Coventry City had to salvage a point late-on at home Rotherham United, in a fraught, energetic contest at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
After a sloppy start to the game, the Sky Blues appeared to have found their flow before a loose pass from Kasey Palmer allowed Rotherham United to get in behind and take the lead through Cohen Bramall.
Coventry City created some excellent chances for Jamie Allen and Kasey Palmer in the second-half, but the duo lacked the killer instinct in order to tie the scores. An equaliser eventually came, with Gustavo Hamer and Kasey Palmer combining to allow the former to finish past Rotherham United’s Viktor Johansson.
The Sky Blues looked in a good position to push for the win but were left to chase the game again as Rotherham United pounced on some uncertain defend to quickly regain the lead. Fortunately, a late penalty won by Callum O’Hare allowed Viktor Gyokeres to salvage a point in second-half stoppage time.
Short Blanket Syndrome
On the one hand, Coventry City had what was probably their best attacking performance of the season. On the other, they conceded more goals in this game than in their past seven. Given the nature of the goals let in, it’s hard not to feel like the two go hand in hand.
With Kasey Palmer, Callum O’Hare and Gustavo Hamer now all available to Mark Robins, there is the potential for Coventry City to become a much more exciting attacking unit than before. There were tantalising signs of what may be possible when the trio – along with Ben Sheaf and Viktor Gyokeres – are all at full speed. Some of the quick passing and moments of individual skill in this game from the Sky Blues were incredible and were apparent in each of the goals scored.
The flip-side of that is that the two goals conceded were, more or less, the direct result of playing in a more attack-minded manner. For the first Rotherham United goal, a loose pass from Kasey Palmer allowed the Millers’ Daniel Barlaser to play a ball in behind Fankaty Dabo, with Ben Wilson then stuttering in coming off his line to make the finish for Cohen Bramall relatively straightforward. For the second, Coventry City looked like they had been caught cold at the back just after equalising.
This game appeared to highlight a big issue that Mark Robins will have to solve over the coming games. There are some good attacking players in this team but the defenders can struggle when left exposed. If the team plays in a more attack-minded manner, it risks leaving the defence in situations it cannot handle. If the team plays more defensively, that may be a waste of those talented attacking players.
Given that this was the first time this season that Coventry City have been able to call upon Viktor Gyokeres, Kasey Palmer, Callum O’Hare, Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf all at the same time, some leeway should be afforded as Mark Robins looks to get the best out of his squad. There is no reason at the moment why a balance between defence and attack is not possible, but it may take a few more awkward performances, such as this one, in order to get there.
Mark Robins was put in an awkward position in the second-half, after the injuries to Martyn Waghorn and Fankaty Dabo in the first-half left him with just one slot left to make changes. As the game wore on, it was apparent that Coventry City needed the injection of energy from a the bench in order to find the breakthrough. While the introductions of Callum O’Hare, Todd Kane and Jonathan Panzo coincided with the first equaliser, the defensive unfamiliarity the switches engendered meant the Sky Blues conceded again quickly and had to chase the game in the closing stages.
Whether Mark Robins could have been smarter about when he made that final change and whom he took off is debatable. Losing Martyn Waghorn and Fankaty Dabo so early not only restricted the number of changes that could be made but what options were then available to the manager. There were few attacking players left on the bench, but it was the change in defence that was the most curious.
Taking off Kyle McFadzean in order to enable the talented passer, Callum Doyle to play in the middle of the back three made sense with the team chasing the game. McFadzean had been slowing the team’s play down with his limited passing range, while Doyle gave the team better options and tempo out of defence with him now in the heart of the backline. However, Doyle struggled to impose himself on Rotherham United’s Tom Eaves, which led to their second goal and almost allowed the visitors to see the result out as they targeted that mismatch to help them hold the ball up in Coventry City’s half. With the benefit of hindsight, it may have been smarter to either keep McFadzean on or have moved the more experienced Michael Rose into the centre so that the team could still have benefitted from Doyle’s ability on the ball from the back without being left short of physicality.
The move to take off Jake Bidwell so that Todd Kane could be utilised on his weaker side was harder to decipher. For all of the praise Bidwell has received this season, it is not an endorsement of his qualities as an attacking force that the manager felt his best option was to take the left wing-back off in favour of someone on their wrong side with the team chasing the game. Todd Kane didn’t really have the opportunity to play well or poorly with the limited time he had on the ball after coming on, although there was one moment where he was unable to receive a Callum O’Hare pass on the byline due to not being left-footed.
The key point here was that it was far from ideal to only be able to make one set of changes in the second-half. It was a choice between not doing enough and doing too much. That the team scored so soon after those changes was both a blessing and a curse. It provided immediate justification of Mark Robins’ gambit but also meant that the team didn’t get time settle down before they found themselves in a completely different match situation. More gradual changes would have been ideal, but that wasn’t possible, the final result at least meant that the impact of the substitutions was a net positive.
Injuries Mount, Again
With Callum O’Hare returning from injury, alongside Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf being available again following suspensions, there has been growing optimism around Coventry City that the team was now at full strength. However, injuries in this game to Martyn Waghorn and Fankaty Dabo, along with Josh Eccles picking up a knock, add to the recent blows to Matt Godden and Liam Kelly to leave the Sky Blues looking short once again.
Given the hectic fixture list since the start of last week and continuing over the next two, injuries were almost an inevitability for the Sky Blues. It is crucial that Mark Robins finds a way to rotate his options to avoid key players burning out, but recent blows leave the manager with very little room to do so.
In attack, any setback for Victor Gyokeres would now leave the team without someone who can lead the forward line. In defence, there is not only no natural cover for Jake Bidwell at left wing-back but the squad is only two injuries in central defence away from either playing kids or having to change formation.
For all of the rightful excitement that the recent winning streak has engendered, the belief that this team can not only get out of danger but can push up the table and maybe even achieve something this season, the thin nature of the squad may well cap ambition somewhat. Getting to the World Cup out of the relegation zone – with any buffer, even better – has to be the aim given that there remains a risk that having to play so many games in a short period negates the benefit of having games in hand.
The next few weeks for Coventry City will be a test of endurance as much as it is a test of the team’s quality.