Coventry City ended up breezing to victory at Blackpool to return to winning ways at a key juncture of the campaign.
It was Ben Sheaf who put the Sky Blues ahead, as he swept in a Viktor Gyokeres cut-back on the edge of the penalty area in the 20th minute. However, Blackpool were level 15 minutes later after Kyle McFadzean tripped the Seasiders’ forward, Morgan Rogers, in the penalty area to set up a spot-kick for Jerry Yates to score from.
After another good penalty shout for Blackpool was turned down, Coventry City’s nerves were settled just before half-time when Gustavo Hamer’s corner-kick delivery was turned in to his own goal by Curtis Nelson in the Tangerines’ back-line. Another Blackpool error from a Sky Blues set-piece soon settled the game, with Kyle McFadzean emphatically firing home to make it 3-1.
A final gloss was put on the score by Matt Godden finishing from a Gustavo Hamer through-ball, to make for a more comfortable scoreline than the performance Coventry City warranted.
Interchangeable City Midfield Swings It
On the face of it, a midfield trio of Ben Sheaf, Josh Eccles and Gustavo Hamer doesn’t appear to be a well-balanced one. With Sheaf and Eccles billed as defensively-minded midfielders, and Hamer probably at his best distributing play from deep, the worry with that combination in the middle of the park is that there isn’t anyone there to take up the mantle to push forward and create a link to the attack. That worry was quickly laid to rest with an early Ben Sheaf finish as part of an excellent performance from Coventry City’s midfield trio.
As they showed in the second-half against Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night, Ben Sheaf, Josh Eccles and Gustavo Hamer each took it in turns to push up to join the attack, and were in fact almost completely interchangeable in their roles throughout the entire game. If there had been specific roles given to each of the midfielders, it was impossible to tell. Not only did Sheaf, Eccles and Hamer take equal turns to push forward or screen the defence but they even rotated between the central, right and left-sided positions in the midfield throughout the game.
While there were moments when none of the three were either sitting in front of the defence or joining the attack, those were pretty few and far between. It takes a level of intelligence and discipline for three players to dovetail so seamlessly throughout a 90 minute game, especially when considering that this was an improvised solution in midfield in the middle of a heavily congested fixture list, there can’t have been a lot of time for Sheaf, Eccles and Hamer to work on this.
With all three midfield players as equally capable of taking care of possession as they were in nicking the ball away from their opponents, it gave Coventry City excellent energy and presence in a key area of the pitch. The use of the ball from the trio was excellent and there was constantly at least one of them lurking around the Blackpool penalty area – see, Sheaf for the first and Hamer for the last goals in this game – but it was their energy off-the-ball that was probably most influential in edging the Sky Blues to victory in this game. Whenever Blackpool tried to build momentum in the centre of the pitch, there was constantly a leg poking out from someone in Sky Blue to kill off attacks, and that was why Coventry were largely comfortable in their lead.
Given that Kasey Palmer and Callum O’Hare will be out for the rest of the season, finding a way for a midfield of Josh Eccles, Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf to be effective could be vital to Coventry City’s play-off charge. While there remains a concern as to whether there is enough attacking thrust between the three players, Sheaf, Hamer and Eccles showed here that they can be as classy as they are hard-working as a combination. It has certainly provided a boost at a time where options available to Mark Robins are so slim.
Tables Turned At Set-Pieces
Coventry City haven’t been all that effective from attacking set-pieces this season, having scored the joint-fewest in the division prior to this game. In a team where, Viktor Gyokeres aside, goals can come at something of a premium, scoring twice from dead-ball situations in this game highlighted what a difference they can make. As a result, what had threatened to be a tricky contest for the Sky Blues ended up as something of a cruise.
At 1-1 and with Blackpool having had another good penalty shout, Coventry City were wobbling hard approaching half-time. Those nerves were quickly settled either side of the break, with Gustavo Hamer sending in a corner-kick delivery that was turned into the Blackpool goal by their defender, Curtis Nelson, and then Kyle McFadzean seizing on a loose clearance from a free-kick to make it a two-goal lead for the Sky Blues.
Given the hefty slices of fortune about each of those set-piece goals, the question is whether Coventry City were genuinely good from dead-balls in this game or simply got lucky. The case for it being good Sky Blues work is that those two goals were not the only chances the team created from set-pieces, with six of the team’s 18 shots in the game coming from dead-balls (on top of the own goal from a corner-kick). Gustavo Hamer and Jake Bidwell’s delivery was consistently well-targeted, while Kyle McFadzean, Luke McNally, Ben Sheaf and Viktor Gyokeres in particular did well to get on the end of those balls into telling areas.
The case for it being luck is that both of the goals relied on Blackpool mistakes, with one an own goal and the other a poor clearance. That Coventry City have not scored that many goals from set-pieces this season lends weight to the idea that it was fortune in this game. Whether it was lucky or not, scoring twice from situations outside of the natural flow of the game was undoubtedly decisive in the final result for the Sky Blues. If set-pieces can be leveraged further in the remaining games of the season, it may just be the factor that tips this team over the edge and into the play-offs.
Tiredness Makes For Nerves At The Back
The final result in this game creates the impression that this was a comfortable afternoon for Coventry City, when it only really became so over the final 20 minutes. The Sky Blues were notably leaden-footed at times at the back in this game, as seen in the two penalty incidents for Blackpool, and it’s hard not to feel as if tiredness was a key factor in why this team looked much less secure defensively here than they have recently.
While there were individuals that looked particularly exhausted for periods of this game, it was the collective impact of not having a full set of 11 players capable of sustaining the team’s shape that was the issue. By just having one or two players drop-off, it dragged the team a little deeper down the pitch and meant that the team were at times playing into the opposition’s pressure. Both penalty shouts came from loose touches, but those loose touches were so fatal because the team wasn’t in a position to cover, or had the legs to do so.
Even when the lead became comfortable, Coventry City allowed Blackpool some decent opportunities to run at and isolate their defence by being a little loose and noncommittal in the challenge, which can happen to tired players. There were several occasions in the second-half where Blackpool’s quick forwards, Morgan Rogers, Keshi Anderson, Jerry Yates and Josh Bowler drifted past Sky Blues defenders and into good areas but lacked the final ball to punish that defensive looseness.
Given that Coventry City have largely been pretty convincing at the back over the past 10 or so games, a performance like this at the end of a congested run of fixtures can be forgiven. The international break is going to be a vital period of rest for the back-line as they gear up to take on a higher class of forward who will punish the kind of tired looseness seen in moments of this game.