By Tim Penfold
Isn’t it nice to be back to normal? After a fortnight where City had lost a low quality game at home to Blackburn and thrown away a three goal lead at Walsall, they returned to winning ways against a below-par Bristol Rovers.
This was a display taken straight from last season, but with an extra clinical edge, and has shown that there is the ability in this squad for a promotion challenge.
McMahon’s delivery on point
City got two goals and two other good chances from Tony McMahon’s corners, which were excellent. He’s received some criticism for his set piece delivery recently, which is in part due to where he aims them.
A near post corner whipped with pace is really difficult to defend against (see McArdle, Rory) but is also very difficult to get right – if it’s under-hit, then the defender positioned on the near side of the six yard box has an easy clearing header, and the corner taker is heavily criticised for “not beating the first man”. But these corners caused Bristol Rovers all sorts of issues, with Vincelot missing a good chance early before his flick set Wyke up for the first, and Law also finding space for a header that went over.
This was much more dangerous than just floating something high into the six yard box, which would beat the first man more often but not set up a good chance. McMahon is a fine set piece taker – most of his assists in 2015/16 came from them, including a spell of setting up five goals in a row from corners and free kicks – and City have profited on this occasion.
McCall finds a bespoke tactical solution
The formation played by City was something of a strange one – it initially looked like a 4-3-3 with Dominic Poleon on the left of a front three, but then seemed to morph into a lop-sided diamond.
Alex Gilliead on the right was very advanced, but on the left there was nobody going forward in midfield – Nikcy Law was central – and without the ball Romain Vincelot came across to provide defensive cover. This was designed to stop Billy Bodin, Rovers’ dangerous right winger who likes to cut infield on to his left foot, and it worked.
Vincelot shut down the space that Bodin wanted to run in to, and while he did pick up a consolation goal his overall impact on the game was minimal. It also freed Law to play further forward, and he was able to both create chances (one excellent flick and cross nearly finding Poleon) and set the tempo for City.
This was a feature of the City side that started last season so strongly, and it’s important for this team that Law can continue to do this.
Knight-Percival is back to his best
Defensively it was generally a solid display, epitomised by Nathaniel Knight-Percival’s best performance of the season so far. He’s been less comfortable on the right hand side of a two man central defensive pairing, but that wasn’t obvious in this game.
Knight-Percival faced an aerial threat in Ellis Harrison and dealt with him comfortably, and made a vital goal-line block at 1-0. If City want to get their solidity back, then they need Knight-Percival at his very best – he was for the first few months of last season before a mid-season dip, and during that time City barely looked like conceding a shot, let alone a goal.
There’s extra competition for the defensive spots now that Adam Thompson has joined, and this display may have kept Knight-Percival ahead of the competition.
Wyke is vital
The day truly belonged to Charlie Wyke. This was a magnificent all-round forward performance, showing good hold-up play, intelligent movement, physical presence and, most importantly, three goals. With a steady supply line of crosses – it’s no coincidence that Alex Gilliead has come back into the starting lineup now Wyke is back – he will always look like scoring.
Wyke is also (and apologies for repeating the James Hanson cliché here) useful at defending set pieces and allows us to go long and retain possession when our opponents attempt to stop us playing out from the back. We’ve got a lot of cover in forward areas – this is a side where the likes of Alex Jones and Shay McCartan may not be first choice – but Wyke is unique amongst our forwards in what he offers.
It’s vital that he stays fit – there is only one Charlie Wyke.