The Wrap: Bristol City: 1-1

After taking an early lead, Coventry City were eventually left to settle for a point at home to Bristol City in their first game of the new year.

The Sky Blues started brightly and were rewarded for their efforts after a neat exchange between Gustavo Hamer and Viktor Gyokeres saw the former cross for Jake Bidwell, whose header drew an incredible save from Bristol City’s Max O’Leary, only for it be parried perfectly back onto Bidwell’s head with an open goal gaping for the finish.

Coventry City failed to kick-on from taking the lead, instead becoming sloppy in their play and encouraging a Bristol City response. After a rare Sky Blues attacking foray in that period, the Robins quickly countered down the other end of the pitch to level the scores and proceeded to look the likeliest to score up until the half-time whistle.

The second-half saw Coventry City take control of possession and work some decent openings. However, there was a lack of composure apparent throughout the side, leading to squandered chances and some defensive lapses that nearly let Bristol City claim the win. In the end, a draw felt a fair reflection of the overall proceedings.

Fatigue The Key Factor

Before any serious analysis of this game can take place, it must be noted that this Coventry City side looks to be running on fumes. Injuries to Kyle McFadzean, Josh Eccles, Matt Godden and Callum O’Hare have left a thin Sky Blues squad with limited scope for change, while those that are available appear to be suffering from a level of fatigue.

The team selection for this game was clearly influenced by the need to keep players as fresh as possible. Martyn Waghorn and Todd Kane have barely been involved this season but were starters here as Mark Robins handed a respite to Ben Sheaf and Fankaty Dabo. With two players on the pitch looking to get up to speed, which also involved an enforced change of shape, it wasn’t entirely unsurprising that Coventry City looked disjointed for periods of this game.

On top of that, there are clearly several players who look to be struggling with a level of both physical and mental exhaustion. The number of poor touches, loose passes and lapses in concentration was most apparent in defence, but there were several Sky Blues players who made uncharacteristic errors, which robbed the team of its fluency. While there may have been ways both Mark Robins and the players could have managed situations in this game better, it is hard to make good decisions when you are tired.

This is not a game to draw deep, meaningful conclusions about this team on. It is the end of a hectic period that has come after a hectic start of the season. Coventry City have put themselves in a decent position to achieve something, or at least stay from danger, over the second half of the campaign. If anything, the struggles a thin squad had in this game underlined what an achievement it has been to get the team in such a position.

Calm Presence Badly Needed

While Jonathan Panzo, Callum Doyle, Michael Rose and Ben Wilson can perhaps be forgiven for some of the errors and sloppy decisions they made here due to fatigue, it is hard not to feel that this was a game where their lack of experience was apparent. Particularly in the period between Coventry City taking the lead and half-time, the team’s defensive unit seemed to make errors which beget further errors, unable to stem that vicious cycle and encouraging Bristol City onto the front foot.

A lot of the responsibility for getting the team out of the pressure they were under fell to Callum Doyle. With Ben Wilson often rolling the ball to his feet to start moves, presumably due to a fear that he was not good enough himself to distribute the ball under pressure. It regularly put Doyle in awkward positions right from his first touch as Bristol City were free to get up and press him, which they couldn’t if the goalkeeper had the ball. It was a poor decision made due to being under pressure and surely something a calmer head in that back-line could have identified an alternative cause of action to manage the situation the team were in.

On top of that piece of poor decision making, just when and where the Coventry City back-line looked to enter challenges was off as the pressure mounted. Most notably, Jonathan Panzo really struggled to deal with Bristol City’s Antoine Semenyo due to being over-eager in the challenge, leaving him susceptible to being beaten by a skilful opponent. Michael Rose and Callum Doyle were also sloppy in dealing with their opponents, switching off on a few occasions and letting attackers get the run on them in situations they should have been in control of. Moreover, the Sky Blues were over-eager and sloppy in the challenge outside of the penalty area and way too timid when in it, with the latter allowing Bristol City to equalise.

Michael Rose, Callum Doyle and Jonathan Panzo have shown that they can all individually be decent to good defenders at Championship level, Ben Wilson in goal has kept a remarkable number of clean sheets in this division, as a unit in this game, they were under pressure and made poor decisions as a result. They were clearly in need of direction, particularly in the last half hour of the first-half, and didn’t have anyone they could turn to. Maybe they will, one day, develop that sense of calmness as a unit, but that looks to be far off and has cost Coventry City two points in this game.

If there is one urgent area in need of being addressed in January, it is finding that calming leadership figure at the back that has been lost in the absence of Kyle McFadzean.

Forward Unit Fails To Click

In the second full game following Callum O’Hare’s season-ending injury, Mark Robins attempted another tactical shift in order to account for the absence of one of the team’s key players. This time, the call was to bring Martyn Waghorn into the attack, with Kasey Palmer playing between the lines and Jamie Allen partnering Gustavo Hamer in central midfield. Although it was a decision informed by fitness concerns in the squad, it was a move that did little to make Coventry City a fluent attacking unit.

One of the key issues was that Martyn Waghorn was clearly short on sharpness, struggled to get himself into the game and, when he did, his feet were often a step slower than his brain. This placed a lot of the onus on Kasey Palmer to provide Viktor Gyokeres with a vital foil in attack, however, the attacking midfielder’s influence was intermittent as a more languid style of creative player to Callum O’Hare.

With both Martyn Waghorn and Kasey Palmer on the periphery of the game for extended periods, it probably wasn’t the game to play Jamie Allen in central midfield. Allen is a willing runner for this team who has his uses, but to play a dual role as both a creative ball-player and an enforcer was beyond his capabilities. At times, Coventry City looked to be playing with virtually a one-man midfield, as Gustavo Hamer was left was almost all the creative and defensive work in the middle of the park.

That Hamer came close to stitching things together is to the midfielder’s immense credit, but he shouldn’t have been left in that position. While this was a team selection that was enforced to an extent by the need to manage fitness, there was probably a better way, in hindsight, to distribute the remainder of Coventry City’s fit players into a more effective midfield and attacking unit, as was evidenced in the better showing latter on in the game once Ben Sheaf came into the midfield and Fabio Tavares replaced Martyn Waghorn in attack.

It was not only about the impact in possession of having so few players contributing to the attack but how that led to putting pressure on the defence. Coventry City’s back-line were often left in the first-half to pick between hopeful balls towards Viktor Gyokeres or playing between themselves and into pressure because there were so few viable options in the space between defence and attack. With just another body or two making themselves available to receive the ball out of defence, the Sky Blues may have been able to ride out the Bristol City pressure in this game that waned after the half-time whistle.

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