With what was essentially the final kick of game, a decent point for Coventry City turned into a third straight defeat which plunges the Sky Blues into a League One relegation battle. Much like Coventry’s recent fortunes, the team somehow summoned defeat after switching off for just half a minute and lost a vital point. Whilst the two sides were fairly even in terms of quality, Swindon’s compactness and physicality proved effective both defensively and in attack.
Coventry City opened the contest in a torpor, playing in a diamond formation it seemed apparent that many of the players weren’t quite sure where to stand on the pitch. When they were able to get into the opposing half, too many players were unable to escape their markers or pick the right pass to open up a well-organised Swindon Town side. For our opponents their bright spark was Tottenham loanee Alex Pritchard who played a free role in a fluid Swindon formation that varied from 3-6-1 to 3-4-3. It was no surprise that the diminutive play-maker got himself on the scoresheet in the 8th minute when he found himself unmarked in the Coventry penalty area.
From then until the half-hour mark Swindon, whilst not dominate, were content to allow a confused Coventry side to bluster and blow whilst in possession. However, for no apparent reason, Coventry suddenly found themselves in the ascendancy. Perhaps it was a greater effort in closing down the opposition or simply players raising their performance levels, but the Sky Blues were on the front foot and asking questions of the Swindon defence. In particular it was clear that Conor Thomas was tackling harder, Nathan Delfouneso was winning more headers and pressing the opposition and Cyrus Christie has escaped the shackling of Pritchard and McEveley down Swindon’s left flank.
It was surprising though that it was John Fleck who fired home Coventry’s equaliser. The Scot became Coventry City’s first central midfielder to find the back of the net this season. In particular it was surprising in that Fleck’s own performance had thus far been far below the standard he showed in the opening half of the campaign.
With half-time fast approaching, Coventry fashioned several opportunities to take the lead going in to the break. The closest of those came when Nathan Delfouneso’s soft header nearly rolled passed Foderingham in the Swindon goal. The feeling that the break was coming at a bad time for the Sky Blues was rising amongst 3,000 odd crowd at Sixfields.
This suspicion was confirmed when the two teams re-emerged after the break in play. Whilst Swindon weren’t exactly bossing the play, Coventry had returned to the static and lethargic football that they had produced in the opening half-hour. The Wiltshire side eventually created a number of glorious opportunities to take the lead, none more so than when Troy Archibald-Henville escaped an offside call at a corner-kick to miss from 2 yards in front of Joe Murphy.
The key decision that turned the game fully in Swindon’s favour came when Pressley substituted Nathan Delfouneso with Nathan Eccleston. Whilst the Blackpool loanee put in a good shift in attack, the Sky Blues lost any aerial threat which meant that they struggled to build attacks from inside their own half. Fellow substitute Dylan McGeouch looked bright after coming on but failed to produce to connect with his team-mates whenever he received the ball.
As the closing minutes and then seconds approached there was the sense that this was a good point for Coventry City against a strong Swindon Town team. Whilst City has struggled in attack for most of the game, they won most of their 50-50s in the defensive half and limited Swindon to just 6 shots on target. Unfortunately that final shot on target proved the game’s decisive moment.
After losing an appeal for a free-kick, City found themselves on the back foot as Swindon used the physicality of Michael Smith to put Jordan Willis under pressure. After denying Swindon’s first attempt to get into the area, David Prutton failed to challenge Jay McEveley who swung in a glorious delivery cutting on to his left-foot. The flight of the ball meant that Webster, Clarke and Christie were in the wrong position to challenge Michael Smith for the ball and Joe Murphy was in no position to either save the header or stop the cross.
A small moment where one or two players failed to win challenges they had been winning for most of the game. Now Coventry go from mid-table safety to hoping that Carlisle don’t win their game in hand which could leave the Sky Blues just 3 points above the relegation zone.
Joe Murphy – Didn’t have a great deal to do, made a great save against Nathan Byrne in the second half and kicked the ball well when under pressure. 6
Cyrus Christie – A Carl Baker-esque performance in that he had great moments and some poor moments. At his best he was the player he was in the first 10 games of the season, at his worst he was where he’s been for the past 30 games. His decision making has improved and was more willing to put the ball in the box rather than cut inside and shoot. 6
Jordan Clarke – Once again was composed and calm when on the ball, timed some challenges very well and had completely marked the physical 6ft4 striker Michael Smith out of the game. 7
Andy Webster – Won a lot of headers and made a number of well timed challenges. Was also good on the ball when he needed to be. 7
Jordan Willis – Was put under pressure by Michael Smith in the second half after Jordan Clarke had marked him out of the game. Made a number of well-timed challenges that completely killed Swindon attacks but may go down as in part responsible for the losing goal. 6
David Prutton – Played at the foot of the diamond which requires good anticipation and good distribution. Made only one key interception and his passing was often very poor. Looked decent when playing more of a box-to-box role and may simply be not the type of player to play at the base of a diamond formation. 5
John Fleck – Aside from taking his goal exceptionally well, this was a poor performance from Fleck. His passing was often more hopeful than meaningful and contributed little in a defensive sense. 5
Conor Thomas – Started the game poorly, lost 50-50 challenges and his passing was poor. Improved from the half-hour mark onwards and won challenges that moved the team up the pitch. Clearly has the potential to be one of the best midfielders in the division, needs to believe in himself more. 6
Carl Baker – Another who was poor in the opening half hour of the match, however he also got better as the first-half wore on. Took on players and his off-the-ball movement started to make Swindon think about how to defend. Little of what he did came off though. 5
Callum Wilson – Was very quiet today as Swindon’s back three had him marked out of the game for large portions of the afternoon. Couldn’t exploit his pace in the game and failed to beat players that he took on. 4
Nathan Delfouneso – Started looking lazy and unable to win any of the challenges that he needed to. When he started to put the opponents under pressure and win aerial balls he made things happen. Should have got himself a goal but his header lacked power. 6
Nathan Eccleston – A very willing runner but lacks the skill and nous to make himself an effective footballer at this level of football. His replacement of Delfouneso cost the team one of its out-balls and arguably the game. 4
Dylan McGeouch – With his first run on the ball this afternoon he showed why he’s so highly rated at Celtic. Took players on with ease and was along with Christie our only driving force in the closing half hour. Unfortunately his inability to pick out a team-mate and lack of tenaciousness in the middle of the pitch limited his real impact. 5
Steven Pressley – For me he got his tactics wrong today. The team took too long to adapt to the formation and surrendered an avoidable early goal. Took off the wrong striker in Delfouneso which affected the team’s ability to get the ball away from danger areas. Now has to prove he was worth the praise he’s garnered this season by taking all 3 points at Oldham to ensure safety. 4