Coventry City fell to defeat at the MKM Stadium on their return to Championship action after a two-week break.
Behind early on to a predatory piece of finishing from Hull City’s star-man, Oscar Estupinan, the Sky Blues awoke from an early torpor to get back into the game, with Kasey Palmer winning a penalty that was converted by Matt Godden to make it 1-1.
With little in the contest, it was that extra touch of quality from the best player on the pitch, Estupinan, that turned the game in Hull City’s favour. Perhaps the Colombian was lucky as the ball twice fell his way in the six-yard box with an empty net ahead either side of half-time, perhaps Coventry City could have defended both situations better, but for it to happen three times in the same game suggests it was more than luck for the Championship’s top-scorer.
There was another Sky Blues rally to close the game out, with Matt Godden there at the back-post to head home a Michael Rose flick-on from a corner-kick, but the away side couldn’t quite do enough to lay claim to the point that they probably deserved from this game.
The Defence Needs To Give This Team A Chance
Heading into a trip to a Hull City side that had started the season well and with Coventry City three games short in terms of match fitness than their opponents, a defeat in this game is understandable. This was a tough assignment for the Sky Blues, and, for the most part, they acquitted themselves well.
Hull City were on top in the early stages, which is perhaps where the contrasting levels of sharpness between the two teams was most apparent, and took the lead to cap off that period of dominance. It would have been easy from that stage onwards for Coventry City to let their heads drop, but they continued to put in the yards and started to find their mojo on the ball, eventually working a neat move that won a penalty-kick to level the scores.
The next half hour was when game was lost and it was without Coventry City really doing too much wrong. Possession was fairly even, the number of chances created by either side was fairly even, the difference was that the ball ended up twice in the back of the Sky Blues’ net.
From a Hull City perspective, they will be celebrating the predatory centre-forward instincts of Oscar Estupinan, their hat-trick hero. The Championship’s top-scorer seems to have a happy habit of the ball deflecting his way in the penalty area, with seven goals in six appearances reflecting that his return in this game was no fluke. Nonetheless, Coventry City’s defence will surely feel that they could have done more to prevent Estupinan for each of his strikes.
The goals conceded were less about individual errors and more about a lack of individuals taking charge in defensive situations. From Simon Moore in goal, to the three centre-backs in front of him, as well as those further forward, Coventry City seem to be a little too reactive defensively. Attention is often solely on the opponent with the ball, which is where gaps elsewhere begin to open up. When the ball bounces in the penalty area, the focus is on where it will end up, rather than where opposing players, and even team-mates, are. What can look like bad luck in terms of deflections may also be the result of a lack of concentration or assertiveness defensively.
Coventry City have only kept one clean sheet in the league this calendar year, but only have a negative three goal difference over that period. It’s not that this team has dropped off a cliff in terms of performances, they have played to a good standard but have continued to leak goals that has meant they are chasing results rather than controlling games and winning more consistently.
Even if a clean sheet was not possible in this game given the quality of the opposing centre-forward, keeping the score at just one for the opposition would have provided Coventry City with the chance to win here. For too long now, sloppiness at the back has resulted in the Sky Blues coming out of games with less than they deserve.
A Squad With Quantity, Possibly Short On Quality
The prospective departure of Dominic Hyam loomed over this game for Coventry City. To be allowing a player who has been such a key part of the team’s rise over the past five years go to, seemingly, help balance the books, does not speak to the club being in a particularly healthy place. However, the loss of Hyam doesn’t exactly leave the team short on numbers in defence.
With Kyle McFadzean, Michael Rose, Jonathan Panzo and Callum Doyle available to call upon, with Jake Bidwell and Ben Sheaf capable of covering in an emergency, there is an argument that the team can shoulder the departure of Dominic Hyam – with a potential shift to a back four further negating the need for a replacement. However, almost all of the aforementioned players currently in situ in the Sky Blues’ defence have serious question marks against them as regular starters in the Championship. Similar concerns can be echoed across much of the squad.
In goal, there is little pressure on Simon Moore’s place in goal as Ben Wilson has exhibited recently just why the former is safely number one. In midfield, Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer are among the team’s best players, with Jamie Allen and Josh Eccles nowhere close to being able to step into their place were both to be absent. Up front, both Matt Godden and Viktor Gyokeres will probably score at least 15 goals each this season, the other options are there purely to hand them a rest from time-to-time.
This looks to be why Coventry City have stalled over the past eight months. It’s not that the club have been unable to sign players, it’s that the players that have arrived haven’t added further quality to what is already available. A lack of financial power is clearly a key factor at play here, but there is also an argument as to whether Mark Robins and the recruitment team could have found ways to make more of the little they’ve had available to them.
As much as it was a good effort to make this game interesting given all that went against Coventry City, Mark Robins was left to throw the strikers on and hope that something might happen. From both how the team looked to chase this game to how they might have prevented the goals conceded, it’s hard not to argue that an extra touch of quality wouldn’t go amiss.
These remaining days of the transfer window could be a time to address that, but it feels like it would be a greater achievement right now to avoid any further weakening.
A Few Reasons To Be Cheerful
There are lot of reasons to feel pessimistic as a Coventry City fan right now. Those postponements are not only a mighty inconvenience but have opened up old wounds regarding how it is felt the club is run. With further factors of a lack of investment in the playing squad this summer, the likelihood that Dominic Hyam will not be the only departure before the end of the transfer window, and poor form to start the campaign (which has stretched over from last season), the Sky Blues are in danger of falling into a full-blown crisis – some might argue they already are.
That is why I want to close out this article with some reasons for positivity. After all, this was far from a terrible performance from Coventry City. After falling behind early, then shipping two pretty soft goals either side of half-time, it says a lot about the character of this set of players that they plugged away to make a game of this.
The main source of positivity about this Coventry City side three games into the league season comes in the form of Ben Sheaf. The midfielder took a big step forward last year and has followed that up with further excellent performances at the start of this campaign. In Gustavo Hamer’s absence for this match, there was extra responsibility on Sheaf’s shoulders to not just keep possession ticking over but to do something with the ball. At the heart of just about everything good that the Sky Blues did in this game, Ben Sheaf showed here that he can be as much an orchestrator as he is a facilitator.
Kasey Palmer, in his first league start for the club, showed some promising signs in this game. Billed as something of a languid, flair player, Palmer was almost anything but in the number ten role here. Bustling with energy just behind the strikers, Palmer won the ball in some great areas for this team, which is especially encouraging given that is exactly the role the injured Callum O’Hare plays so well for this team. A key part in how the team got back into the game from 1-0 down – almost playing as a target-man, at times – if Palmer can build on this performance, it will go a long way to account for the absence of the aforementioned O’Hare.
Jake Bidwell at left wing-back also deserves credit, for both this performance and how he has started the season. Having been in danger of being something of a flop after arriving in January, Bidwell’s energy and occasionally touches of quality down the left side are more befitting of a left wing-back of his experience in this division.
Finally, Matt Godden played exactly the role expected him in this game – having done so against Millwall two weeks ago – that of putting the ball into the back of the net despite limited involvement in the game otherwise. There still may be a question of whether what is good for Godden is good for the rest of the team, but it is a far better problem to have to figure out what to do with a striker that scores goals than one that doesn’t.