Coventry City saw off Rotherham United in a hard-fought 2-0 victory on the road that makes it two wins in a row for the Sky Blues.
It was the home side, Rotherham, that started off the brightest, unlucky to see an early Jordan Hugill goal disallowed, as they made most of the running. At half-time, it was apparent that Coventry City needed to step things up in order to threaten the opposing goal, which they did almost as soon as the second-half started and Jamie Allen poked home a heavy first-touch to make it 1-0.
There was little doubt from that point onwards which team would win the game. The Sky Blues might have been unable to build on the kind of control of possession they had in the build-up to the goal, but they were confident defending their penalty area against a frantic Rotherham United outfit. The gulf in nous between the two sides was eventually underlined later-on, when a sloppy ball from the Millers’ Tom Eaves in central midfield was pounced upon by Gustavo Hamer, who fed Viktor Gyokeres to finish and put a gloss on a scrappy victory.
A Simple Formula For Success
Coventry City only had about two periods of this game when they were found any kind of fluidity or momentum with the ball. The first was a spell around the half-hour mark that ultimately led to nothing, the other was the period just after half-time in the build-up to Jamie Allen’s opening goal. On the one hand, this could be looked at as the Sky Blues failing to dominate a game against a supposedly inferior opponent. On the other, a lack of control arguably played into the team’s strengths.
Those strengths are being able to defend deep with a degree of condolence and being able to threaten on the counter, mainly via balls into the channels for Viktor Gyokeres. This team’s best run of form this season – back in October to early November – came when the focus turned from aesthetics and to results in order to get the team away from danger. This saw a similar series of games to the last two, where Coventry City sat back, defended their penalty area and essentially waited for Gyokeres to make something happen at the other end.
Things could have been very different in this game had the referee not rather harshly disallowed a Rotherham United goal in the opening minutes. Whether Coventry City could have broken down a determined Millers outfit holding on for valuable points in their relegation battle is fortunately not a question that had to be answered on this occasion. However, it is worth pointing out that the Sky Blues took the lead during a rare period of control.
With Luke McNally and Kyle McFadzean now available for selection in defence, Coventry City look much more able to soak up pressure at the back. To point out the obvious, being able to keep clean sheets means that less has to go right at the other end in order to pick up results. This game was a classic example of that. There were a couple of good counter-attacks that the Sky Blues blew, but it didn’t matter because their penalty area was well-protected and the team could patiently wait until things fell perfectly to first Jamie Allen and then Viktor Gyokeres to make it a comfortable win.
While there may be games between now and the end of the season where defensive set-backs occur or things don’t quite fall right in attack, sitting back in order to spring Viktor Gyokeres onto retreating opponents looks the best use of the team’s available resources. If the ambition is to chase down those play-off positions, aspirations of playing more visually pleasing football may have to take a back seat – especially given that so much of this squad is either out of contract, on loan or likely to be looking for a move to a bigger club in the summer.
Ben Sheaf’s Absence Clarifies Things In Midfield
Ben Sheaf picking up what looks to be a month-long injury prior to last week’s game against Luton Town looked a bitter blow to Coventry City’s hopes of making up ground on the top six. However, Sheaf’s absence has allowed Josh Eccles to come into his natural central midfield position, with the academy-produced player playing a more deliberate holding-midfield role than the man he has replaced in the side.
While much of Coventry City’s play over the past couple of seasons has been orchestrated by Gustavo Hamer in central midfield, Ben Sheaf has often played as an auxiliary playmaker alongside him for the Sky Blues, often even getting in shooting positions, rather than as a pure defensive-midfield screener. Josh Eccles, however, appears to have been tasked with a more disciplined role in central midfield, rarely anything other than the deepest midfield player and often only looking to play short passes to keep possession circulating.
Theoretically, that robs Coventry City of a creative player to make things happen for the team, in practice, Josh Eccles playing a simpler role makes it much clearer what the other midfield players should be doing. Most notably, Gustavo Hamer is freer to push forward and join the attack, providing the team with another attacking option, rather than the midfielder having to be concerned with siting back occasionally to cover for his midfield partner pushing forward. On top of that, it provides greater licence for the attacking midfielders and wing-backs to push forward with greater abandon too.
It all feeds into the sense that this Coventry City side has a greater sense of what it wants to achieve on the pitch right now after a level of pretension in their play has been dropped. While a returning Ben Sheaf would undoubtedly make the Sky Blues a more talented side, Josh Eccles has shown recently that a disciplined holding midfielder is perhaps a necessary role for this team.
A Deliberate Tactic To Concede Set-Pieces?
After struggling so much to defend set-pieces over the past month or so, it seems remarkable to suggest that Coventry City might have approached this game looking to provide their opponent with greater opportunities to threaten from dead-balls than open play, but it seems that is what they might have been trying to do.
It was notable the amount of times in this match that Coventry City defenders looked to grapple with some of Rotherham United’s pacey attackers in one-against-one situations and risk conceding set-pieces. While there was the chance that the Millers would eventually make use of one of the opportunities presented to them to directly get the ball into the box, it seemed a calculated move to defend with numbers from a dead ball rather than risk being left short at the back in open play.
It indicates that the issue Coventry City had in defending set-pieces recently may have been down to the absence of certain personnel rather than a systemic issue. The zonal marking system that has served the team pretty well over the past few years has been retained, the difference from around a month ago is that the Sky Blues now have more players available – notably, Kyle McFadzean and Luke McNally – that can attack aerial balls than they had before.
The amount of set-pieces given away made this game a stop-start affair, which suited Coventry City on this occasion as they had the better players to take advantage of the small periods of flow there was to proceedings. Against other teams, deliberately giving set-pieces away is not only going to risk conceding goals but also seeing players risk getting sent-off and/or pick up suspensions. In this game, the strategy worked because it worked, it is probably not one to rely upon, however.