Coventry City produced a largely dominant performance at home to Millwall to come out 1-0 victors, which could well have kept the Sky Blues’ remote top six hopes alive.
The home side were well on top against a subdued Millwall for much of the game’s opening seventy minutes. Jamie Allen and Viktor Gyokeres had excellent chances in the first-half to put the team ahead, but fluffed their lines. However, an excellent second-half strike from Gyokeres, as he muscled off the close attention of Millwall’s Charlie Cresswell to curl in an effort from outside the penalty area, put Coventry City ahead.
The closing stages became tense as Millwall pushed forward and the Sky Blues dropped back, but the home side were able to ride out the pressure to hold on for all three points.
Driving At Defenders Does It
The big difference between this Coventry City performance and the ones seen in recent weeks was that the team had multiple players on the pitch willing and capable of driving at the opposing defence with the ball. While that is a famed quality of the team’s star man, Viktor Gyokeres, he was supported in his efforts in this game by Kasey Palmer and, notably, Brooke Norton-Cuffy, which provided extra room for the Swede to devastate in.
After a tough start to life at Coventry City, Brooke Norton-Cuffy demonstrated just what he is capable of from right wing-back from almost exactly the first minute of this game. The wing-back was positively exhilarating in moments of this game with his constant desire to knock the ball beyond his opponent and run past them, while also able to drift inside and beat defenders in tighter spaces. It provided the team with a valuable outlet out wide, creating openings directly via bombing towards the byline for crosses or indirectly in how he diverted the attentions of the Millwall defence away from Viktor Gyokeres.
One of the reasons why Brooke Norton-Cuffy was such a threat in this game was because he was receiving the ball higher up the pitch than he has in previous appearances for Coventry City. That came down to Millwall being less intense in the press than previous opponents, allowing the Sky Blues time to work the ball into areas on the right from which Norton-Cuffy could threaten. The problem for Millwall though was that when they pushed up, that allowed opportunities for Kasey Palmer and Viktor Gyokeres to drive at their back-line.
Some of Coventry City’s biggest chances in this game came from getting Viktor Gyokeres and Kasey Palmer into counter-attacking scenarios. The Sky Blues have been at their best this season on the counter because the team’s attacking players are at their best attacking space when it’s in front of them. The positive from this game is that having Brooke Norton-Cuffy available to drive on the right from higher field positions provides the team with a potential option to threaten via extended spells of possession.
McFadzean & McNally Have Calmed Things Down
In just two games since Kyle McFadzean’s return to the side, Coventry City have very quickly gone from looking flimsy at the back to calm and assured. The experienced central defender’s ability to lead the line stems not just from his aerial ability but from a less tangible wealth of nous – seen in this game, for example, by how he shoulder-barged George Honeyman off the ball early in the second-half when he had got in behind the Sky Blues backline. However, McFadzean has been aided in his efforts in stabilising a shaky defence by the recent loan addition of Luke McNally.
The Burnley loanee has eased into life at Coventry City, playing like someone who has been at the club for years and has an innate sense of the team’s system. Comfortable in the air, smart in his positioning and well-timed in the challenge, Luke McNally has been getting the basics of defending so consistently right in his first few appearances for the Sky Blues that it has projected a level of assurance where previously there was underlying sense of doubt in the team’s defenders.
In this game, having McNally and McFadzean in the back-line went a long way to instilling a sense of calm whenever Millwall flung the ball forward from either open play or set-pieces. Whether it was in how Kyle McFadzean marshalled opposing forwards away from danger, or in Luke McNally making timely interventions, Coventry City looked confident at the back even as Millwall began throwing everything forward in the closing stages. Additionally, it was apparent in how Callum Doyle and Ben Wilson eased through the game just how much more confident and secure the Sky Blues backline as whole felt.
While this was a positive attacking performance from Coventry City, that it took a brilliant Viktor Gyokeres strike to get the team over the line underlined the importance of the defensive security that Kyle McFadzean and Luke McNally helped to project. If this team is to go on the kind of run to close down the gap to the top six, keeping things tight defensively could be crucial. Given the number of clean sheets that had been kept even prior to Luke McNally’s arrival, perhaps defensive security is something that can be relied upon going forward.
Craft In The Final Third Missing
This really should have been a more comfortable win than the one-goal scoreline, which invited some late panic as Millwall threw the kitchen sink at Coventry City in the closing minutes. That the Sky Blues were holding on in the closing stages was less about dropping into a defensive shell and more down to the inability the team had earlier on both to take and create clear-cut chances, having been the dominant team for the game’s opening 70 minutes.
Both Jamie Allen and Viktor Gyokeres spurned big chances after being sent through on goal in the first-half to have made the scoreline more comfortable, however, the issue in this game was the process through which Coventry City looked to manufacture chances with spells of possession. With a narrow, four-man midfield set-up, the team too often ended up playing in front of the Millwall defence when the had the ball for longer periods.
Moreover, the opposing defence was stretched, Coventry City only had a couple of players making runs into the areas that opened up. Jamie Allen has come in for criticism for his lack of end product in this game when in promising areas, but he, along with Jake Bidwell, at least made runs into the space that Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Viktor Gyokeres created. Meanwhile, Kasey Palmer caught the eye in this game for some moments of skill, but spent a lot of the game playing towards the ball, rather than into space.
Perhaps the team have become a little too used to Viktor Gyokeres driving with the ball from wide and getting shots off as a primary attacking tactic. For all of the positive energy in this game, the Sky Blues had few ideas when it came to creating chances beyond giving the ball to Gyokeres and seeing what he could do. Maybe it’s because the other players know they are unlikely to receive the ball from the Swede once he decides to drive at goal, but it would add an extra edge to the team’s attacking play if others were more enterprising in their running and use of the ball in the final third.
At the moment, if Viktor Gyokeres doesn’t produce something out of nothing, this team struggles to create meaningful chances. Having more variety in attack would not only help the team eventually move on from Gyokeres when his inevitable departure occurs, but it would take some of the focus away from the Swede, allowing to become an even more dangerous player while he remains at the club.