Narrow Coventry expose Sunderland defence
I don’t know enough about the way in which Coventry have played throughout this season to suggest they altered their game plan this past weekend; however, their approach to exposing Sunderland’s defence was incredibly effective - whether intentional or just natural.
Generally, Sunderland use their overlapping wing backs to create overloads down the opposition’s flanks where they can attempt to cross or release one of Gooch or Maguire in space. Coventry, on the other hand, often did the opposite.
Instead of pushing their wing backs out wide to deliver into the box, they instead tasked their wide men to hold deeper and play the ball into one of O’Hare, Allen or Godden who were very narrow in Sunderland’s final third.
This helped Coventry from a defensive standpoint as their wing backs were able to help combat the forward runs of Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume, but this also helped Coventry in attack, too, as their narrow front three constantly occupied Sunderland’s defensive trio.
The opening goal saw Liam Walsh pick out Jamie Allen with a clever inside pass from the left flank that bypassed both Power and Dobson. Allen had space to take a touch before committing two Sunderland defenders and feeding Matt Godden who fired home. Walsh’s pass was a good one, but Allen’s narrow position prevented both Sunderland’s midfield and defence from picking up his movement.
As the position map shows, Coventry’s shape in attack meant that Sunderland’s central defensive trio had plenty to think about throughout the game.
Moments of quality make the difference
Both teams were only able to create two genuine chances according to InStat; however, Coventry were able to take one of theirs and bag a crucial three points in the race for promotion.
Much has been discussed about Charlie Wyke’s role in the Sunderland side and whether his lack of goals is down to his own shortcomings or those of the team’s shape and style. Ultimately, though, Coventry showed this weekend that a striker with an eye for goal can make all the difference in tight games - especially when your other creative players aren’t firing on all cylinders.
Both of Coventry’s genuine chances, according to InStat, fell to Matt Godden and he duly dispatched one of them. Wyke, on the other hand, didn’t have a genuine chance fall his way according to InStat, though he did attempt 4 shots during the game with one finding the target. It’s interesting that both of Godden’s shots on goal were deemed genuine goalscoring chances - this perhaps highlights the Coventry striker’s quality in the final third.
In fact, throughout the season, Godden has on average attempted 2.6 shots on goal with 1.38 of them testing the opposition’s keeper (53%). Wyke averages 1.6 shots on goal per game with 0.76 of them hitting the target (48%). That extra shot per game from Godden was all that made the difference this past weekend.
Likewise, in terms of key passes, Coventry were again sharper than Sunderland. Parkinson’s men attempted 8 key passes (a pass to a partner in a goalscoring position or a pass that cuts out the entire defensive line in an attacking phase), but only 2 were accurate. Coventry also tried 8, but 4 of their attempts were accurate. In tight games, fine margins secure three points - Coventry won the battle of tight margins.
Food for thought
Phil Parkinson is doing a good job at Sunderland; arguably, if he had been instated earlier this season then the team might well have been challenging for the title rather than hoping to secure automatic promotion.
That being said, Saturday’s defeat will almost certainly have given the boss some food for thought. For example, Sunderland attempted 15 crosses, yet only 2 of them were accurate (13%). Does that suggest an issue in quality of delivery, or is it a lack of targets available in the box?
Antoine Semenyo was bright once introduced - could he perhaps force his way into the starting XI? After all, he won 83% of all his challenges on the pitch, and showed a willingness to try to make things happen in his brief cameo.
Furthermore, Coventry’s ability to effectively pressure Sunderland’s defensive trio will also likely have raised an eyebrow or two on the Sunderland bench. Could Sunderland have perhaps dropped one of their midfielders slightly deeper to combat Coventry’s dangerous trio? Or could the side have changed shape slightly earlier to have asked more questions of Coventry?
They say hindsight is 20/20, but for coy managers like Phil Parkinson the ability to reflect and adapt is crucial to building lasting success - something Sunderland need if they are to gain promotion from this league.