The Wrap: Blackburn Rovers – 1-0

Coventry City came out winners against Blackburn Rovers to move out of the relegation zone for the first time since the early part of the season.

In a bright, energetic display, the Sky Blues worked several good openings in the first-half but couldn’t quite find that killer touch to take the lead. They were left thanking their luck later in the opening 45, when a defensive lapse allowed Blackburn’s Callum Brittain clean through for a golden opportunity that he spurned.

Soon after, Jamie Allen tucked home a Josh Eccles cross to put Coventry City ahead at the break. It was a lead that looked in little danger of being threatened in the second-half, with a red card for Blackburn’s Jake Garrett the notable incident of the game’s closing act.

A Balanced Display

Coventry City had gone from one extreme to another over the past week. From ultra-defensive to overly-attacking, Mark Robins had appeared to have struggled to find a way to incorporate a recent injection of attacking options with maintaining the defensive solidity that had seen the team climb from the bottom of the table – a recent illness in the camp didn’t help.

This was a team selection by the Coventry City manager that was still impacted by that streak of illnesses. With everyone available, Mark Robins would almost certainly have not dropped Kyle McFadzean from the heart of defence, yet an inexperienced back-line proved to be one of several key tweaks that led to victory in this game.

Without McFadzean in central defence, Coventry City could push higher up the pitch and look to press and force errors in the Blackburn Rovers defence. It was those turnovers that were key to Coventry City’s best attacking moments in the first-half. Gustavo Hamer, Jamie Allen and Callum O’Hare were enterprising as they looked to close their opponents down, which was aided by Ben Sheaf reading the ball play consistently well to cut off a lot of Blackburn moves when they got past that initial press.

The risk with pushing higher up the pitch was if Blackburn Rovers found balls in behind the back three. There was one clear chance that came from this in the first-half, when Callum Brittain was able to get clean through on goal after Michael Rose and Callum Doyle challenged for the same ball to leave the Blackburn wing-back with time and space in the penalty area. Fortunately, Brittain didn’t convert, nor did the away side’s biggest threat, Ben Breteton Diaz, when he broke through on goal on a few occasions. However, the defence eventually got to grips with that ball over the top, which was why the second-half display was so serene.

The other aspect that provided greater balance in this game was the way in which the midfield was set up. The key to that was Jamie Allen, who operated somewhere between a number ten and central midfield position, meaning that Coventry City had an extra man in attack when they needed but could also pack out the midfield when out of possession. Additionally, Ben Sheaf seemed to be playing with greater clarity as the holding midfielder, allowing Gustavo Hamer to push forward without leaving space in front of the defence.

When Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare came off it threatened to unsettle that delicate balance between aggression and compactness in central midfield. Bringing on an extra striker, in Tyler Walker, made the midfield more open, while Kasey Palmer’s attacking instincts left Jamie Allen and Ben Sheaf with a lot of ground got cover in front of the backline. Fortunately, Blackburn Rovers picked up a red card before they could properly exploit the newfound space in the middle of the pitch to make for a comfortable win in the end for Coventry City.

Jamie Allen Is Doing All The Right Things

For all the excitement surrounding the returns of Callum O’Hare and Gustavo Hamer, to add to the attacking threat that Viktor Gyokeres and Kasey Palmer can cause, Jamie Allen has quietly been putting in some impressive performances of late. The winning goal that he scored in this game was a due reward for the sheer persistence Allen has been showing in recent games.

Perhaps it is because of this injection of higher calibre of attacking players that is why Jamie Allen is playing at a higher level recently. Allen’s best qualities are his work-rate and tactical intelligence, with better players around him to take care of the ball, he can focus more purely on making dangerous runs into the penalty area. On top of the goal in this game, Allen also two other big chances that came from well-timed runs, following on from a handful of good chances in the penalty area in the previous two games.

What lets Jamie Allen down is his technique, particularly when it comes to striking the ball cleanly when on the run. For a lot of players, it would be easy to be disheartened by that and to avoid getting into positions where that would become an issue. It is to Jamie Allen’s credit that he has continued putting in the hard yards to get into the right positions and is starting to see the rewards of that persistence with two goals in four games. If he continues to do what he is doing, there is little reason why the goals will not continue.

That is all on top of the excellent work-rate and diligence out of possession that Jamie Allen provides the team. As mentioned earlier in the article, Allen effectively filled two positions in this game, which not many players would be capable of. He is someone who is not only benefitting from having better players around him but is enabling them to look better. If Jamie Allen can keep this up over the course of the campaign, it will mean the team will have had a good season.

Mature Panzo & Doyle Performances

The defence getting their jobs right without the leadership and physicality of Kyle McFadzean to steer them through the game was vitally important in this game. Coventry City took the risk of pushing up the pitch against a good attacking team, placing a lot of responsibility on a pretty inexperienced backline. It was a test that the Sky Blues’ defence came through, with the young Callum Doyle and Jonathan Panzo putting in particularly mature displays.

Callum Doyle was tasked with stepping into the middle of the back three in Kyle McFadzean’s absence. What the team lost in physicality, they gained in mobility and quality in possession. Not only did Doyle allow the team to push higher up the pitch, but he made a number of excellent interventions to snuff out danger when called upon. On top of that, he picked several eye-catching long-range passes that opened the play up for Coventry City, making for some dangerous transforms between defence and attack.

Jonathan Panzo had been relatively untroubled in the first-half but was under immediate pressure at the start of the second when Blackburn Rovers brought on the giant George Hirst to pep up their attack. Almost immediately, Panzo dominated his lanky opponent both aerially and in the challenge. A criticism I have had of Panzo in his early months at the club is that he doesn’t use his physicality well enough to control of defensive situations, this was a demonstration that he is starting to learn that aspect of defending.

For two young players who have had their struggles this season, this was a key step up from the duo to show that they can not only compete but dominate at this level. Of course, one only has to cast their mind back as recently as the past two games to see costly errors that each player has made. It highlights that the key for both Doyle and Panzo will be to build on this display and produce it consistently in the weeks ahead.

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