Coventry City were left frustrated on the road at Wigan Athletic as they managed to squander a winning position with a late Kyle McFadzean own goal that could prove costly to their play-off aspirations.
The first-half saw both Coventry City and Wigan Athletic create some decent openings to take the lead, but neither did, making for a 0-0 half-time score. The dead-lock was broken soon after the break, as Viktor Gyokeres hurled himself at a Jake Bidwell cross to put the Sky Blues ahead.
From that point onwards, it was almost all Coventry City, as the away side dominate possession and played with the swagger of an upwardly-mobile team swatting aside a relegation struggler. As the clock wore on, however, and a second goal did not arrive, the Sky Blues gradually sat back to allow a desperate Wigan side to build a head of steam as they threw bodies into the penalty area.
While Kyle McFadzean’s late own goal was unfortunate from a Coventry City perspective, it had come from a tired period of Sky Blues defending, as they failed to clear their lines and sat deeper and deeper in their own half. There might have been chances later on for Coventry to win, but they really had blown it by not being able to score the game’s second goal themselves (or, to be more precise, at the right end).
Disjointed Front Three Makes For Slow Start
The game was in the balance for the opening 45 minutes, with Wigan Athletic and Coventry City trading blows in a manner that Mark Robins would not have wanted to see. It was not that the Sky Blues were particularly bad, but the gaps between players were a little too far, requiring individuals to have to produce moments of quality to get into good areas and allowing Wigan Athletic the time to play balls into the Coventry penalty area, this all stemmed from a front three that looked exactly like it was, three players that had never started a game together.
It was Sean Maguire who came into the front-line and, even though he showed some decent touches, was the root of the Coventry City’s problems in the first-half. When the team had possession, Maguire often found himself in areas that Viktor Gyokeres and Matt Godden were looking to occupy. When the team didn’t have the ball, Maguire was too far up the pitch and left Josh Eccles and Gustavo Hamer with a lot of ground to make up in midfield.
Eccles and Hamer looked every bit like players who had been stitching a midfield together for over a month now in that first-half. Instead of being able to steal ahead of opponents in the centre of the park, they were the ones being left flat-footed a little too often. When they get on the ball, they were being rushed due to a lack of an easy option around them to receive the ball on the turn.
Although Coventry City could have taken the lead in the first-half – with Sean Maguire actually having one of the best chances – they were equally as likely to have fallen behind. In a game against a team in the relegation zone that haven’t won in months, that was not good enough, which was why Mark Robins was justified in moving quickly to address the Sky Blues’ key problem area at the half-time break.
Sheaf Brings Control
That move from Mark Robins was to take off Sean Maguire and replace him with Ben Sheaf, turning a 3-4-1-2 into a 3-5-2 – additionally, Brooke Norton-Cuffy replaced Jack Burroughs at right wing-back in a like-for-like change. The contrast in performance between the two halves from Coventry City was stark and immediate, with the chaos of the first-half followed up by a second 45 of almost complete control from the Sky Blues.
It was encouraging to see Ben Sheaf looking to have barely missed a step after over a month on the sidelines. The midfielder looked adroit in his touch and control of the ball and at ease in his movement. That meant that each of Sheaf, Gustavo Hamer and Josh Eccles could take it in turns to push forward, knowing that their midfield colleagues would be backing them up either to win the ball back or to take care of possession.
The game was less end-to-end as a result, with Coventry City able to maintain long spells of possession in Wigan Athletic’s half of the pitch. A further upshot of this was that it encouraged the two wide centre-backs, Luke McNally and Callum Doyle, to make striding runs into midfield, and the wing-backs were receiving the ball high up the pitch, to further overwhelm their opponents and make for some extended spells of complete dominance.
Coventry City’s goal came from Josh Eccles taking his turn to push up from midfield, playing a pass to get Jake Bidwell high up the pitch on the left, with his first-time cross being turned in by Viktor Gyokeres. There were further overloads down either flank due to the Sky Blues’ midfielders and centre-backs being able to push up into Wigan Athletic’s half, which should have been how the away side killed the contest off.
When In Doubt, Don’t Be Stingy With The Goals
Kyle McFadzean’s late own goal in this game was a reminder that periods of dominance in football games count for little if they are not backed up by goals. It is moments, not periods, that decide football matches and any team has to be wary that moments can go against them at any time, regardless of their previous dominance.
Coventry City may not have been dominating in the period directly leading up to the equaliser, as the team sat back as they, understandably, tired in the game’s closing stages, but they would have felt reasonably secure in their lead given their clean sheet record this season. There were a few opportunities to prevent the own goal occurring, from clearing the initial pressure to either Jake Bidwell or Callum Doyle being more aggressive in closing down Will Keane, before the ball deflected in off McFadzean, but it was a moment that owed as much to bad luck as it did to anything wrong that the Sky Blues did. The point is, the fact a late goal was conceded was less important than the reason why it was so costly.
That was because Coventry City really should have killed off the game with goals at the other end. At times in the second-half, it felt like the Sky Blues were so dominant that they were waiting that final chance to score a second to fall their way rather than outright forcing it. Maybe this was where the team’s lack of depth came to bite them, instead of being able to bring on an attacking difference-maker – such as Kasey Palmer and Callum O’Hare had been earlier in the season – there was little Mark Robins could really do except hope the players on the pitch could see the game out.
As much as a Wigan Athletic response in the second-half seemed unlikely, their equaliser underlined why it can never be assumed that an opponent won’t be able to grab something out of nowhere. It takes a lot of work to dominate and control a game in the manner that Coventry City did for much of the second-half, which makes it especially frustrating that it was undone within just a couple of moments.