Coventry City brought an end to 2021 with a disappointing home defeat at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
Although the Sky Blues edged possession and the shot count, they simply couldn’t find a way through a big and physical Millwall side whose spoiling tactics game plan worked to good effect against Mark Robins ’s men.
It was a tight and scrappy game devoid of quality, and ultimately decided on one poorly defended free-kick that resulted in two flick-ons falling to striker Tom Bradshaw to poke home in the 79th minute.
Here are some of the big talking points and things learned from the game.
After all Millwall’s concerns and appeal to the EFL to request the game be postponed, it was Coventry whose first 11 was affected more with first choice goalkeeper Simon Moore, star midfielder Gus Hamer and wing-back Fankaty Dabo all out due to Covid.
Although the Lions made four changes to their starting line-up, only one – George Evans – was due to a positive test, while Jed Wallace was out injured and two others were dropped to the bench.
Their biggest complaint, it would seem, was that they were forced to name two Under-23 players with no first team experience and a 15-year-old schoolboy striker, Zak Lovelace – currently part of the Lions’ Under-18s – on their seven man bench, with the latter being rewarded with a stoppage time taste of the Championship when he was thrown on for his senior debut.
Robins revealed the extent of how Covid cases within his own squad had affected the team’s preparation for the game, reducing him to half of his senior squad for training over the last ten days.
That’s far from ideal preparation but all credit to the manager and his players for pressing ahead with their plans and not calling for the game to be postponed.
Some might feel that with the benefit of hindsight that a postponement may have been a blessing in disguise given the disappointing performance and final result, but under the EFL criteria the club clearly had enough personnel available to fulfil the fixture.
And with more fixtures set to be called off, and City having missed two already (against Stoke and Cardiff) goodness knows what the congested schedule will look like in the New Year.
Mis-firing forward line
Tyler Walker was handed his first start in ten games but it was a frustrating night for City’s front two.
The former Forest man was desperately unlucky to stumble in the box as he received a lovely ball from Callum O’Hare as early as the third minute but was later denied by a brilliant save from Bartosz Bialkowski when he sent a glancing header goalwards at the near post.
Matty Godden, meanwhile, had an uncharacteristic off night, looking a bit rusty in the touch, albeit working as hard as ever for the cause before making way for Viktor Gyokeres – now 11 games without a goal – for the last 20-odd minutes as City continued to plug away, desperately looking for a goal.
But it wasn’t until Jodi Jones entered the field three minutes from normal time that there was a bit of spark. Sadly, on this occasion, a case of too little too late.
Hard luck story
As we have become accustomed to seeing week in and week out, Callum O’Hare was once again targeted by the opposition for plenty of close attention and persistent fouling – the worst offence of which was when Bradshaw chopped him down from behind as he threatened to get away on the counter attack.
The referee, Geoff Eltringham, left the field at half-time to boos from the home fans after his arguably too lenient handling of the first half when he didn’t show a single yellow card.
He also missed two good penalty shouts from the Sky Blues, the first when O’Hare dribbled his way into the box and was clearly brought to ground, and the second from a corner when Viktor Gyokeres was grappled and dragged to the deck as he threatened to get on the end of Todd Kane’s delivery.
As disappointing as Wednesday night’s 1-0 defeat was, it’s perhaps time to reflect more on what’s gone before in the first half of the season rather than what’s come at the end of 2021.
Most fans would have snapped Mark Robins’s hand off if he’d offered them tenth place and 34 points – just 16 away from virtually guaranteed safety – at the halfway stage of the season.
What supporters have enjoyed in the 23 Championship games to date is largely exciting and entertaining football with several memorable performances, particularly at the CBS Arena.
All things considered, there are not too many grounds for complaints from an evolving and improving squad that has out-stripped expectations in their second season in the second tier.
And, as such, there’s plenty to look forward to for the second half of the campaign when there should still be more than enough in City’s locker to get back in touch with the play-off positions and see just how far they can take things come May.