Coventry City salvaged a late point in an opening day trip to Sunderland, in familiar fashion to last season.
Second-best for much of the first-half, the Sky Blues fell behind after Lynden Gooch bamboozled Jake Bidwell out wide and floated in a cross that tempted Simon Moore out of position and allowed for Jack Clarke to put Sunderland ahead. With Coventry City struggling to find a rhythm, the Black Cats manufactured some decent chances to double their lead from then on.
After finding a belated notion of fluency in the second-half, the Sky Blues had Sunderland largely in their own half, albeit, looking unlikely to score. That was until Viktor Gyokeres produced a mazy run from nowhere and a thunderous strike to earn a point for Coventry City.
A Lack of Fluency
Going away to a newly-promoted side backed by a raucous home crowd on the opening day of the season was always going to be a difficult assignment, however, Coventry City struggled to take the sting out of the game. Perhaps the recent news of Callum O’Hare’s absence disrupted the team’s preparations, but the Sky Blues never really found much of a rhythm and it allowed Sunderland the head of steam they were looking for.
The first-half performance was particularly error-strewn from Coventry City. Promising attacks fell apart due to poor decision-making, sloppy passes made it difficult to get into any kind of rhythm in possession, and there were a few too many gaps at the back for Sunderland to run at and exploit. Lapses in concentration from both Jake Bidwell and Simon Moore allowed the home side to take the lead and the Sky Blues were somewhat fortunate that Sunderland didn’t add to their advantage before the break.
The second-half began in a similar vein, with the difference being that Sunderland became content to soak up pressure, break the game up with niggly fouls and wait for the opportunities on the counter-attack. While Mark Robins deserves credit for trying to change things up with the triple substitution, it didn’t really amount to Coventry City turning the screw on their opponents, before Viktor Gyokeres scored from that excellent run and strike.
Just how much the lack of fluency was down to it being the first game of the season and how much of it may be an indicator of the level this Coventry City might be at this year is way too early to tell. It is a concern that this game continued the theme from last season of taking too long to get going, conceding the first goal and being left to chase a game that could have been won.
As brilliant as salvaging points from late on is, if the target this season is progress, this team has to find a way to avoid the requirement for them in the first place.
Gyokeres Finds A Way
If there is one player that Coventry City have to hope that they can hold onto before the end of the transfer window, it is Viktor Gyokeres. The Swede’s winning goal from absolutely nowhere demonstrated just why his impact for this team is invaluable.
Picking up the ball from mid-way in the Sunderland half and under pressure from two players, Viktor Gyokeres was able to slalom himself into a position from outside the penalty area to hit the ball powerfully into the bottom corner of the net. It was a goal from an area of the pitch where Sunderland would have been happy for Coventry City to have the ball, to turn such a low percentage opportunity into the breakthrough moment is typical of Viktor Gyokeres.
This was a game in which Viktor Gyokeres was feeding on scraps and was somehow the team’s biggest threat nonetheless. Even in the sloppy first-half performance, it was Gyokeres who manufactured Coventry City’s biggest moments. That ability to drag the team up the pitch by chasing passes he is second-favourite to, to out-compete opposing defenders, and then to have the control to suddenly turn away and continue with the ball means that he is always a danger.
With Viktor Gyokeres on the pitch, this Coventry City side knows they have a route forward. That is likely to be a key reason why this team kept going despite an equaliser having looked unlikely. This wasn’t the first time that Gyokeres has produced something out of nothing for the Sky Blues to win them points, let’s hope it’s not the last.
Jonathan Panzo Catches The Eye
As the one debutant in the starting line-up, Jonathan Panzo’s performance was of keen interest to Coventry City fans. The Nottingham Forest loanee certainly had a number of eye-catching moments throughout the game but there was also a wild streak apparent that will need to be tempered as he settles into the side.
The most notable thing about Jonathan Panzo is how both quick and physically powerful he is. Those are great qualities to have as a defender as they make it easier to compete with opposing forwards. Panzo used them both of them well throughout the 90 minutes, winning several challenges that he might otherwise have been second favourite to and helping to snuff out some promising Sunderland attacks.
However, Jonathan Panzo’s positioning on a few occasions looked a little suspect. He clearly wants to be a positive, proactive defender, which saw him step into midfield quite a lot, which is where he ended up leaving space in behind him. Both Kyle McFadzean and Dominic Hyam often had to step across to cover the space Panzo vacated, leaving the defence stretched. Furthermore, Panzo was fortunate on a couple of moments where his opponent got goal-side of him and he could use his pace and physical strength to claw back dangerous situations.
With the ball at his feet, Jonathan Panzo further emphasised his positivity as a defender. Carrying the ball quite nicely into midfield on several occasions – one of which led to a well-hit shot from Panzo himself that could have gone in – the left-sided centre-back looks a key outlet for the team in the build-up play. The caveat is that Panzo also gave the ball away rather dangerously on a few occasions.
For better or worse, Jonathan Panzo looks to be the kind of player that is hard to take your eyes off of. With excellent physical gifts and a good level of technical ability, there is clearly a very talented centre-back for Mark Robins and the coaching staff to work with. The key will be in that work to iron out those rough edges in his game.