The Wrap: Blackburn Rovers – 1-1

Coventry City claimed what could be a valuable late point away at Blackburn Rovers to keep their play-off hopes alive in what was their most important game of the season thus far.

The Sky Blues were second-best for much of the opening 45 minutes, sloppy in possession and perhaps a touch too passive without it, and were punished for that slow start when Blackburn’s Joe Rankin-Costello chipped in a cross for Sam Gallagher to head past Ben Wilson to hand the home side the lead. An injury to Ben Sheaf just before half-time only added to Coventry’s uphill battle.

It was a better effort in the second-half from Coventry City but there appeared to be little sign of an equaliser as they huffed and puffed to try and get the ball vaguely near the Blackburn Rovers penalty area. A slew of late corners saw Ben Wilson eventually called up for one last throw of the dice, with the goalkeeper going on to bundle the ball across the line in the game’s dying embers to salvage a late point for the Sky Blues.

Right Game-Plan, Wrong Execution

While the frustration for Coventry City in this game was in their biggest match of the season, they seemed to let the first-half pass them by. Blackburn Rovers dominated possession, the Sky Blues barely created anything and the home side took what felt like a deserved lead by the time of the half-time whistle. However, Mark Robins can probably reflect that he wouldn’t have done anything different had he the chance to start this game over again.

With the personnel that Coventry City have available, there was almost no question as to whether anyone who wasn’t in the team should have been in the starting XI. Furthermore, it made perfect sense that, following Saturday’s excellent counter-attacking display at Queens Park Rangers, that the Sky Blues should have looked to play in a similar manner, especially against a Blackburn Rovers side that are so determined to dominate the ball, even if that involves playing around in dangerous areas.

It wasn’t a complete defensive retreat from Coventry City, they were aggressive in looking to pressurise Blackburn Rovers when they sensed the opportunity to. There was even a moment in the first-half when Sky Blues pressing almost forced on own goal as Blackburn’s goalkeeper exchanged passes under pressure with their centre-backs. Coventry were trying to balance being patient in their defensive shape with trying to prevent Blackburn building confidence in possession, and the lack of chances that the home side created over the course of the 90 minutes goes some way to backing up that approach.

Where it fell apart in the first-half was that Coventry City just weren’t quite sharp or accurate when they got the ball in order to create chances. That a near-own goal was their best chance of the opening 45 was telling. Even worse, the Sky Blues were punished for one of those attempts to apply pressure in Blackburn Rovers’ half, allowing the home side to quickly work the ball out wide for Joe Rankin-Costello to chip in a delightful cross for Sam Gallagher to stoop in to head home.

With that, Coventry City’s game-plan had been undone. With their play-off hopes on the line, they could not rely upon some stern half-time words snapping players out of their early torpor. They would have to come out and take the game to Blackburn, the question was whether they had the personnel to do so.

A Fraught Effort Somehow Pays Off

After probably getting the game-plan right but seeing the execution fall apart in the first-half, it could be argued that the opposite was true in the second. Mark Robins changes did little to add to Coventry City’s creative efforts from a tactical perspective but the team played in a more urgent and frantic manner that occasionally caused Blackburn Rovers problems as they looked to hold onto their lead.

The first two changes that Mark Robins made were injury-enforced, with Ben Sheaf going off to be initially replaced in midfield by Josh Wilson-Esbrand, with the manager then deciding that the Manchester City loanee was best used in his natural left wing-back berth, seeing Liam Kelly come on at half-time. Coventry City’s best spell of the game came after that change at the break, with Gustavo Hamer getting into good positions to have two dangerous efforts on goal that didn’t quite go in. Following that, the Sky Blues created little of note.

There were occasional flashes down either flank from Josh Wilson-Esbrand and Brooke Norton-Cuffy, but neither of the young wing-backs had much of a final ball. In central midfield, Gustavo Hamer was having to do almost all of the creative work with Josh Eccles looking shattered alongside him and Liam Kelly showing good energy but not capable of opening the game up like Ben Sheaf would have been able to. There were a lot of hopeful balls towards the strikers, but Viktor Gyokeres and Matt Godden were well-marshalled and struggled to get into the game as a result.

Mark Robins’ true final gambit was to put Tyler Walker on for Josh Eccles – yes, Fankaty Dabo and Jonathan Panzo came on in defence after that but didn’t really change much – which saw Matt Godden drop into the number ten position and the team try to go even more direct to try and unsettle the Blackburn Rovers backline. While the slew of corners late-on might suggest that this move was successful to a point, that it was set-plays that were this team’s best hope, rather than open play creativity, is more telling of the ultimate impact of those tactical changes.

It takes nothing away from Ben Wilson’s late equaliser being a remarkable, potentially season-defining moment and a testament to the spirit and work-rate of this set of players, but if the Sky Blues are to make the play-offs they are likely to need to work out better ways to create chances when they really need to.

Is There Anything Left In The Tank?

Coventry City are a team that really don’t need any more injuries right now, so to see Ben Sheaf limp off before half-time and Gustavo Hamer seem to struggle through the game’s final minutes with some kind of problem of his own takes something away from the delight at salvaging such a late point. This is already a team shorn of three key creative attacking players through injury, it is hard to see how they would adapt to losing a further one, if not two, players who offer the team creative outlets.

It speaks to how thin Coventry City’s squad is at the moment that when they were chasing their most important game of the season, four of the five changes that the manager was able to make involved bringing defensive players onto the pitch. While the effort was there, the lack of additional attacking impetus almost saw this game slip away from the Sky Blues.

Being without Ben Sheaf and maybe even Gustavo Hamer is a particular concern heading into back-to-back home games where Coventry City are likely to dominate the ball and will need passers who can open up a set opposing defence. With just Ben Sheaf missing for the second-half of this game, it was notably difficult for the Sky Blues to control the tempo and move the ball into areas that hurt Blackburn Rovers. Mark Robins may need to pull another tactical rabbit out of the hat to get the two wins that this team probably needs over the next two games to remain in the play-off hunt.

As brilliant as salvaging a point in the last minute in a game that this team could not afford to lose, it may have come at too high a cost for this team to afford. This might be Coventry City’s best opportunity for a while to make the play-offs but it is galling that they may be unable to seize it because the squad is simply too thin on quality to sustain injuries in a few key areas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close