Last weekend’s round of English Football League One clashes saw Coventry City host Ipswich Town at St. Andrew’s Stadium, where the two sides eked out a 1-1 draw. Will Keane’s first-half strike for the Tractor Boys was cancelled out in the second with a well-worked move being capped off by Maxime Biamou.
The point apiece saw the visitors claw a point back in the hunt for top spot between Paul Lambert’s side and Wycombe Wanderers, with the Chairboys leading the chase by four points. Meanwhile, the Sky Blues retained their playoffs spot by the skin of their teeth and ended the day sat sixth.
Mark Robins deployed his side in a 3-4-1-2, which has not been an all too familiar setup for the Sky Blues of late. Over the last ten games, the same starting system has been deployed only once, in the 2-2 away draw with Peterborough United in late October. Last time out, the 2-0 away defeat to MK Dons in the Leasing.com Trophy, Robins opted for a 4-3-3 and alongside the structural change, he made nine changes in the starting lineup. Only Callum O’Hare and Amadou Bakayoko retained their starting spot from the midweek defeat.
In a similar fashion to the hosts, Lambert made a number of changes from a midweek Leasing.com Trophy clash – a 6-5 victory on penalties after a 1-1 draw in normal time with Peterborough. In fact, every member of the starting lineup was replaced as the Tractor Boys made 11 changes. Structurally, the visitors also made a switch, as a 4-3-3 against the Posh was dropped for a 4-2-3-1
The Sky Blues’ zonal marking
For the early stages of the game, the hosts used a zonal-marking tactic during Ipswich’s corners and set pieces. The principle of this is simple, each defending player is given an area of the box, or pitch, to defend and must clear the ball from their area of the pitch should it be delivered there. This can be done in a number of ways and Robins opted to deploy a line of blockers, who would impede the runs of Town attackers, and then a number of clearers, whose job it was to attack the ball should it enter their area.
As can be seen here from early in the game, the Coventry defensive line are using their zonal marking tactic. The pitch has been divided up longitudinally by the defending players, with players stationed right across the pitch in an area close to where a cross could be delivered. In this instance, there are no blockers, as that was used by City while defending corners.
However, while the home side used a zonal-marking tactic in the initial stages of the game, following Ipswich’s goal the home side switched to a man-marking style of defending. This was because Lambert’s side used City’s zonal marking to their advantage and were able to open the scoring through a well-worked corner routine. The goal then resulted in the home side switching to man marking, as can be seen here.
Ipswich’s short corners
In an effort to take advantage of Coventry’s zonal marking, the visitors used a short corner tactic in the early stages of the game. The method behind a short corner is to disrupt defensive structure by delaying the delivery of the ball, as defenders find it difficult to keep track of the movement of the live ball as well as where they should be positioned. With a short corner, it is almost impossible for structure not to be displaced and Town used this to their advantage to open the scoring.
As can be seen here, Coventry have lined up in zonal-marking style for the corner which Lambert’s side open the scoring from. The red line marks out a line of four defending players who are set up to act as blockers, who will block the runs of any attacking players moving into the box to meet the ball with a header. The yellow circles then mark out the four other defensive players who are dispersed in zones across the six-yard box who will clear should the ball come near them.
However, after a quick one-two pass between Alan Judge and the man on the edge of the box, the structure is displaced. As previously mentioned, it is very difficult to stay in an effective shape following a short corner when zonally marking, but should the defending players have stuck to their zones and not be sucked out of position they would have been able to clear more easily. With the ball live the defending players became more aware of the attacking players and looked to switch to a more man-marking style between the short corner and the cross coming in.
The red arrows mark the movement of the players designated to clear a cross, who have spread out and moved away from the goal, therefore, gaps between the lines have opened up for attackers to move into. Should the defenders have stayed in their zonal structure then they would have been in position to clear the upcoming cross. Judge then delivers a pinpoint cross between the middle two defending players, which allows Keane to comfortably meet the ball and head past Marko Marosi.
Ipswich’s lack of defensive cohesion
A vital area of weakness for Lambert’s side, which allowed the hosts to find themselves back in the game, was the lack of defensive cohesion for the visitors – particularly between the two central defenders. The Tractor Boys have conceded only 13 goals in the league so far this term, the lowest amount of any other side in the league. However, the defensive line looked particularly off-colour against City, as they shipped 15 shots at Will Norris’ goal.
Here, in the first five minutes of the game, an example of this lack of cohesion between the two central defenders – Luke Woolfenden and James Wilson – can be seen. In the above annotation, Woolfenden has stepped out of defence to apply pressure to a man he thinks will be in possession, as marked by the yellow arrow, this then leaves a large area of open space behind him. While the hosts do not capitalise in this situation, Wilson should have recognised the movement of his defensive partner and shifted across to provide cover.
Then, seconds later in the same move by the Sky Blues, the roles are reversed with the opposite defender not covering the movement of the other. Here, Wilson has stepped out of defence and left a large area of open space for Coventry’s attackers to move into. Sheik Dabo is then able to slide a through ball into the open space, as marked by the yellow arrow. Again, the red arrow shows where Woolfenden, on this occasion, should have positioned himself to be in a better area to deal with the threaded through ball.
Coventry’s exploitation of defensive gaps
Robin’s side were able to get themselves back into the game early in the second half due to the gaps the Tractor Boys were offering them in their defensive lines. Due to the lack of cohesion in the backline, Coventry began attempting a number of through balls from the middle of the park to split open the defensive lines with the pace of Biamou and Bakayoko.
As can be seen in this annotation, is the build-up play to the Sky Blues levelling the scores. Looking to thread a through ball and split the defensive gaps, Kelly has driven infield with the ball and then invites pressure from Flynn Downes to open up a gap. The pressure is duly delivered by the young midfielder, which is marked by the yellow arrow, and the gap opens up due to the large distance between Ipswich’s two central defenders.
Kelly is then able to thread the through ball into the path of Biamou, splitting the gap between the two central defenders. As marked by the red arrow, Wilson and Woolfenden should have been positioned much closer together to avoid the opportunity arising to split the gap. Coventry’s French striker is then able to run onto the ball and net his second league goal of the season. Town should have realised that Coventry were often looking to split the gaps in the defensive lines and become much more compact, which would have allowed them to intercept through balls much more easily.
Having watched the action unfold, arguably, both Paul Lambert and Mark Robins will have settled for a point at St. Andrew’s. Again, arguably, Ipswich had the better of it in the first half and Coventry the second meaning a point apiece will do with both being in the top six. Where both sides employed tactics which the other took advantage of, it was credit to the home side for switching from zonal marking to man marking mid-game in reaction to the Tractor Boys looking to take advantage.
This tactical analysis has dissected the English Football League One clash between Coventry City and Ipswich Town. The key areas of both sides’ tactics have been highlighted and analysis has been used to show how they led to the game’s outcome, a 1-1 draw.
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