The Wrap: Norwich City – 0-3

Coventry City fell to a three-goal defeat to Norwich City at Carrow Road without putting up much of a fight.

There was a clear gulf between the two teams that was apparent from very early on, with the Canaries catching Gustavo Hamer on the ball in a dangerous area to take the lead within the first 15 minutes.

The Sky Blues rallied enough following that early blow to have the ball in the back of the net, however, Tyler Walker was in an offside position near the Norwich City goalkeeper, rendering Kyle McFadzean’s thumping half-volley following a corner-kick moot. Nonetheless, 1-0 down was far from a disaster entering the half-time break.

However, a poor pass around the half-way line from Michael Rose left Teemu Pukki in a foot-race against Kyle McFadzean that he was always favourite for, with his ball into the box converted by Josh Sargent in order to render the second-half a non-event.

Despite Viktor Gyokeres’ best efforts, Coventry City clearly didn’t have enough to make a game of it from that point onward. Norwich City eventually found a third goal, after an excellent ball over the top by Todd Cantwell sent Josh Sargent in behind, with his cushioned pass teeing up Kieran Dowell to kill off the long-dead hopes of a Sky Blues comeback.

Not The Time To Be Leaving Star Performers On The Bench

Mark Robins will have to accept his portion of the blame for this defeat. While the killer two goals for Norwich City resulted from individual errors, the decision to leave Viktor Gyokeres on the bench was, quite frankly, bizarre.

In similar kinds of games last season, where Coventry City had to play on the counter away from home against an opponent looking to dominate the ball, Viktor Gyokeres’ work-rate, physical presence and ability to dribble past defenders had been crucial in giving the team an outlet, and a threat. Without Gyokeres in the starting line-up, the Sky Blues lacked a presence up top in the first-half and found themselves under pressure time and again because they had little way of turning defence into attack.

If the plan was to keep Viktor Gyokeres in reserve in order to utilise him against a tired defence later on, it fell apart because the lack of a Gyokeres-figure in attack hamstrung the team to the extent that Norwich City’s goals were inevitable. As much as Tyler Walker laboured up front, and while Kasey Palmer did a few interesting things in support, the inability to confidently move the ball forward rendered the game largely one-way traffic.

The importance of Viktor Gyokeres was only hammered home further in the second-half, where he nearly scored with his first touch of the ball and quickly caused Norwich City’s defence such difficulty that they took the decision to become more pragmatic in their approach. Defending is a team effort and having forwards in the team of Gyokeres’ qualities can be just as important as it is to have competent, battling competitors at the back.

While the congested fixture list this season will force Mark Robins into strategic decisions about when and how much he uses individual players, this is not the time to pick anything other than his strongest team. The postponed games, arguably, distort where this team ranks against the rest of the division, but the table puts Coventry City bottom and adrift of safety by seven points. The longer the team stays in this position, the more the pressure will mount.

Errors Turn A Tough Situation Into An Impossible One

It would be difficult to argue that the difference between the two teams in this game was solely the individual mistakes that led to the first two of Norwich City’s goals, however, being on level terms for a longer period could have made things interesting.

Coventry City had set up to contain in this game, which placed the emphasis on being immaculate at the back. The Sky Blues narrow midfield formation left space out wide for Norwich City to switch the ball quickly to open up space, but that may have been a strategic decision to cede territory in relatively unthreatening areas in order to be more compact centrally.

Norwich City were excellent in the first-half, with their movement in midfield making the Sky Blues’ task of containing them especially difficult. They may not have required the errors that Coventry City went on to make in order to win the game, but it made for a more comfortable afternoon than it could have been.

The Canaries had eleven shots in the opening 45 minutes (which adds to the argument that a way through was likely to eventually arrive), but, according to Infogol’s Expected Goals data, it was only the two goals that had more than a 10% chance of going in. Entering the game, Mark Robins would have been content in limiting the opposition to pot-shots on goal, which is what Coventry City were largely able to do, but the errors meant that it didn’t matter.

First, Gustavo Hamer was caught on the ball by Norwich City’s Marcelino Nunez, leading to Teemu Pukki to be sent through on goal to finish in familiar fashion for the Finn. Having settled down at the back after that opener, even doing enough to put the ball into the back of the net, Michael Rose gave the ball away sloppily on the half-way line just before the break, leaving McFadzean in a foot-race with Pukki, creating an overload at the back from which the in-form Josh Sargent effectively sealed Norwich’s victory.

The second-half became essentially a non-event because of how comfortable Norwich City’s lead was, but the period between those two first-half goals suggested that Coventry City could have made a game of it had the scoreline been closer. There is no denying that the Canaries were comfortably the better team, but football doesn’t always work like that and the Sky Blues may have had a chance of garnering a positive result had they not shot themselves in the foot.

Unable To Take An Opportunity To Make A Game Of It

What is more concerning? Setting up to contain an opponent and making individual errors to cede the game? Or is it being handed the chance to get back into said game by opposition taking their foot off the pedal and not taking that chance? This game posed just those questions.

It wasn’t just the introduction of Viktor Gyokeres that injected life into Coventry City’s performance in the second-half of this game, there was also an apparent drop in focus in how Norwich City were playing. From the immaculate movement and laser-sharp use of the ball in the first-half to playing aimlessly in the second-half and becoming rather sloppy in their passing.

It only further highlighted the gulf in quality between the two teams that when Coventry City made mistakes in the first-half, they were punished. When the reverse happened in the second-half, the Sky Blues struggled to even test Tim Krul in the Norwich City goal.

After starting so brightly in that second period, with Viktor Gyokeres sent clean through on goal after excellent work by Jamie Allen and Tyler Walker, then Fankaty Dabo getting in an excellent position to either shoot or cross for the strikers, Coventry City only had one more shot in the game – an effort from Gyokeres that ballooned out for a corner.

Maybe Norwich City deserve some credit for spotting the danger Viktor Gyokeres posed after he came on and opting to play more cautiously, but they were still rather lackadaisical in their passing, presenting the Sky Blues with a number of chances to get on the counter and get back into the game. There were too many poor decisions and sloppy touches when in promising areas, as well as a lack of structure in Coventry City’s attacking play, which stymied their own threat – which was only made worse by the later introductions of Matt Godden and Fabio Tavares, supposedly two attacking moves.

If the Sky Blues are going to be a team this season that struggles to defend, they are going to be behind in games often and they are going to face similar situations as in the second-half of this contest, where the opposition sits back and hands Coventry City time on the ball. While this was something this team was so good at last season, this is not the first time they have been in this situation this time out and looked somewhat aimless in their attacking play.

It serves to enhance the emphasis on becoming tighter at the back, otherwise games will continue to get away from this Coventry City team.

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