In the quest to get their season going, Coventry City claimed a valuable point on the road at Bristol City.
In a game that threatened to become more entertaining than the scoreline suggested, it was a case of Bristol City dominating possession and looking to pick a way through Coventry City’s defence, while the Sky Blues carried a threat on the counter-attack via Viktor Gyokeres and Kasey Palmer.
Both teams will ultimately feel that they could have done more to test the opposing goalkeeper. Bristol City managed to isolate and stretch Coventry City at the back on a handful of occasions but struggled to find a final ball. The Sky Blues had several good counter-attacks that were a good decision away from a goal. Given that, the point was a fair result.
Yet Another Clean Sheet
It was one thing to keep clean sheets against Birmingham City and a struggling Middlesbrough side, to have done so against a Bristol City outfit that had scored in every league game this season prior to this one really does suggest that a corner has been turned by the Coventry City defence.
It is now five and a quarter hours since Coventry City have conceded goal, a period that has more-or-less coincided with an injury picked up by Michael Rose that forced Mark Robins into utilising Callum Doyle and Jonathan Panzo either side of Kyle McFadzean in a back three. A shortage of options at the back may have made it easier for the manager to work with a specific set of players to get things right defensively. However, each of Doyle, McFadzean and Panzo deserve credit for playing with immense discipline recently.
There looks to be a nice balance between Kyle McFadzean, Callum Doyle and Jonathan Panzo in central defence. Doyle and Panzo as the wide centre-backs are very mobile, meaning that Kyle McFadzean doesn’t get dragged away from the centre and can focus on attacking aerial balls aggressively. Doyle, playing on his wrong side, deserves credit especially for how comfortable he has looked. Panzo has looked the likeliest to commit defensive lapses, but his pace in recovery is a handy get-out for both the team and himself.
Additionally, Ben Wilson form in goal over these past few matches has been more than welcome. The goalkeeper has shown in previous stints in the team that he has a rash streak in his game, but he too has managed to stick to the disciplined tone that has been set at the back. Without having to make many headline-grabbing saves, Wilson has been going about his business quietly, making saves when he needs to, claiming crosses when he needs to.
There were still moments in this game, as there have been in others, where that defensive discipline has slipped and the opposition have had what might have been otherwise avoidable chances, however, those lapses have been much fewer than earlier in the season. A third clean sheet in a row makes it five points out of three games, after taking two from the previous six. What had threatened to become an insurmountable gap to safety is now within touching distance, keeping it tight at the back makes a huge difference.
Stretched In Midfield
An area where Coventry City needed to improve based on this game, is the amount of space they left in midfield for Bristol City. Too often, the Sky Blues were sluggish in closing the opposition down in the centre of the pitch, allowing them to stroke the ball around into dangerous areas and isolate Coventry City’s defenders.
A key reason why the Sky Blues were so stretched in the middle of the park was due to the combination of the wing-backs tending to tuck in to join the back three out of possession and playing a front two. This left a lot of ground for Jamie Allen and Ben Sheaf to cover, particularly as Kasey Palmer often looked to join the attack. The midfield duo were often caught between trying to close down the man on the ball while trying to avoid leaving space in behind them.
It is a familiar issue for Coventry City, because of the way in which they line up in this 3-4-1-2 formation without the ball. It is often much closer to a 5-2-1-2 or a 5-3-2, which leaves a lot of space in wide areas especially. Against teams that are good on the ball, it leaves the Sky Blues especially prone to quick switches of the ball as the midfield comes out to cover one flank, leaving space on the other.
The thinking behind this approach is that it avoids the centre-backs being left in one-against-one situations against opposing attackers. This has become a particular concern this season because it is apparent that Coventry City’s defenders are either very slow or inexperienced. Additionally, it allows the Sky Blues to have defenders in the penalty areas to deal with the crosses that leaving space out wide tends to invite.
As has been seen in recent games, this can be an effective formula. However, it is an approach that can invite pressure and allow it to build. There were periods in this game where Coventry City could not get out to meet Bristol City in the centre of the park, allowing them to work situations to isolate individual Sky Blues players, which only required a better final ball to lead to a potential goal. Furthermore, because the midfield has to scramble backwards to cover gaps, it makes it harder to come out and clear the ball further away from danger, allowing the opposition to build attacking momentum.
Coventry City have shown recently that they can keep clean sheets, however, if they are to become a more comfortable defensive team, being more assertive in defending the area in front of the defence could be the key.
Matt Godden’s Continued Struggles
It is now six games in a row for Matt Godden without scoring. What’s worse for the striker is that he hasn’t really looked like doing so during that period, often appearing to be something of a peripheral figure. While he is the kind of forward whose best games involve doing little else other then scoring, this is a run of form that makes it hard to justify his place in the side.
it is a cruel twist of fate for Matt Godden that one of his best runs of fitness in recent years has seemingly coincided with one of his worst runs of form. Godden has been a difficult player to criticise during his time at Coventry City because he has scored when he has played, it’s just that he has rarely been available for long periods. The focus for so long has been on Godden finding a run of fitness, that he has rarely had to face the issue of attempting to play himself into form.
It probably doesn’t help Matt Godden that there is little sign of a relationship developing between himself and Viktor Gyokeres. Part of the issue is that they are both strikers that want to make runs in behind the opposition and would benefit from a strike partner who can drop deep to draw defenders away from them. The other issue is that Godden has yet to figure out whether, or if, Gyokeres will release the ball for him, making it difficult to time his runs in behind.
There were a few occasions in this game where Matt Godden got into good areas while Viktor Gyokeres was carrying the ball forward, only for the Swede to either release the ball later than Godden was anticipating, or go for a shot himself. Godden is doing a lot of hard-running at the moment, whether that’s off-the-ball runs or challenging defenders and attempting to link the play, but it’s going unrewarded both because he’s yet to develop an understanding with Viktor Gyokeres and that it’s not really Godden’s strength as a footballer to do those sort of things.
If the plan at the moment is to maximise Viktor Gyokeres’ output, Matt Godden may have to accept a role playing as a different kind of striker than he has been for much of his career. Whether Godden has the ability to do that, or if there are other strikers in the squad who can do that better, is a decision that Mark Robins may now have to make.