The Wrap: West Bromwich Albion – 1-0

Coventry City triumphed late-on against West Bromwich Albion in a game that they were well on top on for long periods.

It was almost entirely Sky Blues pressure for the first hour or so of the game, with the home side moving the ball around with zip and fervour against a West Brom side attempting to keep them at arm’s length. Due to the away side’s defensive organisation, Coventry City were largely limited to long-range shots and chances from set-pieces, which threatened to make for a frustrating night with Alex Palmer in the Baggies’ goal in good form.

As Sky Blues legs tired, West Bromwich Albion threatened to turn the screw on the home goal but only really threatened from set-pieces. In the closing stages, Viktor Gyokeres broke into the West Brom penalty area and drew a clumsy challenge from their centre-back, Erik Pieters, to provide him with an opportunity to score from the spot, which he took with aplomb.

Facing A Well-Organised Defence

Coventry City were on top for long spells of this game and thoroughly out-shot West Bromwich Albion, however, they were largely limited to long shots and set-pieces due to the excellent organisation of the Baggies defence. A common theme of this game was the Sky Blues passing the ball around in front of the opposing penalty area, blocked from proceeding further due to a phalanx of red shirts.

West Bromwich Albion’s focus in this game was to slow down the pace of Coventry City attacks and get bodies between the ball and goal. For so many of the Sky Blues’ best attacking moves in this game, West Brom were able to quickly get defenders between the attack and any passing option. This came at the cost of allowing space in front of the penalty area from which Coventry City’s midfield could look to shot from, but the Baggies boss, Carlos Corberan, would have seen that as an acceptable risk.

Aside from those long-range efforts, the main source of a breakthrough for Coventry City was via either Gustavo Hamer or Viktor Gyokeres producing something from almost nothing. It is to each of the players’ credit that they were both close to doing so on several occasions in this game. Notably, there was a reverse pass from Hamer in the first-half that sent Viktor Gyokeres through one-on-one.

In Gustavo Hamer’s case in this game, his ability to spot opportunities to pass forward, identify space around the penalty area, as well as his touch and control in tight areas gave the team attacking momentum that they otherwise wouldn’t have. As for Viktor Gyokeres, his ability to compete for and easily control the ball meant that Coventry City could quickly turn defence into attack, and was what led to the penalty, as drove into the box in what was a two-against-seven situation in favour of West Bromwich Albion.

The other route to goal was Jack Burroughs’ desire to cut inside to deliver in-swinging crosses with his left foot from his right wing-back position. It has a been a theme this season that this team has often been stymied when forced out wide and the wing-backs have been asked to produce quality in their final ball, in Burroughs, the Sky Blues look to have someone willing to be more direct and make quick decisions when putting the ball into the box, which can unsettle opposing defences.

Nonetheless, as much as Coventry City were up against a well-drilled defensive unit, in West Bromwich Albion, this game reflected the difficulties this team has when looking to convert spells of possession into clear-cut chances. The number of long-range efforts was a result of a paucity of better options to stretch the opposing back-line and the ability to do so reflects a key area of improvement for this team if it is to stay around the top six in this division.

Defending In The Right Areas Again

After Saturday’s collapse against Swansea City, the question hanging over this game for Coventry City was how the defence would recover from that to deal with a high quality opponent. It may not have been plain-sailing exactly for the Sky Blues, but the clean sheet and lack of West Bromwich Albion chances speaks well of the team’s mental resilience.

The lack of chances that West Bromwich Albion had was down to Coventry City’s own smart off-the-ball organisation. The Sky Blues were willing to let the Baggies pass the ball around in their own half but were able to apply pressure as soon as they looked to progress any further. West Brom were clearly looking to be patient in possession in an attempt to play through Coventry City, but it was made largely impossible for them due to how well-disciplined the home side were out of possession.

The Baggies’ best chances came from Coventry City errors, which was perhaps a lingering impact of the wobble against Swansea City at the weekend. Notably, West Bromwich Albion broke from a poorly-executed short corner routine that left the Sky Blues short at the back. Most of the other chances the away side had came from loose passing in midfield that left the home side similarly stretched and unable to get back into their familiar defensive shape.

That Coventry City came out of this game looking the more dangerous and fluent attacking side despite having less of the ball is down to how well the team stuck to its shape out of possession. That West Bromwich Albion’s best chances came from when the Sky Blues pushed up the pitch, rather than through their own play with the ball, is a situation that Mark Robins will have largely been content with.

Short On Bodies

If Coventry City were to lose this game, it was going to come later on as the comparative difference in quality between the two teams’ benches threatened to tell. While West Bromwich Albion were able to make four substitutions, including two players, in Daryl Dike and Grady Diangana, who may have cost them somewhere over £25 million combined, the Sky Blues could only make two changes, Kasey Palmer, who couldn’t get into Bristol City’s team last year, and Liam Kelly, signed by the club in League Two.

West Bromwich Albion’s changes added energy to their ranks, as they started to dominate possession and force Coventry City into their own half. Meanwhile, there were clear signs of fatigue among those in Sky Blue, most notably, in Gustavo Hamer, who took a number of heavy touches that nearly led to West Brom chances, but there were others out there who played the full 90 minutes who would have benefitted from coming off early.

It has often been a criticism of Mark Robins that he is reticent to utilise his bench, however, he has rarely had the benefit of the kind of quality to be able to make changes without making the team weaker. That was no less apparent than in the switch of Gustavo Hamer for Liam Kelly later on in this game. The Sky Blues were unable to wrest back control of the midfield battle from West Bromwich Albion with Kelly in Hamer’s place, however, it was a substitution forced on the manager by how clearly fatigued the latter was. Coventry City’s goal may have come after that change had been made, but it was largely against the run of play.

Due to injuries, as well as a lack of recent transfer activity, there is desperately little depth in this squad beyond the starting XI. That this set of players was not only able to beat but dominate a bang in-form West Bromwich Albion side speaks well to the quality of coaching this team receives. Nonetheless, it is imperative that Mark Robins is provided with a greater quantity and quality of options in January to supplement the excellent work he is already doing, presuming, that is that Doug King’s takeover is approved and that the prospective new owner has the resources to invest in the squad.

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