It’s almost as though the summer never really happened, isn’t it?
There was a lot of worry and a dash of negativity going into the start of the new season, as many Cov fans felt that the team hadn’t really improved on what was at our disposal by the end of May. Matty James, Leo Østigård, and Sam McCallum waved goodbye at the end of their loan spells, and we didn’t really seem to be getting anyone in their stead through the door. Recruitment hadn’t been scarce, but nothing had really been done to whet fans’ whistles before the electrifying curtain-raiser against Forest. Punting some leather about some turf has soon put paid to that though; what with the opening win, a satisfying performance in spite of defeat against Barnsley, and a highly-entertaining 1-0 win over Blackpool. If Dennis Norden taught me anything, it’s that it’ll be alright on the night.
Coventry City vs. Reading – 21/08/2021
Confidence was high going into the game on the back of the previous three, and we started with intent. Ian Maatsen put in a brilliant cross early doors for big Viktor Gyökeres to put his Swede onto, but the opposing keeper was behind it. A statement of intent, and unlike the previous home game in the league, we were at full throttle from the off. All that was missing was the most important part; a goal. For all the verve and boldness in our attacking forays, we didn’t really seem to be getting any decent chances, especially inside the 18-yard box. There have been occasions where it seems as though Big Vik™ and Martyn Waghorn have been deployed on the wrong side of the pitch relative to their stronger feet, and this is most evident so far with Gyökeres. Numerous occasions have seen him on the left-hand side of the box with the opportunity for a shot, only for him to try and work it back onto his right and the chance fading away. Whether he should still have a go with his left, or whether Waghorn would have done better with the chance had he been in that position, is going to have to go unanswered for the time being at least, but it does seem to stymie a lot of the work that we put into creating these half-chances. Elsewhere, Callum O’Hare managed to hit the best shot of his career to date, and it still managed to be straight at the Reading goalkeeper, who parried it away for O’Hare to try again, and he dutifully returned it to the keeper.
Reading’s game plan was to try and catch us on the break, but they often struggled to get the ball past the halfway line of their own volition. In order to make a spectacle of proceedings, we sometimes delved into complacency in our passing from the back, in order to give them a rare chance. One such instance lead to the breakthrough. As Gustavo Hamer tried a quick pass forward to break the Reading lines, the would-be recipient was closed down before he could get a sniff of the ball, and the Royals were able to break away. A through-ball into the box saw John Swift ricochet off of Fankaty Dabo’s shoulder and Kyle McFadzean’s hulking mass on his way to the floor, which was enough to convince the referee of a penalty. Swift duly dispatched the spot-kick. 1-0 Reading.
God damn it lads. Don’t these guys know we’re the ones supposed to win this game?
The second half started out as a continuation of the events during the first half, albeit now with added Reading time-wasting. Although I’m sure of their intention, this didn’t seem to frustrate our players (certainly not as much as our fans). If anything, it just seemed to demonstrate a sense of fear in the away side. This in turn gave Julien Dacosta the confidence to take on, and beat, his man. However, that sense of complacency crept in to our defenders again, leading to a short period where we couldn’t really play our way out of the back, giving Reading a couple of half-chances of their own. Eventually things returned to normal, as Ian Maatsen sent a difficult chance to the moon.
With half an hour left, Mark Robins decided to ring the changes, with Matty Godden on for Waghorn, and Jamie Allen for Dacosta. Ben Sheaf dropped to centre-half, with Dabo back where he belongs, and Allen partnering Hamer in the middle. It was going to be interesting to see what difference these changes made to the game, and oh look at that we’ve scored.
The ball worked it’s way to the right wing, where Dabo’s early cross bounced off of Gyökeres, for Allen to hit a sweet left-footed half-volley from the edge of the box with his first touch. The Reading keeper got to it, but it was too hot to handle. 1-1. It can only go one way from here now, surely?
Combined with Allen’s Duracell energy, Matty Godden’s smart movements off the ball almost led to an instant second, but the angle was just a little too tight for the latter, and his shot was blocked. We regained our swagger, with O’Hare combining well with just about everyone on the pitch. The atmosphere crackled, and the side played with renewed vigour. One quick break saw Godden play the ball square to an unmarked and onrushing Maatsen, but the ball was smartly intercepted on the slide by Andy Rinomhota. The resulting corner saw a clever Gyökeres header tipped over by the keeper. This was a matter of when, not if. But then, we thought that in the first half, and look what happened there.
When the board went up for six additional minutes, there was a rather funny feeling. Were we really going to do this again? Well, we very nearly didn’t. Once again, some lazy passing from the back saw three Reading attackers in possession on the edge of our box, but fortunately the ball never really fell kindly for any of them, and the resulting corner was headed well over.
Simon Moore launched the ball high and into the attacking third, where it was knocked down for Hamer to bounce some passes around with O’Hare, and the final ball bounced off Hamer for Godden, who had ghosted himself into some space, and he hit a cool left-footed finish into the near post. He made it look easy. Pandemonium ensued.
Full-time: Coventry 2-1 Reading
Some teams can go a full season without a last-minute winner. It’s rare to see it even once. We’ve done it in our first two home league games of the season. It would be a naive assessment to say that we have to stop relying on leaving it so late, as that goes without saying, and there is so much football to be played that you can never predict what is going to happen. There will be games where, should we continue to play like this, we will get our deserved goals a lot sooner, and hopefully put games to bed with relative ease. Conversely, there will be games where our profligacy proves our downfall. Likewise, the composure with which we try to play the ball out of the defence still can lead to complacency, providing openings for the opposition. We still seem suspect to teams who press us, and if we keep making mistakes when under the cosh, then the better/luckier teams will take full advantage.
We do seem to playing a few extra yards further up the pitch though, and this is good. It is bringing the best out of Ben Sheaf, who is undergoing a mini renaissance (a Benassaince?), and in theory it should give us more time to get men back behind the ball on the occasions where we do give it away. Of course, you still have to win it back at that point, and the penalty we conceded today seems to encapsulate this point.
One does wonder how long we will be able to maintain this high-energy, straight-out-of-the-blocks style of play. It really is allowing us to get a foothold in matches though; instead of waiting for chances to come our way, we’re making them appear before us.
Waghorn and Gyökeres seem to be very similar players in how they drift wide, drop deep, and play with their backs to goal. With Waghorn being the proven player, brought in this season and taking the number nine shirt, it would seem that he would be the first-choice of the two. However, Big Vik’s early form and lingering goal threat makes him undroppable at the moment. It may be too soon for Godden to be starting against QPR this week, but it would seem perhaps better to nurture a partnership between those two, and also between the former and Tyler Walker, with Waghorn able to deputise for Gyökeres when the situation arises, rather than play alongside him.
By the way, did you see McFadzean’s little back heel late in the second half? Talk about taking the piss.