Coventry City were left to wonder what could have been as they let a two-goal lead at The Den slip away from them on a swelteringly hot August afternoon.
Ahead early on after Kyle McFadzean headed in from a corner-kick, the Sky Blues doubled their advantage after a well-worked move on the left saw Jake Bidwell cross for Matt Godden, who just about managed to poke the ball past Bartosz Bialkowski in the Millwall goal.
With little sign of a Millwall response, a Simon Moore flap at a set-piece he should have stayed home for gave the Lions something to build on for the rest of the game. Despite Coventry City looking in control for much of the second-half, Millwall found an equaliser after the impressive Tyler Burey had a shot that hit the post and was tapped in by George Honeyman on the rebound.
The Sky Blues looked well-set to register a response to that setback, only for a silly challenge from a booked Gustavo Hamer saw the midfielder sent-off and Coventry City down to ten-men. The away team held fairly firm against a Millwall side that created little, only for George Saville to find himself with a little too much time in the penalty area for the Lions to win them the game.
Two Costly Errors
At 2-0 up in the first-half, Coventry City were looking comfortable. It wasn’t exactly a flowing performance from the Sky Blues, but Millwall were equally low on gumption. On a swelteringly hot day, two Coventry City goals looked like it would give the home side too much to do.
That was before the first turning point of the game, Simon Moore’s costly decision to come out to claim a cross from a set-piece that he had little chance of getting to. It was the second such error in successive games from Moore and gave Millwall something to work with on an afternoon that didn’t look like was going their way.
Coventry City finally found their rhythm in the second-half, kept the ball well and worked some decent openings. Despite finding themselves level after an excellent run and shot from Millwall’s star-man, Tyler Burey, hit the post and was poked in by George Honeyman, the Sky Blues looked the likelier team to go on and win the game.
However, Gustavo Hamer, already on a yellow card, made the reckless decision to charge into a challenge he was comfortably second favourite to in order to prevent the dangerous Burey on the counter-attack and that killed off Coventry City’s momentum. While the defence did well to contain the home side despite the disadvantage, Millwall were on top and were able to score after George Saville had space and time in the penalty area (which is where having an extra man in midfield may have helped) to pick a finish for the winning goal.
In a plus 30-degree Celsius temperature and with ten-men, there was little chance of Coventry City finding a late equaliser. It was a frustratingly avoidable defeat, it was not a case of Millwall unleashing an onslaught after falling behind, the Sky Blues’ wounds were self-inflicted. Greater concentration and discipline has to be the target over the coming weeks.
The Aching Chasm In Midfield
Another area for improvement, beyond avoiding mistakes, is how Coventry City set up their midfield. There were a few too many occasions in this game when the Sky Blues left themselves open on the counter-attack after losing the ball in the middle of the pitch, which was a key factor in Millwall’s equaliser.
The otherwise excellent Ben Sheaf dithered slightly over picking a final option after progressing the ball to the edge of the penalty area. After losing the ball, Millwall could quickly get the ball to Tyler Burey, who carried the ball around 20-30 yards up the pitch and dragged Dominic Hyam out of position before getting a shot off on goal.
A key reason why Coventry City can be left stretched in midfield is because of how the team lines up in its 3-4-1-2 formation. The wing-backs have a tendency to drop deep, while the attacking midfielder often pushes forward to join the attack, leaving two men to cover a lot of ground in the centre of the pitch. While part of the idea is that having a back three provides extra cover to prevent counter-attacks, a key issue is that the Sky Blues’ central defence doesn’t look particularly strong when being ran at directly by quick opposing players.
The amount of ground the midfield has to cover for Coventry City may also be a factor in Gustavo Hamer’s tendency to pick up bookings. While the midfielder cannot be excused the sheer number of fouls he concedes, he is often left in situations where he has to make a choice between going for the ball or letting opponents run past him because of that lack of cover around him. Perhaps this is where dropping Jamie Allen slightly deeper to make it a midfield three would be helpful, although that may cause issues further forward.
Ben Sheaf Runs The Show
The bright spot of the afternoon for Coventry City was the performance of Ben Sheaf in central midfield, especially in the second-half. In a scrappy game that lacked much of a flow, Sheaf was the cool, authoritative head that took hold of the contest. Had one of the several efforts that he had on goal had gone in, this would have been a statement performance from the midfielder.
While Ben Sheaf didn’t really get into much of a rhythm in the first-half, his reading of the game and timing in the challenge stymied Millwall’s efforts to get anything going. Additionally, Sheaf’s use of possession was more refined than those around him in Sky Blue in the opening period, who were often looking to simply get the ball away. From some well-timed interceptions to neat little interchanges with team-mates to navigate Millwall’s press, it was a quietly composed showing from Sheaf in the first 45 minutes.
It was in the second-half where Ben Sheaf really took a step up in his performance. Sheaf started to get on the front foot and win the ball back high up the pitch in order to get Coventry City quickly on the attack. With Gustavo Hamer finding his radar in possession alongside him, Sheaf gave the Sky Blues a level of control over proceedings that they didn’t really have in the first-half, which is where the game should have been won but for errors from those around Sheaf.
Ben Sheaf had more touches of the ball and made more passes than any other player on the pitch in this game, emphasising his control over proceedings. Scoring goals is neither his strength nor his job, but the only blot on his copy book in this match was that he could have been a little more decisive on a few occasions when on the edge of the penalty area.
If people are going to talk about Coventry City’s best players, they really should be putting Ben Sheaf in those sentences.