It’s time for another guest blog, and next up I’d like to introduce you to Richard Montague, Sky Blues fan and Football Analyst at Football Radar. That means his job is to analyse football for a living, in an objective and statistical manner, not an Andy Townsend kind of way.
I was keen to get Richard’s opinion on our opening to the season, and any patterns of play he felt would remain crucial to our success in the long term. While we’ve continued our form in great fashion recently, including last night’s fantastic victory, the absence of Cyrus Christie remains a blow. Here Richard explains the importance he places on Christie’s presence in the team, as well identifying our most profitable methods so far.
By Richard Montague
I was asked to write a piece detailing some aspects of Coventry’s season 10 games in. Instead, I have chosen to look at the impact of Cyrus Christie’s injury on our attacking play, and what we can really read into our performances so far this season.
I should first state that I haven’t travelled to Sixfields this season, and don’t plan to. My gleanings for this article have been sourced from as much footage as I could get my hands on, and I feel I have a fairly solid grasp of the team’s strengths and weaknesses at this stage. I certainly feel qualified enough to state that Christie’s absence after suffering an ankle injury in the latter stages of the Stevenage game would appear to be a significant blow for our chances in the critical forthcoming stretch of games.
It is fair to say that no other player has quite so much impact on the way we are set up to play, and in no other position are we as stretched when it comes to replacements. The drop off in ability level between Christie and Willis and Phillips (fantastic goal at Wolves not withstanding) looks alarming, especially when so much of our play goes through Christie and his ever-improving attacking qualities.
In previous games against Leyton Orient, Sheffield United and Wolves, it has been apparent that both Fleck and Thomas have looked for the early ball to Christie on numerous occasions, and have had to check down to Willis or Phillips, because the driving attacking option hasn’t been there. The ball to Baker is still a good option, but leads to him cutting inside, and without Christie’s presence out wide to fix the full back, there is much less space to operate in. Against Leyton Orient in the Johnstone Paints tie, Moussa struggled to adapt to this reality, as did Baker against Sheffield United. A slip by Michael Doyle allowed Baker to escape to the by-line to lay on the superb second for Wilson, but the flanks were largely abandoned during this game, a worrying trend given our early season successes.
Blair Adams offers similar attacking purpose as Christie, as the first goal against the Blades showed, but he lacks the ability to attack an opposing full back with pace, and is clearly not a goal threat like Cyrus.
It should of course not be forgotten that we scored three goals against Sheffield Utd, and should have had more, but most of these opportunities were created centrally: one of the midfielders playing a ball into the feet of either Clarke or Wilson, and the two then combining superbly to free each other. Losing Christie has negated one aspect of our attacking philosophy, but we have countered well so far. It has been encouraging to see that we have still created chances in his absence.
Since Christie’s injury, there has been some evidence that we have created less chances; but the miniscule sample size (just three games) and the standard of the opposition (generally strong) means that drawing statistical conclusions would be largely redundant. When Christie was involved, however, we have been creating excellent chances on a remarkably regular basis, which is extremely encouraging.
The amount of goals we have scored at this stage in the season is not due to chance, and shouldn’t decrease significantly over the course of the entire season (further injuries permitting). This is because of the type of goals we have scored, and the type of chances we have been creating.
Looking back through the opening quarter of the season, we have consistently created enough good chances per game to average two goals per outing, enough to win most games in any division. The goals we have scored have been from central areas, inside the box. The chances we have missed? Very similar. One need only think on some of Leon Clarke’s opportunities, or Wilson’s foraging inside the area.
In general there has been very little reliance on unsustainable long range shooting, which can ultimately be misleading given the success rates of shooting from outside the box compared to shots from central areas close to goal.
Worryingly, however, we have also allowed teams to create big chances against us, which shouldn’t come as any great surprise given that we have conceded an awful lot of goals (22 at the time of writing, an alarming amount). Sadly, this trend again looks likely to continue. We have consistently conceded goals and allowed teams to create chances against us in areas extremely close to goal, always a sign that a team is defensively vulnerable.
Given that one off results can be misleading, goal difference can be a good indicator of a team’s performance over the course of a season (what is more illustrative: to lose two games 7-0 and win the next one 1-0, or have three 0-0 draws in a row?)
In this respect, there is reason for optimism, as our (+10 points) league position reflects our goal difference. Without the 10 point deduction, we would be fourth, and our goal difference of +8 would have us fifth in a table arranged by goal difference.
Ultimately, this is to say that our performance and position so far this season are about fair. Our goal scoring exploits have been no fluke, but neither have the goals we have conceded.
Luck has not played a massive part in our season so far, although the numbers would indicate that we rode our luck against Wolves, and were perhaps unlucky not to get much more from the Port Vale game.
Apart from losing Baker for a few games, and Christie’s recent injury, we have had a remarkably settled first 11 in the opening months of the season. My tentative prediction would be that Coventry will keep up their current run of goal scoring form for as long as they maintain their attacking approach, but that fans should expect goals to be conceded in similar numbers to the ones we have seen so far.
And this is the problem. The squad is so thin – the reserve players are considerably weaker than first teamers – that injuries will have a major impact on this chance creation balance, and will likely tip it in a negative direction.
I consider Christie to be the side’s most important player, so his loss would be keenly felt regardless of the depth in the squad, but consider the impact the loss of Adams, Murphy, Fleck, Thomas or heaven forbid, Clarke and Wilson would have on the way the team plays, when you factor in the replacements.
This is the current reality for us as Coventry fans, it’s just so very disappointing that it comes at a time when the team looks as fresh and exciting as it has for as long as many of us can remember.