Coventry City got the job done at home to Reading with a final result that was closer than it should have been.
After Viktor Gyokeres missed an early one-on-one, any fears that the Sky Blues had fluffed their lines on a key occasion were laid to rest when Matt Godden fired emphatically past Joe Lumley in the Reading goal after a flurry of chances just after the half-hour mark. Gyokeres then had another great chance to make it comfortable just before half-time, but hit the post.
Reading kicked vaguely into life following the second-half break and produced a moment of true quality, via Lucas Joao, to unexpectedly level the scores. However, Gustavo Hamer took it upon himself to cancel out any nerves almost immediately after the re-start, firing home after his initial shot rebounded off Naby Sarr’s arm in the Royals’ penalty area.
From then on, Coventry City looked dangerous on the break as Reading laboured to find another equaliser, with Viktor Gyokeres missing another excellent chance to seal the win. However, after over ten minutes of injury time, the Sky Blues held claimed a valuable win that puts them in the top six with two games left.
Kelly Comes In To Play The Kelly Role
Coventry City’s captain made his first start for the club in nearly a year in one of the team’s most important games. For someone who has not only struggled with his fitness but has faced question marks as to his ability at Championship level, Liam Kelly playing an important role and lasting 90 minutes should be considered especially sweet on a personal level for the midfielder.
Liam Kelly was brought in to play a very specific role for the Sky Blues in this game in order to suit his physical and technical capabilities. Sitting in front of a defensive three that was without the key leadership figure of Kyle McFadzean, Kelly was there to mop up long balls and nick the ball away from opposing forwards before recycling possession to his teammates. It was a role he performed adeptly, providing some vital calm to stymie potentially dangerous Reading attacks and keep Coventry on the front foot as much as possible.
The concern with playing Liam Kelly in a game against a team looking to sit deep was whether he could offer the team enough in possession to break down a determined opponent. While Kelly had a couple of decent moments with the ball, there was enough talent around him – in Gustavo Hamer and Callum Doyle – for his limitations not to be an issue and for his strengths out of possession to come to the fore.
It was an impressive performance from Liam Kelly, but in a limited and specific way. It is hard to even be confident that this kind of performance from Kelly would be what Coventry City need against Birmingham City next week, let alone heading into a prospective play-off campaign. That should take nothing away from how good it was to see a hero of the club’s League Two promotion season prove he can still play a role at Championship level today.
Counter-Attacking City Make It Work
Mark Robins seems to have accepted Coventry City’s current identity as a counter-attacking team, despite his longer-term aspiration to play a more dominant, possession-based style. The concern heading into this game was just how the Sky Blues could translate their most effective approach against a team likely to sit in a deep, defensive shape and try and frustrate the home team.
The bifurcated nature of Coventry City’s set-up, with three centre-backs and Liam Kelly generally staying in their own half, with Gustavo Hamer and the strikers pushing up against Reading’s defensive line, leaving the wing-backs and Josh Eccles to link the two elements together led to some awkwardness in converting long spells of possession into chances. With Josh Eccles and the wing-backs not having particularly good games, it was those longer periods with the ball that were the issue for the Sky Blues.
Fortunately, Reading were far too open in the middle of the pitch, allowing Gustavo Hamer to float into dangerous areas where he could drive with the ball at their defenders, occasionally leading to overloads when Viktor Gyokeres, Matt Godden joined in on the action. The Royals were given a let-off when Hamer sent Gyokeres clean through on goal in the first-half – as well as the multiple times that Naby Sarr grappled the Swede that the referee serenely ignored – but it was only addressed just after the hour-mark, when they were 2-1 down, when they sacrificed a striker for a midfielder to tighten things up in the middle.
While the Sky Blues deserve a degree of credit for just how quick and switched-on they were to potential counter-attacking scenarios, their ability to do so was aided and abetted by an opponent that got their approach wrong and really should have been punished more ruthlessly for doing so.
Hamer Reigns Supreme
If there is one player who made things work for Coventry City more than any other in this game, it was none other than Gustavo Hamer. The midfielder played the role of, more or less, two or three normal players, in covering ground out of possession, hassling opponents off the ball, and being the team’s key playmaker with it. Hamer looked to be operating several moves ahead of anyone else on the pitch, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time and then constantly making excellent decisions to turn promising moments into genuine danger.
One of Gustavo Hamer’s stand-out qualities is his ability to be a step ahead of opponents in getting to the ball. Having been pushed further forward recently, it is impressive that Hamer has been able to translate that quality into being able to turn the ball over high up the pitch. It provides the team with some much-needed hassling in the opposition half that has been missing in the absence of Callum O’Hare – and, to a lesser extent, Kasey Palmer. In fact, that ability to win the ball off opponents in key areas provides as much creativity as Hamer’s passing does.
As for Gustavo Hamer’s passing ability, it is not just that he has excellent technique but it’s the ability to spot passes that others cannot and the determination to play difficult balls, even when on the run. In a game when the team was without any other kind of playmaker – save for arguably Callum Doyle in defence – the pressure was on Hamer to conduct the orchestra, while at the same time having to play one of the instruments in his newfound auxiliary forward role.
Presser, playmaker, attacker, three players in one. Having already been taking his game to a new level after finding discipline following those two early red cards this season, Gustavo Hamer has taken his game even further in recent weeks just when the team needed him to be something more than stand-out talent he already was.
It’s every bit Player of the Season material as Viktor Gyokeres excellence has been this year.