Coventry City claimed their first away win of the season as they eked out a 1-0 victory against Cardiff City.
Within the first few minutes of the game, Viktor Gyokeres missed a sitter that would have put the team ahead. With the Sky Blues looking out of sorts for periods of the first-half, it looked an especially costly miss, however, the Swede made sure to put the ball into the back of the net when he next had the opportunity to later in the first-half.
In the lead, but far from comfortable, Coventry City appeared to have thrown their advantage away early in the second-half when Callum Robinson got on the end of a sliced Kyle McFadzean clearance from a corner-kick to put the ball into the back of the net, only for the referee to belatedly call for a dubious offside decision.
Following that reprieve, there appeared little danger of the final result changing as Coventry City held off a laboured Cardiff City outfit in the second-half. There were even two good chances to wrap things up earlier than the eventual final whistle. Not that anything other than the three points really mattered for the Sky Blues.
A Sloppy Performance
This was a display from Coventry City that left a lot to be desired from an aesthetic perspective. There were a lot of misplaced passes, moments of poor communication at the back, needless free-kicks conceded and limp challenges that could have been punished had Cardiff City been a little sharper in attack.
The first 25 minutes or so of this game were especially error-prone from Coventry City. The Sky Blues struggled to get on the ball and, when they did, they were only one or two moments from giving it back to their opponents. It was a performance that was characterised by sliced clearances from Coventry City, that could well have been taken advantage of by the opposition on another day.
There have been occasions this season where that kind of performance has been punished by the opposition and is why the Sky Blues sit at the bottom of the table. The difference between this game and others is that Coventry City took the lead, which gave them the platform to frustrate Cardiff City, rather than have to worry about taking the game to them.
Had Callum Robinson’s disallowed goal been given early in the second-half, just how capable the Sky Blues would have been in regaining the lead is a question that, thankfully, doesn’t have to be answered on this occasion. Recent games have highlighted just how important it is for this team to score the first goal, with the contrast between the last two games going to show how narrow the margins are for Coventry City at this moment in time.
As important as picking up points right now is, Mark Robins has to be careful to avoid these kind of performances becoming commonplace. Coventry City aren’t really in control of games at the moment and that has to become an ambition over time in order to pull away from danger. The Sky Blues cannot let the kind of sloppiness that was on display here become a habit.
The Impact Of An Early Substitution
Callum Doyle should consider it harsh that he was chosen to be taken off in the 23rd minute as he wasn’t playing much worse than any other Coventry City player at that moment in time. However, the call by Mark Robins was less about the individual player and more about sending a message to the team that their level of performance early on had not been acceptable. The result, as well as a modest improvement in performance, backed up the manager’s early gambit.
Tactically, having the right-footed Michael Rose on the right of the defence settled things down at the back. Callum Doyle had been caught on the ball early on after taking a touch to move it to his left-foot, which was probably why Mark Robins chose specifically to take the youngster off. Additionally, Rose played in a much more switched-on manner than he has for much of this season, which nudged the team in the right direction.
However, it has to be stressed that the impact the swap made to Coventry City’s level of performance was marginal. There was still a sloppy streak to a lot of what the Sky Blues did with and without the ball. The real impact of the change was that the mistakes were being made for different reasons, out of trying to make things happen rather than out of pure carelessness.
Mark Robins is rarely this proactive with his substitutions, often providing the players with as much opportunity as possible to sort things themselves. It really was a bold call to make such an early switch – highlighted by Callum Doyle’s clear upset at being taken off – but the alternative was to hope that Cardiff City wouldn’t score before there was a more acceptable window to make a change.
Nonetheless, it leaves Mark Robins with two key tasks to do in the coming days and weeks. The first is to ensure that Callum Doyle doesn’t take the decision too personally and is in a position to be called upon when needed. The second, and most important task, is to make sure that the team isn’t in a position any time soon where such an early substitution is required.
Doing Enough To Win
This was far from a vintage Coventry City performance, but it would be harsh to suggest that the win was entirely undeserved. The Sky Blues may have been sloppy for long periods of this game, but they (Cardiff City disallowed goal aside) had almost all of the best chances and could well have won by a more comfortable scoreline.
The concern as to what might have happened had Cardiff City scored when they were on top early on, or had drawn level in the second-half, was rendered moot on this occasion. While Coventry City may have invited pressure, they defended their penalty pretty well to limit Cardiff to scruffy half-chances and the occasional pot-shot. It meant that the Sky Blues didn’t have to be perfect going forward, they just had to keeping playing the ball into the opposing half and something would eventually happen.
The back three were, for the large part, resolute and disciplined in their duties. As has been a theme in recent games, there is a deliberate plan for the wing-backs to drop in to the defensive line and for the midfield to be pretty passive out of possession. While this invites pressure, it also means that the Sky Blues have players in the penalty area to defend crosses and block shots.
Going forward, it was a case of enthusiasm over guile for Coventry City. Viktor Gyokeres was his usual threat in muscling off defenders and carrying the ball forward, but he was able to get into some good positions because he was being backed up by energetic displays from Matt Godden, Jamie Allen and Josh Eccles behind him. For the goal, it was Jamie Allen pushing forward into the penalty area that meant Viktor Gyokeres could get himself in a position to tuck home a tap-in, rather than having to carry the ball from wide and deep past multiple defenders on his own, which he’s had to do a lot of lately.
Whether this is the kind of performance that can win multiple games in a row and push the team up the league shouldn’t really be the concern right now. Coventry City had won just one game out of ten prior to this win and were six points adrift of safety. A first away win of the campaign and just four points from 21st place looks a much rosier position. The Sky Blues can worry about dominating games and playing good football when and if they’ve get a buffer from danger to work with.