The Wrap: Luton Town – 1-1

Coventry City secured a point at home to Luton Town in a stop-start contest between one side trying and failing to find a rhythm and another successfully able to break up play in the manner they set out to.

The Sky Blues were behind almost straight from the opening kick-off, as a long punt forward from the Hatters was put out for a throw-in, which the home side failed to clear successfully, eventually resulting in Kasey Palmer mishitting a clearance to allow Tom Lockyer to put Luton Town ahead within the first minute of the game.

Coventry City struggled to build any pressure on the opposing defence for much of the remainder of the second-half, that was until a cross-field pass from Callum Doyle put Matt Godden behind Luton Town’s defence and his cross into the path of Viktor Gyokeres saw the Swede pulled back with the goal gaping, leading to a penalty. With Godden converting from the spot confidently, the Sky Blues had something to work with in the second-half.

Despite a better all-round performance in the second-half, Coventry City struggled for clear-cut chances and were thankful in the end for an excellent Ben Wilson save from point-blank range from Luton Town’s Cauley Woodrow to ensure a share of the points.

Frailty At Set-Pieces Continues

Might this game have been a different one had Coventry City not found themselves behind within the first minute after failing to deal with another throw-in routine? The overriding feeling from another thoroughly disjointed Sky Blues display is no, but that there wasn’t really anything in the game besides a set-piece goal at one end and a penalty at the other shows just how valuable not coughing up these soft goals can be.

It could be argued that Luton Town’s goal was unfortunate in and of itself. The initial throw-in had been dealt with and it was only a sliced attempted clearance from Kasey Palmer that created the opportunity for the Hatters to score. However, Coventry City never looked comfortable from set-pieces throughout the contest, with a lingering fear hanging over the team from opposition dead balls, several of which led to further Luton chances.

Coventry City operate a zonal marking system when defending set-pieces, but that’s not really the problem at the moment. Teams aren’t picking players out in acres of space in the penalty area from dead balls, instead, it is a general meekness when it comes to attacking the ball in the air, which means that even if the first ball is won, the contact isn’t strong enough to clear the lines, leading to further opportunities for opponents to put the defence under pressure.

In reaction to the recent set-piece struggles, Mark Robins appears to have instructed everyone to stay back for set-pieces, which seems to have had the impact of inviting further pressure from second-phase balls – which was what led to Luton Town’s goal. Despite having two good aerial defenders, in Kyle McFadzean and Luke McNally now to call upon, it is probably going to take more than individual players to rectify this set-piece frailty and more needs to be done on how the team as a whole defends its penalty area from dead-ball situations.

Spluttering Attack Makes Things More Difficult

There was a lot of game following Luton Town’s goal to generate a comeback, yet Coventry City only tested Ethan Horvath in the opposing goal on two occasions aside from a penalty on the stroke of half-time. While Luton have to be credited for breaking up the flow of play effectively – especially via Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu and Marvelous Nakamba in central midfield – the Sky Blues struggled to get their front three involved in the game, making the process of building pressure and creating chances challenging.

The difficulties that Matt Godden and Viktor Gyokeres have in operating as a partnership are well documented, while the move for the penalty saw the former play a cross for the latter, the issue remains that they are two strikers who want to play on the shoulders of defenders. While there may be situations where having two strikers bursting past the opposing defensive line could be overwhelming, in general play against a deep, set defence, either Godden or Gyokeres may have to sacrifice their natural instincts in order to allow the team to hold the ball in the final third.

The questions as to whether it should be Matt Godden or Viktor Gyokeres should sacrifice their scoring chances for the sake of their strike partner is tough to answer. While it may seem obvious that Godden should cede a level of importance in favour one of the best strikers in the Championship, Gyokeres’ natural instinct to pull wide in search of opportunities to get on the ball means that when Godden drops deep to try and link play up, his strike partner is often not in a position to take advantage of the space that has opened up. When it is the other way around, however, Godden lacks the explosiveness to burst into dangerous areas in order to take chances. Maybe it is true that they simply aren’t an effective strike duo.

On top of that, having Ben Sheaf drop out of the team minutes before the game can’t have been helpful. In a Sheaf-less midfield, Kasey Palmer had his moments, but was mainly looking to get involved in the final third, which made him peripheral in a game where the strikers struggled to hold the ball up. Further back, Jamie Allen couldn’t take care of the ball in the same manner as Sheaf would have, meaning that Gustavo Hamer was often left with the onus to get the team in positions to create chances.

In the first-half, the team looked more disjointed because Gustavo Hamer struggled to find his rhythm on the ball against a Luton Town side that were often quick to close him down. In the second-half, the team looked more controlled and, as a result, dangerous because Hamer found space and his rhythm. However, the issue then became that players ahead of him weren’t really making runs behind to stretch Luton’s defence.

Which partially leads onto the final point…

Time To Move On From Wing-Backs?

Coventry City have used at least seven different players this season (according to how I’ve kept track of it) in the two wing-back positions, yet it’s hard to recall many notable performances from any of the players who taken on that role. Whether it’s because those players simply aren’t as good as the ones Coventry City have been able to call upon in previous years or because of the way this specific Sky Blues side operates, it feels as if the point is approaching for Mark Robins to consider moving away from wing-backs to resolve this team’s creative issues.

After a run of having Jake Bidwell on the left and Brooke Norton-Cuffy on the right, Mark Robins turned to Josh Wilson-Esbrand and Josh Eccles in this game to change things up. Going forward, Josh Wilson-Esbrand was probably the more impressive of the two but was far from a reliable source of threat. Defensively, a lot of Luton Town’s best play came from getting behind either of Coventry City’s wing-backs. On top of that, Wilson-Esbrand got himself sent off for two pretty lazy challenges.

In a team that is struggling to find creativity at the moment in the final third, any other source of it would be invaluable and wide areas are the natural avenue to turn to. Part of the issue at wing-back for Coventry City is that those filling the roles are tasked with sitting deep out of possession, meaning there is then a lot of ground for them to cover when the ball is won to get into dangerous areas. However, in previous years, starting from a deep position from wing-back was less of an issue for other Coventry City wing-backs. While there may be tactical reasons why the wing-backs haven’t excelled this year, maybe it is as simple as the current wing-backs not being as good as their predecessors.

The question then is what are the alternatives for a squad that has been built over at least three seasons now to play a wing-back system? While there isn’t an obvious tactical change that Mark Robins can make right now, it feels as if he may be forced to soon because playing with wing-backs at the moment seems to be taking more away from the team than it is adding.

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