1000 words on that: Yeovil Town 2 – 0 Coventry City

It’s two defeats in two for City, prompting a mini fan meltdown.

When we lose, we’re angry. It’s a natural reaction and one that we all feel to differing degrees. As a matter of fact, what I like most about Mark Robins is his inherent crossness. He doesn’t abide fools and certainly won’t entertain the idea of Coventry City losing too many games in this league. When we lose, you can usually rely on him to comfort you with his unique blend of snarkiness and defiance towards Geoff Foster’s inane questioning.

Which is why I was initially surprised by the tone of his post-match comments this weekend. They seemed to be at odds with the overall reaction from our fans. It was a tame conclusion to a low quality game that should have been won comfortably and fans were angry at a poor showing, especially having made the journey to the arse end of nowhere. Robins however, wasn’t as vocal about a lack of quality as he was about his frustration with the way the game went for us. Be it incongruous mistakes, bad luck, or just useless refereeing.

At the time it felt somewhat dismissive. When we lose in a meaningless manner I have this uncontrollable need for our boss to show his anger. Maybe I just want to see some empathy; some sign of solidarity to placate me. But there was no real anger from Robins, and the raw, emotional pantomime fan in me found that concerning.

But after watching the game back in its entirety (yes, I’ve done that), the man’s got a point. His post-match comments were accurate, fair, and proved once again that the emotion supporters invest during games often warps perspective of the overall event.

I’m not saying it was the most coherent performance or that you can simply blame the defeat on a poor referee. You certainly couldn’t consider it a “good” showing from the team, but by the same measure it also didn’t warrant a 2-0 defeat. I can see why he was annoyed that we’d “unjustly” lost it and wanted to vent that. As much as I often want him to lose his shit because it offers timely validation of our emotions, we’re only a few games in and being realistic, that’s not what a confident and assured manager would do.

In the first half we looked capable, with Jodi Jones and Duckens Nazon providing attacking threats early on. I wouldn’t ideally choose to have Nazon as a wide man as he could do far more damage closer to goal, but I can see why we would play him there; aside from Jones he’s the closest we have to a blistering first team winger right now.

I had concerns that after a low-key showing in the Newport game Jodi Jones might fall back into his shell, but fortunately he was vibrant and keen to get the ball and take opponents on. He’s not perfect and has a hit-and-miss approach to football, but he’s far better when he’s relentless in his desire to make progress.

We were comfortable in dealing with a subdued Yeovil while easing our way into the match with some neat interplay and a varied focus to our attack. Doyle was working well to connect defence with the forwards, while the wide players occupied their markers and created concern. But we didn’t make the breakthrough, and it’s this story we need to quickly accept as a distinct possibility in games. Just because you don’t score in the first half, or don’t score first, doesn’t mean that you’re doing something fundamentally wrong. Sometimes the better team doesn’t take the lead.

The self-doubt was compounded this time as we went behind thanks to a wild misjudgment from O’Brien. Quite what he thought storming straight into Chris Stokes was going to achieve, we’ll never know, but it was a dreadful decision. It was also possibly the worst combination of players being asked to deal with that situation. Stokes has yet to return to the form of “Joe Cole” season, while O’Brien is currently on edge after his Newport error. The situation needed a strong, assertive player to manage the threat. We had neither, and O’Brien’s menacing intrusion caused Stokes needless difficulty.

It was an avoidable and pointless goal but it altered our style and seemed to change our approach to the match. The dent to our confidence was clear and we went from a fairly considered attacking threat, to a banal, going-through-the-motions methodology. If we are serious about our aspirations this year we need to recognise that football matches come with their setbacks. Resilience and courage in our convictions is key. A degree of panic when we concede a goal may be human, but we need to find ways to be rational. We’d dominated and were the more threatening of the teams. Conceding such a daft goal may have been a hindrance to the gameplan, but shouldn’t have had such an obvious impact on our approach.

In the second half we lost our way. There was still some decent play and nice combinations, but these occurred sporadically, and in mostly non-threatening areas. Tony Andreu has been introduced as the creator but endured a fairly quiet afternoon. There was some neat and tidy link play, but once again these contributions happened in isolation. He can be content with what he did on the ball, but will feel he had a fleeting influence.

The same could be said for McNulty. You can see he has some nice, crisp touches, and flashes of ingenuity, but it’s not a style that the rest of the team seems too attuned to at this stage, rendering much of what he does fairly meaningless. If it’s going to work for him, he’s crying out for a foil to combine with, possibly a geuinine attacking midielder? New Tony could do the job there, but he’s also performing the role of support striker leaving a very sparse gap between midfield and the strikers.

Defensively, Hyam and Willis were competent. Unfortunately, a defence functions best as a unit, and they were supplemented by a keeper with growing confidence issues and some weak full-back play. Yeovil had some brutal athletes and while Grimmer and Stokes engaged them, they were ultimately flustered into mistake-laden performances.

The game petered out, and those final twenty minutes were a tepid attempt at rescuing the game. It was disappointing, especially as it means we’ve now lost back-to-back. That’s not an ideal situation for a team that is yet to solidify its own status or self-confidence. But it’s the situation we’re in. There are adjustments that are required, but they should also look at the performances and recognise that there are plenty of signs of dominance. League Two has no time for weak-willed players though, and this lot have to want to assert it.

I don’t believe it’s the time to panic. Saturday was another game where we had plenty of the ingredients to win, but were caught out by a mistake and ultimately lost our composure. The concern for me comes if these players continue to show an inability to deal with that. Do we have the squad variance to replace them if their brittle nature becomes too much of a hindrance?

Bonus musing: The “ignoring-the-hysteria” ratings

With the introduction of iFollow comes the ability to watch the entire game back again, from a single vantage point, with no gobbiness around you, no commentary or in-game emotion subconsciously directing your thoughts.

These ratings are just that. They’re a tally of the good and the bad. If a player does something that I consider good, they get a mark. If they mess up or do something of noticeably low quality, they get a negative mark. Nothing more complex than that.

Please note, I’m not interested in “default football”. Jordan Willis passing the ball to Hyam under no pressure does not earn him a tick. Conversely, a towering defensive header under duress will get the thumbs up from me.

Do I agree with the overall ratings below? No, not all of them. But that’s exactly what I want. Simply giving a player an overall rating based on selective memory of contributions has never struck me as particularly fair. It’s overly dramatic and prone to omission. Giving them a rating which acknowledges my assessment of every positive and negative contribution at least removes some of that selectivity. We’re so influenced by confirmation bias, I hope this goes some way to combat my own.

Just don’t take it too seriously as I don’t propose this as a new science. I am not Opta, I am but one man. But if you’ve got an open mind feel free to take a look.

O’Brien -1

1st half -1
2nd half level

58%

 

 

Grimmer -3

1st half -2
2nd half -1

54%

Willis +3

1st half even
2nd half +3

66%

Hyam +6

1st half +3
2nd half +3

72%

Stokes -4

1st half even
2nd half -4

52%

Jones +1

1st half +1
2nd half even

62%

Doyle +11

1st half +6
2nd half +5

82%

Kelly -2

1st half -1
2nd half -1

58%

Nazon +7

1st half +3
2nd half +4

74%

McNulty +5

1st half even
2nd half +5

70%

Andreu +4

1st half +2
2nd half +2

68%

 

 

Substitutes

Beavon +2

1st half n/a
2nd half +2

64%

Biamou +5

1st half n/a
2nd half +5

70%

 

 

Weird, right? I watched that game first time around and certainly didn’t see such a disparity between Kelly and Doyle, but when you delve into the specifics, you can see that Doyle put in a very consistent showing. It adds up. Kelly meanwhile went through quite a few poor spells, combining multiple mistakes.

And to explain Biamou’s +5 – the man came on the pitch and won five extremely good headers. These all rated in my book. I’m not here to ignore these just because I don’t fancy him as a player. He came on and did what he could with the fairly aimless service he had to work with. Good on him.

Image credit: Eugene Birchall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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