Coventry City 0-1 Preston North End
It was a hangover performance that also highlighted some continuing trends.
Given the demand of the previous 3 games and the outcomes, it would seem highly unlikely to perform the same way for 4 games in a row. There was also a lot of hype around 'staying up' and how it would take a Titanic size iceberg to sink Coventry from this point.
To the game, and interestingly, Coventry had 60% possession and 67% pass accuracy. They looked favorite through most of the game, until the penalty. Compared to the stoke game, Coventry were less accurate with more of the ball.
Both teams set up the same way with 3 in the back and a 4+1 or straight 5 in midfield. The opening 20 were very stuffy, with both teams looking for a common outlet. The image below is after a moment of Coventry pressure and Preston winning the ball, then playing out. Note the depth of the players. Maguire is the only Preston player ahead of the halfway line with Evans having dropped deep. The same defensive setup has been true of Coventry for most of the season.
Set Pieces Both teams looked to make a difference with set pieces. Coventry has had a lot of success in previous games and Preston has a similar threat with long throws.
Here you can see Preston doing everything they can to prevent conceding a throw-in.
The resulting throw-in looked like the same opportunity that Biamou scored on Wednesday. This time the ball bounces away from goal and out of danger for Preston.
What changed? Why would players not anticipate this?
There were several chances for Coventry in the first half and all coming from a set-piece moment. Biamou misses this chance, but the creativity from Coventry to work it into that space is worth noting. Preston drops deep to defend the long throw and a combination of O'Hare and Hamer creates the space for the changed angle and type of ball into the 6-yard area. It was well worked but highlights the inconsistency trend of the Coventry front line.
The issue with creating chances from set pieces is that your opponent is often organized. Unless you can break their organization with a quick/short throw as above.
Here Preston has 9, including the GK behind the ball. Even after a short corner to Rose changes the angle of delivery, Preston were deep. This was one of 4 first-half shots that Preston blocked.
O'Hare's involvement was noteworthy in this game because of the clear style that Coventry played. Getting O'Hare on the ball is important, especially when your opponent is not expecting it so. Here you see the ball being switched from a Coventry throw on the left. Preston set up to defend, but a short throw and switch pull Preston out of shape. The central three are separated. The front two chase. and O'Hare finds the gap between Barkhuizen and Whiteman. O'Hare, in the space, pulls Hughes out of position, and the scrappy moment of possession results in O'Hare releasing DaCosta to cross the ball.
The resulting cross from DaCosta see's another shot blocked.
It's also beneficial to get O'Hare on the ball because he attracts attention, resulting often in fouls. Whilst it's not good for him, or for a fan who hopes he doesn't get injured, it gets Coventry into the spaces they want to be in. Over 100 fouls against him this season should explain the threat he is on the ball.
The game shaped up as a battle of set pieces. Here you can see Barkhuizen launching the ball in. Much like Coventry's early chances, the ball fell to Whiteman outside the box and his shot was saved by Wilson.
This moment came from a free-kick inside the Preston half. You can see Coventry are organized around the ball, but it's the second moment that creates the problem.
The second moment see's the ball wide with Browne. Coventry's three centre midfielders, plus McCallum are pressing in a 4v2. The cross is cleared by Hyam, but straight to Ledson who is wide open. His shot is saved, but the pressure to deal with the knockdown leads to an unorganized Coventry line.
The game in itself was fairly unspectacular. The hangover feeling was real given the 'hard work' had been done and it showed. Chances that Coventry has capitalized on recently went missing and it took a penalty to separate the teams. The ball came from a deep Iversen freekick and it 'looked' like it should be easily dealt with. Evans stopped, expecting Wilson to claim it. When he didn't, he pounced and got between Wilson and the ball:
It highlights the issue that Coventry has had all season. Individual errors from lapses in concentration that hurt. It also highlights the keeper situation that has been a constant debate this season. This game should have limped out to a draw and Coventry could have secured safety for themselves. Instead, the missed chances seem to be even greater misses because of the penalty and the loss - another story of the season.
Huddersfield on Saturday and that game should come with an expectation for changes. More fringe players to play, and hopefully a focus on the players that will be around next season. The conversation continues on players we want to keep and those we want to offload, but it will be good to get some experience for players like Eccles and Bakayoko whom we can likely expect to be around next season. Perhaps a farewell for Shipley. Who knows.
Ultimately, Coventry are safe and can begin to prepare for next season in the Championship again.