Coventry City turned around a two-goal deficit at St Andrew’s to breathe further life into a season that had looked over two games ago.
The Sky Blues looked to be in an impossible situation around the 40 minute mark, unable to get into a rhythm on the ball and two goals behind due to lacklustre marking from set-pieces. However, they were level at half-time thanks to Ben Sheaf stepping up with his first two goals for the club, both from set-pieces of Coventry City’s own.
The second-half saw the Sky Blues start to take control of affairs, but they still required another contribution from a dead-ball situation – this time Michael Rose meeting a Gustavo Hamer corner – to gain the lead. Looking somewhat nervy at the back, a cool finish from Callum O’Hare in the 90th minute meant that Coventry City would finally end the deadlock against their former landlords.
Set-Piece Panic Stations
This was a game that could have very easily have got away from Coventry City, after two sloppy goals were conceded from dead-balls within the first 40 minutes. With Birmingham City showing little quality from open-play, they clearly knew that their route to victory was through both set-pieces and throw-ins, the Sky Blues never looked comfortable in dealing with them.
The run of play leading to Birmingham City’s opening goal underlined a nervy defensive afternoon for Coventry City. A sloppy clearance from Jake Bidwell led to a long throw, that was just about dealt with, only for Bidwell to panic and put the ball out for the corner-kick from which the Blues took the lead.
Just about every corner-kick and long throw seemed to engender panic in the Coventry City back-line. Whether it was through poor marking or rushed, sliced clearances, the Sky Blues rarely seemed to find the calm required to stymie Birmingham City’s biggest, and pretty much only, attacking threat.
It feels like something that has crept into Coventry City’s game recently, perhaps related to the absences of Kyle McFadzean and Jake Clarke-Salter leaving the team short on natural centre-backs. For a team that tends to have a lot of the ball but isn’t exactly the most free-scoring at the other end (save for the last two games) allowing opponents goals outside of the flow of the game really can be costly. It is a key area for Mark Robins and the coaching staff to work on over the final weeks of the campaign.
Finding A Way To Win
At two goals down, it looked like Coventry City had played right into Birmingham City’s hands. The Blues had turned the game into a low-quality scrap, with the comfort of their lead meaning that all they had to do was stop the game getting into a rhythm and they would probably win. With Viktor Gyokeres well-marshalled in attack, the midfield unable to settle in possession, it was going to take a great effort to turn the game around.
Grabbing two goals from set-pieces to cancel out Birmingham City’s lead before half-time was a crucial slice of fortune for Coventry City, but the players had gone some way to earn that luck. The Sky Blues added tempo to their game both with and without the ball in an attempt to turn the screw on the Blues, engendering the rhythm that had been missing earlier in the game.
It is a testament to the commitment of this set of players that their response to finding themselves in a difficult situation was to stick to the plan, rather than try their own thing. It has been a theme throughout this season that, even when things have gone against this side, the players have continued to plug away, with the past two games demonstrating what can happen when belief is allied with hard work.
The second-half eventually saw more quality from Coventry City. There was greater intent to the passing and running of the team, with Birmingham City beginning to struggle to contain what the Sky Blues were doing. Although it took another goal from a set-piece to turn the scoreline on its head, it was the away side that looked in the ascendancy.
While this was far from Coventry City’s best performance of the season, it was a display that underlined the qualities that have made this such an excellent campaign – and one that could still get better. This is a team that can not only play some really slick football, but has the desire to graft through adversity. It would have been easy for these players to let this game slip away from them – as the season, as a whole, would have two games ago – that they made sure they won this is the exact reason why the Sky Blues still have something to play for.
For both their quality and their commitment to the cause, this is a set of players that I am proud to see pull on the Coventry City shirt.
Viktor Gyokeres Is The Vital Cog
To single out just one individual from what was a determined Coventry City performance, Viktor Gyokeres had, in my opinion, the biggest impact in turning this game around. While Ben Sheaf scored twice, and Gustavo Hamer supplied the deliveries for three of the four goals, it was Viktor Gyokeres’ relentlessness in attack that turned a difficult situation into an, eventually, comfortable one.
The recent tweak to a 3-5-1-1 formation places a lot of responsibility on Viktor Gyokeres, as the centre-forward, to be both a presence in the opposition half and a genuine threat on goal. When this system was attempted last year, with Maxime Biamou in that lone striker role, it was apparent just how detrimental it can be to the team’s attacking threat to have such little natural support around the centre-forward. The first 40 minutes of this game served as a further demonstration of this.
The difference between Viktor Gyokeres and Maxime Biamou (to name just one), is that Gyokeres is not only a hard-working, physical presence up front but that he is genuinely skilful, meaning that he requires less support to both get the team up the pitch and threaten the goal. Effectively marked by three Birmingham City players, sometimes more than that, Gyokeres’ combination of relentless effort and technical skill made him almost impossible to contain.
Without scoring, the panic that Viktor Gyokeres engendered in Birmingham City’s back-line gradually made them more scared of pushing forward, knowing that they’d have to find a way to deal with the Swede when their attacks were repelled. Gyokeres’ display was underlined by the injury that he caused the young Blues defender, Nico Gordon, who twisted a muscle in a vain attempt to keep up with the Coventry City striker.
It must give this team great confidence to know that all they have to do is play the ball in the general direction of Viktor Gyokeres and they have a good chance of getting up the pitch. Perhaps that is why there was such little panic when they went two goals down, they knew that their striker would get them out of the trenches.
This was a centre-forward display from Viktor Gyokeres that showed why there is so much more to being a centre-forward than scoring goals. It is good to have a big Swede on your side.