The dawning of a new December brought with it the dreadful despairing of a deciduous dip in our displays. The six-game unbeaten spell that befell us in the autumn was now well and truly confined to the remnants of football history, and we have left our positive vibes to freeze in the harsh wintry climes.
Often, as the sun sets on the first third of the footballing season, for many clubs the reality of their campaign starts to manifest, and rear it’s oft-ugly visage. Teams who struggled to start with may find their feet and dance to a rhythm, whereas those who hit the ground running may often trip over and start to lose pace to the other competitors. Only the truly great teams manage to continue their solid starts, whereas an inability to overturn a poor beginning marks the sign of a team far less befitting the league they find themselves in. So, where does that leave us?
Coventry City vs Luton Town – 15/12/2018
I think that, going into this game, the best way to describe the difference between these two promoted signs is that while we want to mean business, Luton just do the business. For a promoted side to just get on with things and continue to do so past the first two months of the season is not to be sniffed at. Of course, it helps that the Hatters have managed to keep the core of their team intact, further allowing them to employ the same philosophy that brought them here to begin with. On the flip side, we continue to encourage an possession-based, attacking philosophy, but the departure of Marc McNulty over the summer, and the loss of Max Biamou to injury for the season, has led to a dearth of goals that such an outlook would otherwise entail.
City started with the same 4-3-3/4-5-1 system that had been utilised in our crushing 2-1 injury-time collapse away at Walsall. Perhaps Mark Robins felt that this was the way forward for the time being, however, it could also well be that adding an extra man in midfield would help in counteracting the narrow diamond that Luton employed. Jordan Shipley was allowed to play in his preferred central role, alongside Tom Bayliss, with Liam Kelly sweeping up behind them. On paper, this looks like a logical and well-balanced system.
For the majority of the first half, Luton were in control, without really causing any scares inside our eighteen-yard box. However, one speculative ball down the line from Elliott Lee saw a race between Tom Davies and Harry Cornick comfortably won by the Luton forward. Davies, knowing he was beaten for pace, tried to intercept the pass before it reached Cornick, and failed. This error of judgement only lead to Cornick being able to venture unchallenged into the 18-yard box, but he could only drag his shot wide of Lee Burge’s far post, and really should have done better.
We were creating little, partly due to Luton’s defensive diligence, yet we arguably should have been 1-0 up. A devilish Luke Thomas cross from the right found Jordy Hiwula past the far post. Hiwula stretched to make contact, and the goalkeeper caught the ball. However, it seemed clear to many of the home support that the ball had crossed the line. The sheer pace of the play would have made it difficult for any match officials to have seen clearly though. Hopefully though, you would have thought this would have galvanised us. In truth, it was something that came from nothing; a rare good chance in a game devoid of them for the home side.
The next meaningful passage of play saw us concede. A well-worked corner saw Luton head the ball back across goal for centre-half Matthew Pearson to tap in. If anything can be taken from this, it’s that the defence was really poor at keeping their concentration to prevent the second ball being a goalscoring touch. How Pearson was in front of his marker with no-one else between him and the goal is also poor. 1-0 Luton, and that was how it stayed until half-time.
Luton continued to control proceedings in the manner that they had in the first half. They also weren’t afraid to try the odd shot from distance, albeit with varying results. However, akin to earlier, we were the first team to look like scoring. Jack Grimmer played a nice looping cross to the back post, and Jonson Clarke-Harris rushed on to meet it with his head. However, the Luton goalkeeper was able to make himself big enough to keep it out.
And again, much like the first half, it was Luton who then went on to actually score. Cornick was able to keep the ball as he tried to drive into the box, albeit being forced out wide. The Luton player then lay the ball off to Lee on the right, who skipped past another challenge before driving the ball across goal, and onto the ever-grateful toe of Cov lad James Collins, whose ensuing celebration would have you believe he’s actually a Leicester kid by birth. Truth is, the defending from the midfield, and the marking from the defenders, was poor. Two lapses in concentration; two goals conceded. Not good.
As the game wore on, more and more individual errors started to come to the fore: Grimmer and Kelly were both guilty of carelessly heavy touches outside their own box, both allowing Luton a chance. Liam Kelly took a swipe at goal following a clearance from a City corner. Cue the chants of ‘We’ve had a shot’ from the home support. Nothing like gallows humour to provide entertainment, in lieu of any on the pitch.
As the game bored its way through to a forgone conclusion, the last minute of added time saw Burge finally get a decent kick out of his locker, (his kicking was poor all day), all the way to Thomas, who was rushing into the Luton box. James Shea in the Luton goal, who had put in a fairly good performance despite not being called upon all too often, misjudged his run from the goal line, and let Thomas and the ball past him. Thomas took a couple of touches to tee himself up, only to find a despairing Shea’s vain attempt to spare his own blushes bring the winger down. A penalty! Not that we cared all that much at this point.
Following Conor Chaplin’s disaster penalty miss against Fleetwood, Clarke-Harris stepped up, and blasted the penalty home. Those with one foot already out the door finally dragged their other one out, and the game played out moments later.
Full time: Coventry City 1-2 Luton Town.
As many of our recent matches have been away from home, in games I haven’t attended, it’s been hard for me to witness and thus judge a lot of our performances that have coincided with our downturn in form. As such, I can’t say if the point I’m about to make applies to those games as well as this, but from what I have been able to see, it’s a depressing point of view nonetheless.
In a lot of games this season where we have failed to win, it cannot be argued that we haven’t created enough chances to win the game; merely we were let down by poor decision making or lacklustre goalscoring ability. However, I can’t retread that already tired old ground this time around, because to do so would be to lie to you. No, rather than dominating matches and coming up short, we now just seem to have given up. Whether this was simply due to the performance of our opponents on the day will have to be seen over the next few matches, but it doesn’t bode well. Yes, Luton were well-organised, and kept us on the back foot, but we simply did next to nothing on the rare occasions that we were able to have the ball. Yes, we still had one good chance before each Luton goal (one of which you could semantically argue should have stood thus changing the course of the game), but it was still a performance so unlike many others we have had this season; that one good chance per half is exactly as pitiful as it comes across.
In terms of individual performances, and on a somewhat more positive note, I feel as though some praise must be reserved for both Junior Brown and Jordan Shipley. Brown looks a much more assured player than the one who seemed terrified of having the ball only several weeks ago. He showed the best use of the ball yet from him, with what little of the ball he could actually use. I wouldn’t say still that he is a shoo-in for the left-back berth, but no complaints could be made about him from where I was sat on Saturday. He’s still not completely there in terms of justifying the lofty claims of his former Shrewsbury supporters (which should make our next fixture all the more intriguing), but he is making progress, and that’s at least something.
As for Shipley, he seemed to revel in his central role. He covered all the ground that you would expect from him, and was often the only cause of any attacking movement from our side. His passing was far tidier from earlier in the season, if not eye-catching, and certainly left an impression on this writer at least.
Conversely, this leads me onto Tom Bayliss. He was voted City’s Man of The Match, to the bemusement of many, and it’s fair to say he wasn’t at his electrifying best on the day. Seeing little of the play, with only one attacking foray to his name; it got me wondering if having Shipley alongside him, driving forward with intent and just being a busybody in the middle (with varying degrees of effectiveness), was detrimental to Bayliss – as if he wasn’t the sole bearer of the attacking drive through the middle, so was unsure of what to do with himself. Of course, it could also be argued that the majority of our possession was found down the left-hand side of the pitch, meaning he didn’t get the ball all that often, but even when he did, very little happened on what was a disappointing day for the youngster. But then, he is a young lad after all, so maybe he needs a rest (even if we perish the thought of him missing a game leaving us devoid of any creativity bar Thomas).
Then there’s Hiwula. A winger he is not. His constant desire to bomb as far away from Brown as possible whenever the latter is in possession must be as infuriating for Brown as it is for me. His touch is poor, his dribbling ineffective, and he’s just dead weight at the minute. The return of Reise Allassani from his loan at Ebbsfleet should hopefully mean that Hiwula is returned to the bench, in favour of a winger many fans are champing at the bit to see what he can produce, outside of brief, final-few-minutes cameos.
I can’t remember the last time we had a good Christmas period, so I doubt that things shall improve until we’re into January at least. Perhaps, then, this is a time for Robins to throw caution to the wind, and just try something, anything, and see what sticks. We are yet to get the best out of Conor Chaplin. We have printed Missing Person posters for Tony Andreu. We want to see more of the human meme, ’20 Goals’ Amadou ‘Offside’ Bakayoko. There are a lot of things that we could be doing differently (scoring goals being the most pertinent issue), but worryingly, it seems that no-one knows how to do it.
Shrewsbury away next could see us scramble a return, before we throw it all away at home on Boxing Day against Charlton. I’ll see you there!
Onwards, and eventually, upwards.