The Wrap: West Bromwich Albion – 0-1

Coventry City succumbed to defeat at West Bromwich Albion by a single first-half goal.

The Baggies started the game the strongest, putting Ben Wilson’s goal under severe pressure until that eventually told with Grady Diangana being handed a tap-in after Callum Doyle missed a header from a long throw-in. While West Brom’s momentum soon relented, Coventry City had little means of getting back into the game and eventually whimpered to defeat over the remaining 75 minutes of the contest.

A Disjointed Evening

Coventry City might have fallen behind in this game to a single goal from a lapse in concentration at a long throw-in, but the match was lost due to a failure to find any kind of rhythm throughout the 90 minutes. There was a lot of game left following that opening goal, but the Sky Blues simply didn’t appear to have the wherewithal about them to muster any kind of meaningful response.

Inexperience at the back remains an issue with this Coventry City side, which was how the team found itself under pressure from early on. With Ben Wilson struggling to dominate his penalty area, the onus was on Jonathan Panzo, Callum Doyle and Luke McNally to take charge in front of the goalkeeper to repel pressure. However, there was a lack of composure among the trio, which saw small moments of danger quickly develop into threats on goal.

The defence cannot be fully blamed for their struggles in that opening period, they were given little chance to establish some composure due to just how little care the players in front of them had for the ball. Too often, the team looked to play in areas there was simply not the opportunity to due to the intensity of West Bromwich Albion’s press. Most notably, Ben Sheaf was caught trying to flick a pass into Gustavo Hamer just to the side of the penalty area, which Jed Wallace intercepted and nearly scored from.

The reason why Coventry City were looking to play in tight areas was because the attacking unit struggled to get a foothold in the game. Viktor Gyokeres may have been the obvious out-ball, but he was too easily crowded out by West Bromwich Albion defenders because Jamie Allen and Kasey Palmer were unable to get close enough to him to create some breathing room for the Swede.

The team’s best play in this game came via the wing-backs, that was both via Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Jake Bidwell in the first-half and then Josh Eccles and Josh Wilson-Esbrand after the hour mark. However, the wing-backs were unable to get into good areas often enough because of that lack of ball retention in front and around them. If there is something to build on from this game, it is probably the wing-backs with it perhaps being a plan to rotate between the four of them over the course of matches to inject some energy and drive into the side.

This game came down to one team, in West Bromwich Albion, being purposeful and driven with their use of the ball and Coventry City being the opposite. Not having that clarity in possession not only makes it difficult to create chances, but it invites pressure on the defence, which is where the Sky Blues truly suffered in this match.

Panzo-Bidwell Axis Targeted

The clear area of weakness in the Coventry City defence in this game was the space between Jonathan Panzo and Jake Bidwell on the team’s left side. While it didn’t lead to the game’s only goal, the amount of joy that West Bromwich Albion found in getting behind Jake Bidwell to draw Jonthan Panzo out into awkward one-versus-one situations is a potential area of concern for Mark Robins.

One of the key reasons that Jonathan Panzo was often left so exposed in this game was how far forward Jake Bidwell seemed to be positioning himself. It was strange to see given that Mark Robins so often tasks his wing-backs with dropping alongside the back three when out of possession, which reflects the lack of clarity that this Coventry City were playing with in this game. The idea in sending Jake Bidwell so far forward must have been to look to push West Bromwich Albion back, but this clearly wasn’t happening and should have been adapted to.

This left Jonathan Panzo with almost all of the work to do in defending Coventry City’s left side, which exposed his struggles with positioning and utilising his physical stature to win challenges. There were several occasions where Panzo lost out to balls in this game where he should have been the favourite, which is why the Nottingham Forest loanee is currently the weak point in the Sky Blues’ back-line.

With the prospect of Kyle McFadzean making a return to the side soon, Jonathan Panzo looks to be the obvious choice to be taken out of the back three. However, the issues Panzo faced in this game were down to more than his individual weaknesses, they were caused by a set-up that left him exposed. Without tightening up that relationship on the left side between Jake Bidwell and his left-sided centre-back, changing personnel may not necessarily improve the team’s defensive solidity.

O’Hare Replacement Opportunity Missed

Coventry City made four January signings, which included three defenders and one striker. Notably, that business did not address the fact known entering the window that Callum O’Hare would be out for the remainder of the season, with this game showing up just what the team is missing in the attacking midfielder’s absence.

With 75 minutes to recover from falling behind, Coventry City managed to test the West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper just once. In the search for a spark from the bench in this game, Mark Robins opted to bring on Matt Godden, who barely mustered a touch in the half hour he had on the pitch. That isn’t a knock on Godden, it’s a reflection that he is a player who requires service and came on at a time where the team were badly lacking that, thus he didn’t really have the chance to make an impact.

It is impossible to speculate as a fan just what creative players might have been available to Coventry City in the January transfer window. On the face of it, signing two wing-backs on loan when the team were already well-stocked in that area seems an odd use of resources. If the plan really is to wait until the summer to do the major recruitment work, why sign loan players at all?

The lack of a direct Callum O’Hare replacement signed in January reflects that this club appears to be in something of a holding pattern until the summer. Coventry City could have gone to just a point off the play-offs with a win in this game, reflecting that there remains a lot to play for this season. Instead, it appears that the plan is to amble into the summer with a large number of players who won’t be here next year.

It leaves a long time for the fans to have to sit around and wait for this apparent plan to come to fruition. For Mark Robins, the coaching and recruitment teams, they really do have to be certain that what they can achieve next year is as good, if not better, than what is a decent chance of making the play-offs this year.

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