COVENTRY City sit firmly in mid-table ahead of Saturday’s trip to Rochdale after they lacked their usual intensity amid changes and let slip a lead late-on against struggling Gillingham.
It came after a much debated transfer window closed which included club skipper Michael Doyle’s departure – replaced by loan midfielder David Meyler who made a stylish if slow debut, lacking match fitness.
With the familiar pattern continuing of much creative play yet frustrating failure to convert, much talk centred on whether the window had left City still too light in the goalscoring department, with Jonson Clarke-Harris also departing.
Yet it was January’s loan attacking recruit Bright Enobakhare who bagged the 68th minute goal in the 1-1 draw, deserved for his superior skill and flair going past midfielders, albeit often from surprisingly deep positions.
Conor Chaplin, brought in last year to replace Marc McNulty’s goals – was dropped to the bench, despite scoring four in five games.
Mark Robins’ decision to replace him as the lone striker with Jordy Hiwula – with a fluid Enobakhare and returning midfielder Jordan Shipley behind him – delivered limited results. Hiwula himself looked weak and hesitant in front of goal, lacking physicality in leading the line.
While many good chances characteristically came and went, City did not replicate the speed and intensity of their recent excellent attacking performances – in front of the season’s highest crowd of 26,741 for Community Day.
Robins would legitimately say he had to try something different, given City’s goalcount is about the worst in League One.
But the experiment affected City’s flow and movement in which Chaplin and Tom Bayliss, returning only to the subs bench after injury, had been instrumental. Injury to Doyle’s recent influential replacement Liam Kelly also seemed to play a part.
Loanees Luke Thomas and Dujon Sterling, City’s two best players this season, continued to look highly industrious and threatening as City dominated.
The returning centre-back Jordan Willis was a commanding physical presence in a back four featuring young Sam McCallum at left back.
The back four looked highly vulnerable at times; first-half balls too easily making their way into threatening positions inside the box.
Young midfielder Zane Westbrooke, impressive on his previous two starts in central midfield, again displayed attacking guile while seeming to be beaten too easily on occasion as Gillingham sought to get into the game in the first half.
City seemed to be seeing the game out against an average Gills side – despite a bad late miss from sub Bakayoko – but it was Willis who gifted them a late Tom Eaves penalty. Willis’s mistaken backpass header to keeper Lee Burge was predicably intercepted.
With Coventry now nine points away from the play-off positions, Robins said: “We are now on 40 points so we need to kick on from here.
“We aren’t there yet, we need to go out there and enjoy playing and not fearing taking that shot or trying that pass.
“We don’t need to get bogged down after missing chances, we need more belief.”
Speaking shortly after Saturday’s final whistle, he also said: “I’m absolutely fuming, that’s two points we have thrown away.
“We got the breakthrough and then you want to push on, but we were all over the place for the goal and it’s a major disappointment.
“We were the better team once again. However, we didn’t take the chances we created.”
“We were saying at half-time it looked like a 1-0 game and we managed to get the goal.
“But then Willis who hadn’t really put a foot wrong all game then decided to listen to a shout back to the goalkeeper that wasn’t on.
“It wasn’t just him, Dom [Hyam] has gone in for a header when he didn’t need to.
“We also had three players out of position in Thomas, Enobakahre and Bakayoko that have stayed up field when we need to make sure we are in position and solid.”