Coventry City 1-0 Gillingham Six Things: Sky Blues continue to thrive in B9

Hyam bags the winner –

St Andrews might not feel like home for Coventry City, but any turbulence has certainly not affected the players; Dominic Hyam scored the only goal of the game as the Sky Blues secured a fourth consecutive B9 victory in all competitions, as a disjointed Gillingham side remain winless. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Disjointed Gillingham

Gillingham’s main problem in the second city was that they did not play with a clear identity. On paper, the trio of Brandon Hanlan, Regan Charles-Cook and Alex Jakubiak seems suited to high-pressing and quick transitions but the Kent outfit did not close down with any intensity or coherence – if one forward pressed, the midfield trio of Stuart O’Keefe, Alfie Jones and Mark Byrne remained static. Their plan was to go direct from deep – Brandon Hanlan tended to be the reference point from Jack Bonham’s goal-kicks. While the young forward tried his best and provided a decent spring, at 6’0″ he is not a natural target man – it was therefore difficult for Gillingham to find clear routes to goal.

Strong Sky Blues

Some of Coventry’s football in the first half was enterprising; they created by far the better chances in that period. The left-sided combination of Brandon Mason and Jordy Hiwula looked slightly unrefined, due to the former’s reluctance to overlap and the latter’s lack of awareness, but striker Matt Godden counter-balanced that issue somewhat with his selfless runs into the left-channel, which created space for the lively Hiwula. Godden’s early header forced a save from Jack Bonham following a right-sided cross from Wesley Jobello, who himself headed wide afterJordan Shipley’s free-kick – Godden was then unable to lift over the goalkeeper following the technical Mason’s through ball. It seemed inevitable that the opener would come and, after a corner eluded the crowd, the ball was fired home at the back-post by Dominic Hyam, who deserved his goal after an accomplished display, standing in for Kyle McFadzean.

Hosts dropped deeper

In the first half, Hyam and centre-back partner Michael Rose saw a lot of the ball, unchallenged by their opponents, with sometimes Zain Westbrooke or Liam Kelly dropping between them, then the intelligent Shipley picking up half-spaces between the lines to create with more freedom than seen previously. In the second half, that kind of football was less frequent as Gillingham pressed with a higher line of engagement. Mikael Ndjoli – who had replaced Charles-Cook early on – made a difference to the intensity of their performance and saw a firm 76th-minute free-kick well-saved by Marosi.

Mandron brought on too late?

While Steve Evans’ side got into better areas in the second half and looked more like being on the front-foot, Ndjoli’s free-kick represented their only meaningful effort at goal: there were no clear cut chances. With two right-footers on the left in Barry Fuller and Alex Jakubiak, as well as a lack of width on the right, Gillingham were unsuccessfully trying to play their way round Coventry, rather than penetrating them. Elliott List was the first second half substitute Evans used but he didn’t offer anything different to what they had – if anything, the introduction of a number 10 meant a switch from 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 that shoehorned striker-by-trade Jakubiak closer to the flank which did not help. Mikael Mandron is arguably the only player in this Gills squad who is an aerial specialist – and he was not brought on until the 86th-minute. Had Mandron been brought on at half-time, or at least when List came on, we could have been looking at a nervy second half for the Sky Blues – instead, Robins’ side rarely looked troubled.

Gills need a plan

Gillingham going long this season is not a problem: their last promotion came under Martin Allen – who sees the game similarly to Evans – in 2012-13. However,  it is important to have the right personnel to facilitate their style of play – and fundamentally, they need the right target man. It could be that Evans does not trust Mandron, who did not pull up trees in League Two, to play large periods of games in the division above – but he’s the one player who can make the system work. Alternatively, Evans could tweak the setup and place heavier emphasis on high-pressing from the outset to get Hanlan and Jakubiak in the kinds of positions they want to be in. Either way, the plan has to be coherent – and directly in line with the personnel available.

Credit to Robins

At full-time, Coventry fans celebrated – one spoke excitedly about whether they might be top (they are technically fifth but have 11 points, the same as leaders Ipswich). Of course, it’s a perfectly normal reaction from any group of fans who see their team start the season so well, yet this was not a normal situation. If the temporary groundshare with St Andrews had been happening under one or two of Coventry’s previous managers this decade, the feeling would be one of crisis or doom. Instead, Robins continues to put aside the off-field calamities that the current ownership regime bring, he continues to evolve the style of play and build a team that is flexible, exciting and dynamic. Because of Robins and his coaching staff, fans might just be able to enjoy their home away from home.