Coventry City squandered a first-half lead at home to Blackpool to lose what could be the last game in Coventry for a while.
Struck by an illness in the camp, a makeshift Sky Blues line-up oscillated between brilliant and shambolic in the first-half. There was some excellent combination play between Kasey Palmer, Callum O’Hare, Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen to open up Blackpool’s defence, but the Coventry City goal was almost equally at threat.
The Sky Blues appeared to have benefitted for the rub of the green at the half-time break. First, Kasey Palmer rounded off an excellent move to put the team ahead in a level game. Second, Blackpool had a goal belatedly disallowed for offside just before the break.
However, Coventry City did not benefit from those strokes of fortune in the second-half and only seems to encourage their opponents as they chased the game. First, Blackpool levelled after a move was begun by Callum Doyle under-hitting a pass back to Ben Wilson while under pressure. Then, the Sky Blues were punished for further soft defending to throw away even a share of the points.
The headline of an illness-affected starting XI for Coventry City in this game was that there was not a recognised striker in the team. With Matt Godden, Fabio Tavares and Martyn Waghorn injured, and Viktor Gyokeres and Tyler Walker both deemed not fit enough to start, Mark Robins instead deployed Kasey Palmer and Callum O’Hare at the top end of a 3-4-1-2 system.
Both Palmer and O’Hare did a lot of the work that traditional forwards would, closing the opposition high up the pitch, making runs in behind Blackpool’s defence and generally acting as the reference points in the final third that the team would expect from their strikers. While the duo had a tendency to drop deep to try and get involved in the play, it wasn’t notably obvious that Coventry City were missing a centre-forward, at least, when in the opposing half.
There were even signs of how it could be of benefit to the team to have two such skilful players at the top of the pitch, the goal underlined this. Aided by Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen pushing forward impressively, having O’Hare and Palmer buzzing around the opposing penalty area led to some wonderful interchanges of quick passes that opened Blackpool up. The combination play between Coventry City’s makeshift strikers was truly jaw-dropping for the goal and it would only have taken a little more composure from Allen and Palmer earlier in the game to have made the team’s half-time lead more comfortable.
The downside of not having a recognised centre-forward on the pitch became apparent in the second-half. With Blackpool squeezing Coventry City in the press, the team was stuck between playing short to keep the ball or punting long to a non-existent target-man. This led to multiple turnovers in dangerous areas and eventually Blackpool’s equaliser. Of course, it probably didn’t help that Kasey Palmer and Callum O’Hare are short on the match fitness to last 90 minutes and couldn’t sustain the energy levels that had made them so dangerous earlier on.
While Coventry City lost the game, the issue wasn’t necessarily that they didn’t start with a centre-forward. The lack of a recognised reference point in attack even led to some excellent passages of play, which might have won the game had the team been fitter and smarter over the 90 minutes. It wasn’t an ideal situation but it may provide Mark Robins with an option to help rotate his team over the course of the season.
Falling Into A Trap
While there were signs of promise going forward in the first-half, the defence was a major source of concern for Coventry City. On top of a disallowed goal for offside, Blackpool had at three clear-cut chances to get on the scoresheet in the opening 45 minutes. Not content with the let-off, the Sky Blues continued to leak good chances for the Tangerines in the second-half until it was all but impossible for them not to equalise, meaning their later goal would win the game.
The ten minutes following the start of the second-half were probably the most important of the game. Blackpool were energetic and more direct following the resumption of play, looking to press Coventry City high up the pitch and load the box quickly once they won the ball back. In response, the Sky Blues were lethargic and seemed unable to figure out a way around Blackpool’s upping of the intensity.
The key issue was that Coventry City were so sloppy with the ball in front of their own defence. Part of this was down to not having a centre-forward who could get on the end of long passes and hold the ball up to ease the pressure on the defence, however, it doesn’t go all the way to explaining the amount of silly decisions the Sky Blues’ defence and midfield made with the ball in a crucial area of the pitch. This was made even worse by Ben Wilson’s terrible distribution of the ball from the goalkeeper position, which only encouraged Blackpool into further committing to their approach.
In difficult circumstances, Coventry City failed to read the situation of the game and adapt their approach to ride out the pressure. This was epitomised by the equaliser, where Callum Doyle elected to attempt to pass back to Ben Wilson when under pressure instead of playing safe and booting the ball out of play. What made it so frustrating was that the Sky Blues had been caught out in similar circumstances mere moments before.
While the defence continued to be under the same pressure throughout the second-half, they eventually settled down enough to make the game a more even contest which either team could have won. Had Coventry City avoided conceding in that period just after the restart, there would have been the chance to take advantage of a Blackpool side that had expended a lot of energy over a short period.
Sometimes in football, it is up to players to identify the situation of games and change things up before goals solidify periods in games. The early period in the second-half was an instance where Coventry City needed to be smarter and avoid playing into a trap laid by the opposition. Instead, they provided encouragement to Blackpool and let a winning position slip away from them.
Back To Basics?
After an incredible run of conceding just one goal in seven games, this was the second game in a row where Coventry City conceded two goals. It feels like all the hard work and agony that went into turning around a deficient defensive record in the early weeks of the season has slipped away far too easily over a remarkably short period of time.
The key difference between these past two games and the seven that preceded it is that Coventry City have had more attacking players available to them. The Sky Blues are a much better team to watch at the moment but, for all the positives that Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare have provided, the results provide harsh evidence that what looks good is probably not in the best interests of the team in their current situation.
With such talented attacking players available to Mark Robins, it feels silly on one level not to attempt to play in a style that gets the best out of them. There have been some tantalising moments over the past two games of what might be possible when Gustavo Hamer, Ben Sheaf, Callum O’Hare, Kasey Palmer and Viktor Gyokeres are all available and up to speed in the same team. The bigger picture, however, is twofold, one is that Coventry City are in the relegation zone and the other is that they are playing a lot of games over a short period of time which may make it difficult to get everyone up to speed in.
While the Sky Blues remain in the bottom three, results really have to take priority over building an attractive style of play. It may be possible to eventually strike a balance between playing well and keeping it tight at the back, but it seems like Coventry City’s defenders and goalkeeper lack the ability and confidence right now to keep the ball and play high up the pitch in the manner that helps the attackers excel.
The past month for Coventry City has underlined just how valuable keeping clean sheets is. It has demonstrated that this set of defenders are capable of shutting teams out at this level, they just need help from the players ahead of them to avoid being overwhelmed. While the Sky Blues remain in a perilous position in the league, what works has to take priority over what would be more pleasing to watch.