This game didn't really go as many thought it would. A win was always possible, but the manner in which Coventry approached the game is the most pleasing aspect in analysis.
This analysis will be in two parts.
First part: Stoke attack/Coventry defense.
Early on, it looked as though it might be a repeat of the two previous games. Long ball, chase it down, make them play long, hope for a chance. Here you see Stoke (4-1-2 with 3 defenders out of shot) playing that long ball. However, Coventry are organized (5-2 with McFadzean attacking the ball) with pressure and support around the ball mean Stoke cannot get a hold of the ball and the game is open, but scrappy.
Beyond the initial probes, Stoke started to get on the ball and ask a few more questions.
They had success in a couple of different ways:
Clucas and Powell were exceptional at finding spaces between the Coventry lines.
Here Powell drops to receive the ball. It does two things - Allows the wingback Smith to push forward, and also pulls Hamer from his defensive midfield partnership with Kelly.
The result, though blurry, is a huge gap and disorganization. Smith's run is now pinning Coventry deeper as Powell plays a ball over the top.
Another way was capitalizing on Coventry leaving gaps in transition. Coventry lose the ball and, as they begin to press, the deep line that has been so reliable in previous games becomes a problem with being too far away. The left center back, Norrington-Davies, is able to break the line and drive at the retreating defensive line.
Coventry did hold firm, though were pressured by a Stoke team that seemed to lack the killer instinct. Coventry got the goal before half time and limited Stoke to only 1 chance on goal. Bringing on Fletcher (7 shots in the second half, including the flash off of the bar) and Mikel at half time was much needed, but not by Coventry.
That change instantly began to ask questions, as you see here with Fletcher running in behind as Powell looks to split the Coventry defense. Again, this is a transition moment as Stoke counter-attack and Matty James is isolated against the direct attack with the deep line behind him.
The first goal that Stoke scored came from the corner and Hamer arguably over complicating clearing the ball. However, this build up shows how good Stoke were at playing between the Coventry line. Mikel plays into the feet of Brown who checked in. His check bring Hyam and McCallum. The ball turns James and it releases Smith into the channel. His cross is blocked out for the corner that lead to the goal.
In an almost identical moment to the goal, see how Brown again links with Powell to release Clucas into a 2v1 against McCallum. The same move pulls Hyam out of the defensive line and leaves Fletcher in a 1v1 versus McFadzean. Stoke just didn't capitalize enough on these moments of control against the Coventry line. Mostly due to the execution, but also because Coventry defended with a reason - points toward safety.
Finally, no picture, but a note on the second Stoke goal. The goal was struck so well, but watch the replay and note the pass that Powell put into the channel for the Smith cross. I would give the Stoke captain man of the match for Stoke.
Second part: Coventry attack/stoke defense.
Coventry's adjusted attack for this game is clear to see in the stats.
362 passes. 68% accuracy. Compare that with the Barnsley and Rotherham games...
It left Coventry exposed at time, as covered above in part one, but it also worked to pin Stoke deeper and gave Coventry opportunities to control the game in the areas of the field that would lead to goals.
Two strikers has been a constant call this season and when we use it, I like to show how it occupies center backs, especially when opponents play three. Walker and Godden are occupying the center backs, leaving space for O'Hare to combine with DaCosta and pull the Stoke midfield out of shape.
Walkers goal, at first glimpse, comes from nothing. Da costa wins the ball from the Stoke header and Coventry capitalize, but see how 9 of Coventrys players are surrounding the area the ball is going to be thrown into. Ostigard, the best header(er?) of the ball is right behind DaCosta, ready to clean up - this set up was purposeful and it resulted in snatching the goal.
The objectives seemed to be very similar to the previous two games in controlling the game in the key areas and being very pourposeful with opportunities. The first goal was from defending well, then Hamers freekick was tipped away by Gunn on 23' and then this moment that Walker should have scored. Hamer won the loose ball and as Stoke press, Hamer plays a very clever pass for Walker:
It is sad to say, but it is likely that McCallum is playing out his last few games for Coventry and it seems we've wasted most of the season to capitalize on those long throws. However, Biamou's goal was a result of loading the box and flicking the ball on. Beating Stoke with the famous Stoke approach.
I don't usually add video, but to emphasize Coventry being more purposeful and to highlight the value of James, watch how he not only creates space, but takes the team up the field with a run and a touch.
Stoke should be mad at their defending for their third goal. It was completely opportunitistic from Gyokeres. We could likely argue all day about the intention behind it, but watch the replay and decide for yourself! However, a goal is a goal. Ostigard liked it, we all liked it, and it killed Stoke off. It seemed surreal for Coventry to come back and score having given up the lead twice, but they did it and they did it very well.
Note 83 minutes and Coventry defending in the 1-5-4-1 with Biamou deep on the right. Eccles sured up the middle of the field as Hamer seems to have reverted to the early season performances of passing great and trying to be forceful with an opponent, often being beaten.
Stoke had the power, but Coventry were resolute in their play. Much of it replicated the previous two games with purpose in playing in the low risk areas. Often the ball went long, but there were moments of possession and building too.
So, game of the season? The value of momentum from two huge wins? Versatile tactics and confidence? Tell me what you think.