Preston North End 2-0 Coventry City
Robins said Coventry should have won the game, but they didn't. Why? Alex Neil said a lot of things in the first half from the sideline, so he gets the cover!
Any time a key player is out for the opponent it is a benefit. Their replacement is just that, a replacement. So, with Preston missing Scott Sinclair it would mean less of a direct goal threat. Positives before kick-off...
Much like the set piece 'innovation' versus Stoke, Coventry made some tweaks. Perhaps Robins read my analysis on the Wednesday game for when they pressed with 2 and then with 3, for how it left bigger gaps and ultimately problems.
Preston had early corners and looked to capitalize as City were sluggish from the start.
It enticed Preston into early confident bouts of possession, which might have all been a trap.
Here you see the intentions of Coventry in allowing Preston to have possession and capitalizing on any sloppy play within the Preston half. Hamer stealing the ball, which resulted in a shot:
The same situation happens again three times over the next 8 minutes, with Coventry setting up to press and winning the ball higher. Each time the ball was won it gave Coventry possession in a promising area:
Here the ball was lost centrally from Sheaf, but Preston failed to capitalize, due in part to Sheaf's recovery.
In just 4 seconds the ball was back at the feet of Hamer and the Preston midfield was broken with a through ball to O'Hare.
Here the ball went into Allen from O'Hare, but there was a roadblock. 6 Preston defenders compact on the edge of the box, with only Godden and O'Hare to connect with, meant that this is where the Coventry attack broke down. This happened often.
The transition behavior from Coventry was excellent. Regaining possession high up the field is a tactic employed by some of the best teams in the world, but capitalizing on the opportunities is what hurt in this game. Watch the first half again and see the amount of times the same situation arose.
How can we improve that?
It worked with Biamou and Walker together previously. Biamou joined the game in the second half to play in tandem with Godden, but at that point the style of play had changed. Could it have worked from the off? It would mean that the ball would be more direct from Hamer or O'Hare, which could be predictable, assuming Allen would have been sacrificed for the second striker. Yet, here you see Godden dropping and needing that strike partner to combine with, as he attempted to play Allen in. Note the flat line in attack with Godden dropping. No depth, no threat.
Transitions happen because of transitions. We lost the ball so now we need to recover to win the ball. Have you ever played wing-back? Getting up and down the wing is a difficult task, especially when the ball is being won and lost as often as it was in the first half of this game. However, the opposite side should have been used more, especially in the first half.
Often, Giles found himself in this situation. On the open side, with a potential 1v1. Coventry have just won the ball.
By the time the ball gets to him, 9 seconds later, the field is completely different. He has to drop to receive the bsal and 5 Preston players have covered his potential attack.
Why? The ball was cycled across the back line, allowing Preston to shift, without being pressured.
The ball then drops to Hamer, who plays long to a Godden run, and the ball rolls out harmlessly for a goalkick.
Yes, Hamer needs to be on the ball, but not deep like a quarterback searching for a hail mary.
I showed purposeful possession previously from the game versus Sheffield Wednesday and was needed more so in this game. Patience and purpose to move Preston. It felt as though they got their first half goal, and were content to hold it. They offered very little going forwards beyond their goal, which lead to an even more frustrating afternoon for Coventry as they were the dominant team in the game.
This was a game for Dabo to shine, and the purposeful possession began to find its way in. Hamer getting the ball in more advanced positions toward the end of the half meant he could use and exploit the opportunities presented with higher wingbacks:
Then into the second half and a total of 13 crosses from Dabo. He was the outlet and had the beating of Earl until he was substituted. I have complained previously that Coventry failed to really exploit a weakness in the opponent and this was a complete opposite and almost overkill. However, it worked. Ostigard pushed high, pushing Dabo higher to create those crossing opportunities. Yet, the crosses are aimed at Allen, Godden, and O'Hare.
The shape worked, but I think that whilst the tactics worked, they failed at the same time due to the personnel playing in the key areas.
End on a low note.
I have to explore the goals and the mistakes that killed this performance for Coventry.
Sheaf has faced a lot of backlash, but look at what happens before he receives the ball from Hyam. McFadz and Sheaf both pointing Hyam to recycle the ball through Wilson. Johnson, who pressed very effectively for Preston and deserved the goal, was not a significant issue to prevent a switch of play but ended up in a key position. So, within 3 seconds the ball has gone unnecessarily into the feet of a player standing still, about to be pressured by someone running. Hyam is regularly rated as one of the best performers, so mistakes like this should be identified for such a poor decision
That's not to say Sheaf didn't help himself, and so the inquest continues on his value in this team. He plays sideways a lot, has very little to offer in terms of a forward attack. However, he shields a backline, that should allow the wingbacks to join the attack more - as you should have seen from Dabo's impressive crossing rate. It also free's up Hamer to attack more. When Sheaf was subbed later in the game, Hamer's position must drop and that is a weakness to the Coventry, I believe.
The second goal is a compound of our errors again. It comes as a result of failing to recognize the situation, much like with the first goal. Kids are taught 'if in doubt get it out'. Where did that go? Two moments, two long balls away from pressure change the game. Instead, Sheaf goes ahead of the ball but leaves a man to man backline under pressure. Allen loses the ball, concedes the freekick and the ensuing scramble kills the game.
Unfortunately, you don't get points for when you should have won. The setup worked. The methods for how to get at Preston, as shown above, worked to win the ball in dangerous areas, and chances were created early on. O'Hare, who has been getting a lot of Twitter abuse, should have had at least one assist to his name from this game. Yet, just like before, should doesn't get the job done.
A new year, a new City might await. With the reverse fixtures coming, I am excited to see if these subtle changes will impact the bigger games that are coming up. Or at least show Coventry as adaptable and able to find a way to grind a win more than a draw. The concern is that we 'will always take a point', but if we lose games we 'shouldn't' then a point here and there is not enough. In this game, more than the Stoke game, Coventry was prepared and that's what left the frustrating taste after 52 minutes. I'll take prepared over clueless anytime, but I'll also take goals over clean sheets because goals win games.
Happy new year SBA