Coventry City 2-1 Rochdale Six Things: wicked Walsh winner downs Dale

Walsh’s winner –

A fine strike from man-of-the-match Liam Walsh gave Coventry City a 2-1 win over Rochdale, thus furthering the Sky Blues’ promotion hopes. Here’s Six Things from the game.

Rochdale’s wide target man

Brian Barry-Murphy wanted his side to exploit a height advantage over Coventry’s left-back, 5’8″ Brandon Mason. He fielded 6’3″ Aaron Wilbraham on the right, the theory being that the veteran would win aerial duels and thus get Callum Camps and others involved high up the pitch. In practice, it is harder to deliver to a target man out on the flank because, if the ball is misplaced slightly, it will go out of play – and so to avoid that risk Dale often went centrally to Ian Henderson, who is far less aerially accomplished. Their best chances came in the middle stages of the first half with Jimmy Keohane and Callum Camps causing problems from the right; the latter crossed low for Henderson to escape Michael Rose and tuck home at the back-post.

Slick Sky Blues

Even after the visitors went in front, it was clear that Coventry were the more assured team in possession. Fankaty Dabo’s dainty touches and proactive forward passes, combined with fellow full-back Mason’s intelligent movement and pin-point crossing, led to some smooth moves. They levelled through Jordan Shipley who, after a delightful diagonal from the technically accomplished Zain Westbrooke,profited from a ricochet from his initial shot off Robert Sanchez then makeshift centre-back Jimmy Ryan to tap home.

Robins’ reluctance to re-jig

Midway through the second half, there could have been question marks over Coventry’s lack of incision in the final third. Amadou Bakayoko, starting in the absence of all other strikers, mis-controlled a cross to the back-post that came quickly at him and did not quite provide the focal point the hosts needed. The player immediately behind Bakayoko, Westbrooke, was more focused on ball retention in the final third than meaningful penetration. Some would have asked, with Gervane Kastaneer on the bench, whether they needed the CuraƧaoan on the pitch to offer more thrust and perhaps open up space for the technical players. Mark Robins though, was unmoved.

Wicked Walsh winner

Robins’ faith in the system, his trust in his players to threaten from the edge of the box without genuine penetration, would ultimately be vindicated thanks to Liam Walsh. The Bristol City loanee dribbled half-way up the pitch whilst taking clever touches to deceive a duo of Dale defenders, then leave Matty Done on his back-side before placing the ball beautifully inside the near-post. Rochdale responded to the magic by bringing on the lively Fabio Tavares and grafter Calvin Andrew, they caused an increasingly cagey Cov some nervy moments, even whilst remaining technically unrefined. Ultimately, Dale suffered a defeat that saw them drop to 16th.

Dale a work in progress

Barry-Murphy has some audacious ideas for his Dale side. Playing a wide target man was an innovative concept that shows he has the awareness to look for advantages of the opposition in areas that not many other managers would look; he is also keen to get his team playing out from the back. However, it seems as though firstly, the players are still acclimatizing to his ideas, secondly, they might not all have the natural ability to carry them off and thirdly, the coaching staff may consider condensing the patterns of play so as to make them more familiar to the players. When Sanchez went long to Wilbraham, for example, not many players would go towards him which would point to unfamiliarity and perhaps a lack of confidence. There was some mileage in the ideas Rochdale took to St Andrews, but the execution of them needs work.

Bigger tests to come for Coventry

While the Midlanders can take a lot of confidence from certain technical aspects of this performance, which saw the two full-backs, Shipley, Walsh and Westbrooke all greatly excel – yet it was not quite a complete display. Firstly, there was a lack of incision that could be problematic, especially in games in which they do not get as many opportunities to enter the final third. Secondly, youngsters Declan Drysdale and Josh Eccles showed some tidy moments but, inevitably due to both making their first EFL starts, they also made one or two mistakes in possession which at times impacted the momentum of the contest. The Sky Blues will hope to welcome centre-back Kyle McFadzean and ball-winner Liam Kelly back from injury for next week’s trip to Sunderland, where firmer hands may be required.