Birmingham City 1-1 Coventry City
19 fouls. 3 yellows.
8 attempts on goal from set-pieces.
Birmingham were very organized in this game.
When Coventry tried to play out from the back, the front two lines of Birmingham looked like a 3-3 and prevented any real opportunity to combine centrally.
When Coventry did get forward into the Birmingham half, there were few opportunities for success. Here you see an attempted pass into Biamou was blocked. The second image shows the ball dropping to Hamer 5 seconds later and he continues with the long ball approach, which ran harmlessly to Etheridge.
Later in the game, Birmingham remained resolute with their shape, opting for a 4-5-1 and allowing Coventry to have the ball around the halfway line, preventing any dangerous forward play.
Success in the first half for Coventry came from finding Biamou. Several times he was played wide into the channels, which gave the team a chance to push up and support, but other times it was played into his feet. There were several times when Coventry played with quick combinations, utilizing Hamer, O'Hare, and James. In this next image, Hamer finds Biamou (who was then fouled), and Biamou threads Gyokeres in before the play is returned to the foul on Hamer. These were the only glimpses of Coventry building forward in the first half, but Biamou was certainly the standout player for Coventry going forward.
"Two up top"
The successful organization of Birmingham meant that the long ball became the outlet for Coventry. Yet, as we have already seen this season, playing an isolated striker does not suit such a style of play. One glimpse of the approach working came from Gyokeres staying higher and flicking the ball on for Biamou. The resulting shot trickled wide:
The left side again.
Gyokeres was highlighted in the game on Wednesday as leaving McCallum isolated and overloaded. This game resulted in the same. 43% of Birmingham attacks came down their right side, targeting McCallum and the space left by Gyokeres. The penalty is case and point.
No, McCallum should not be diving in. We could all see it happening, but rewind seconds and you'll see the overload created when McCallum is left isolated. James is working to get out to the ball, but the cover offered is too late, leaving Clayton to feed Sanchez in, which results in the penalty.
Having already got a penalty from attacking through the right-wing, Birmingham continued to work through that channel. Here you see by McCallum and Gyokeres circled, and the space that was left for Colin to drive into. Hamer was pulled out, which then brings James over and unbalances the rest of the team.
McCallum has rarely come in for criticism this season but in this game, he looked out-of-sorts. Though he had the most touches of any player, (89, Hamer closest with 70) he made some mistakes that were almost costly, beginning with the penalty. It is worth highlighting, as I did with Hyam, and as the most senior wingback, this cannot go unchecked. Here you see he receives the ball from Hyam. A second before, instead of playing in the channel as he had done most of the game, he took a touch inside to find the picture you see.
This is on 79 minutes, having dealt with sustained pressure throughout the second half, and facing 9 corners, this ball needs to break the press and go longer. The issue is that decisions like this lead to costly mistakes. They also compound pressure and force Coventry into positions as you see, below. 15 minutes to go in the game and 10 players are inside the defensive third. It's compact and Birmingham never really looked like scoring, even from their abundance of corners, but neither did Sheffield Wednesday in December until they beat us 1-0 from a set-piece.
You can see the lineup on display here. However, referring back you saw Birmingham defending in a 4-5-1 and you can see why it was difficult for Coventry to really have any central control in the game. As you can tell from the body position of both O'Hare and Biamou, they expect the ball to go in behind. Birmingham did have a high defensive line, but it was a good one with Coventry caught offside 8 times.
The shape of Coventry, versus the compact central overload of Birmingham, meant that the creative midfield of Coventry would not control the game and lead to a scrappy, longer ball game.
The left side of Coventry was hit hard early on, but Gyokeres worked harder to provide the cover he was tasked with doing, meaning he was behind the play in the transition moments. Therefore, the ball went long to an isolated striker.
O'Hare, having been so good against Wednesday on the ball, started out the same but was kicked and often unable to be the impact player he can be, though the same amount of team possession went through him (4% in both games). He was, of course, the catalyst for the goal. He did a lot of work off of the ball in pressing, especially on long balls back to Etheridge. His constant mobility is often overlooked when he misses chances or does not assist a goal every game, but he performs the same dirty task for harassing and pressing each game, it's just that the last two games have been rewarded with goals. Coventry have also stayed resolute with being hard to beat, as you can see from the final image. I have shown you several instances of transition defending by Coventry and you'll see Hamer in at right-back as Ostigard recovers from being up the field. Sadly, this was seconds after an attacking Coventry freekick near the edge of the Birmingham box, but it still means playing hard to beat and a point is better than none.
Tuesday, Coventry will face Forest for the return leg of the most frustrating game in recent memory. You know, in the 95th of 96 minutes and the ball went backward...
Robins went with a 1-5-3-2 and based on the analysis of the last two games, it might come out again given the exposed wingback areas, and having two strikers that seem eager to play together. Rose was also an unused sub today, and whilst it might be too soon for him to play, McFadzean should be available again. @Leedunnesoccer #PUSB