standard than has been the case of late. Sheaf knitted things together in front of the defence, occasionally showing his quality with the odd foray forward. Allen covered a lot of ground and was purposeful in his use of the ball. O’Hare carried and released the ball a lot more effectively than he has done of late.
Altogether, it meant that Fulham had difficulty building momentum in possession and, when they gave the ball away, Coventry City were in a position to quickly transform defence into attack. Whether this set-up will work in games to come remains to be seen, but it demonstrates that this set of players has the qualities to threaten even the best this division has to offer.
Dominic Hyam Leads The Defence
In the absence of Kyle McFadzean, the concern with this Coventry City back-line is that they are missing a leader who can take charge when under pressure. Some of the sloppy goals conceded in recent games may have borne that out, but this game suggested that Dominic Hyam may well have an important role to play in the evolution beyond McFadzean.
Deployed in the middle of the back three, which has been a recent development, the Scottish centre-back’s calm head looks to be something of an asset. Michael Rose had been seen as the alternate central centre-back earlier in the campaign, however, his tendency to step up to attack the ball occasionally left space in behind. Hyam’s ability to assess when and where to challenge limits his risk of getting caught out in that manner, which keeps things safer at the back.
In this game, against a Fulham side looking constantly to fire in crosses for Aleksandar Mitrovic, this was as much a physical test for Dominic Hyam in the heart of the defence as it was a tactical one. Hyam’s diligent efforts in marking Mitrovic kept the Serb as quiet as could be hoped, making a handful of really well-timed interventions that stymied Fulham attacks.
Aided by solid displays from Michael Rose and Jake Bidwell either side of him, as well as some excellent saves from Simon Moore, this was a defensive performance from Coventry City that hinted towards what next season may look like. That a player signed when the club was preparing for League Two can remain at the heart of those plans is a testament to Dominic Hyam’s ability to rise to challenges faced.