Coventry City continued their excellent recent run with a late victory over Wigan Athletic at the CBS Arena, to make it six wins from their past eight games.
It was a match where both defences were on top. Wigan Athletic the had done a good job of holding Coventry City’s attack at arm’s length for much of the game, while the Sky Blues had a good handle on the Latics forward players.
If there was to be a breakthrough, it would be via a moment of luck of quality, Coventry City benefitted from the former, with Gustavo Hamer’s strike from just outside the penalty area taking a wicked deflection off Wigan Athletic’s Jack Whatmough for the breakthrough goal. It was luck that, on balance, the Sky Blues warranted, but it was luck, nonetheless.
With Wigan belatedly throwing the kitchen sink at Coventry City in second-half stoppage time, Viktor Gyokeres wrapped up the three points for the home side as he latched onto a clearance to run straight through on goal to finish to make it 2-0.
A Controlled Display
One of the key things that Coventry City have yet to do on this excellent run has been putting away a team they were expected to beat. This stretch of form since the end of September has been founded largely on inviting pressure and waiting for opportunities on the counter to grab points. On the few occasions opponents have looked to sit in against the Sky Blues, they have struggled to break defences down and left themselves open at the back.
For much of this game, Wigan Athletic will have felt like they were doing a job on Coventry City. While the Sky Blues had a lot of the ball, the Latics slowed the home side down in possession in front of their defence and forced them into hopeful through balls or out wide. It would have been easy for Coventry to get frustrated at this and lose their concentration at the back, but the most important aspect of this win was that they didn’t.
Wigan Athletic’s main plan was to hit up Charlie Wyke in their attack as quickly possible to allow Will Keane and Callum Lang to thrive on his flick-ons. Michael Rose and Kyle McFadzean did an excellent job in keeping Wyke well-marshalled, so that even if he did win headers, there was a Sky Blue shirt on the end of the second ball. With that avenue closed off, it was the quick Callum Lang and the odd set-piece that posed the biggest danger to Ben Wilson’s goal.
One of the key defensive issues for Coventry City this season has been in cutting off danger while pushing up the pitch, being able to do so in this game was the difference between a win and a possible defeat. The defence’s efforts were aided by Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer doing a great job balancing supporting the team’s efforts to press Wigan Athletic, while getting back in time to make some important challenges and interventions in front of the back three. It meant that the team could stay on the front foot, rather than having to scramble back to cover gaps left behind, limiting the amount of defending they ultimately had to do.
It shows the level of improvement that this team has made that they had the confidence here to assert themselves on an opponent without leaving themselves open at the back. Earlier in the season, this defence wouldn’t have had the confidence to push up the pitch on an opponent. Earlier in the season, Hamer and Sheaf would have made silly fouls while trying to stop counter-attacks. Earlier in the season, the team would have lost belief as they strived for the breakthrough.
Yes, this was a win that came via a slice of fortune, but Coventry City’s control over proceedings meant that if any team was going to get lucky, it would be them.
O’Hare and Palmer Not Yet A Starting Pair
There was plenty of excitement when the team was named for this game over Kasey Palmer and Callum O’Hare starting for the first time behind Viktor Gyokeres in a 3-4-2-1 formation. It looked the best possible configuration of Coventry City’s attacking players and promised some exciting football.
The downside of starting the duo was that it meant that the in-form Jamie Allen was dropped, although that may have been a decision informed by the congested fixture list. While Jamie Allen offers less quality o the ball, his desire to make runs into the penalty area to benefit from the creativity of O’Hare or Palmer, was one of the key things missing in this game for Coventry City.
Against a deep-lying Wigan Athletic, having two creative players as part of a front three made the job of the opposing defence easier than it could have been. In the first-half especially, Callum O’Hare and Kasey Palmer dropped too deep too often, meaning that Wigan could purely focus on marking Viktor Gyokeres. This was especially apparent when the team were in crossing positions there were only one or two bodies in the box.
In the second-half, Kasey Palmer looked to have been tasked with pushing up closer to Gyokeres and this led to one of the team’s best periods in the game, just after the break, when they started to move the ball more quickly around and behind Wigan’s defence. This could have led to the breakthrough, but Palmer and O’Hare both ran out of steam, forcing Mark Robins to take off his two mast important playmakers with the team chasing a goal.
The fluency was lost with Tyler Walker and Jamie Allen in the place of the duo, but the Sky Blues found the goal regardless. That won’t always be the case and it may be better to have one of Callum O’Hare or Kasey Palmer to bring on from the bench in the situation the team found itself in to provide a burst of energy and maintain the team’s flow.
This is not to say that starting both Callum O’Hare and Kasey Palmer will never work but that it is not always the case that playing a team’s eleven best players makes for the most effective possible team. It takes time to develop understandings between players and it isn’t quite there between O’Hare and Palmer yet. Right now, Coventry City have two very good creative attacking players who can be interchanged in the side fairly seamlessly, there doesn’t need to be a rush to start them.
Wing-Backs The Area For Improvement
With Coventry City struggling for creativity through the middle in this game, the ball often found itself with the wing-backs, however both Jake Bidwell and Josh Eccles struggled to take advantage of the time they had to make an impact on this game. It was by no means through a lack of effort from either player, but a lack of pace, dynamism and, ultimately, quality.
In fairness, neither wing-back was aided by the disinterest that Coventry City’s midfielders had in making runs into the penalty area. It meant that their crosses had to be of a very high quality to meet anyone in a Sky Blue shirt, however, very few balls in from either Eccles or Bidwell looked even close to meeting their intended targets.
As Coventry City grow in confidence and look to grow as an attacking force, Josh Eccles and Jake Bidwell’s may become more effective as work is put in on the training pitch both on their technique and in the movement of the players ahead of them. Often in this game, each wing-back seemed hesitant in pushing forward, which may be down to a lack of instruction as to what to do when they have opportunities to attack.
However, it may well be the case that neither Josh Eccles nor Jake Bidwell can become major attacking forces from wing-back. Eccles is really a central midfielder, by trade, while Bidwell has never really looked much of an attack-minded player in nearly a year at the club. It wasn’t really the plan for either to be a starting player at wing-back this season and it is only the circumstances of a sub-optimal summer transfer window and a few injuries that have landed Eccles and Bidwell in relatively unfamiliar roles.
If games like this, where teams force Coventry City out wide, are to become more common, having more quality in that area of the pitch could be where this side finds another gear this season, whether Josh Eccles and Jake Bidwell are those players remains to be seen.