Manager Matt Taylor on the importance of Conor Coventry to Rotherham United
HE was an inexperienced midfielder on a caution with more than half of a crucial Championship match still to go but his manager wasn’t concerned.
“He picked up a booking just before half-time and I was able to trust a young player to understand what was needed for the rest of the game where he was up against some excellent opposition,” the Rotherham United manager said.
The maturity of Coventry, who still has less than 50 league starts to his name, is one of many things Taylor likes about the West Ham United loanee who has been selected for every Millers fixture since his January move north.
“I love Conor to bits,” said the boss. “He’s been excellent for us. His attitude, his endeavour, his intent, his out-of-possession work and the load he’s got through in a short space of time, we’ve been delighted with all of that.”
Dan Barlaser left and Coventry arrived; not as a like-for-like replacement for the Geordie fans’ favourite but to fill the midfield hole.
The Londoner, who turned 23 last month, was never going to replicate deadly Dan’s eye-catching range of defence-splitting passing but his delivery from free-kicks and corners is telling and he has set up goals for Lee Peltier and Jordan Hugill.
He shows for the ball, he keeps the Millers moving, he tracks back, he competes well, he puts the team first. Supporters may never nickname him ‘The Cockney Pirlo’ but many of them seem to agree he quietly, unspectacularly offers something pretty effective.
“It’s a good challenge for him,” Taylor said. “He’s got big shoes to fill because Dan was our captain on the pitch and somebody who had performed so well for us, hence the fee and his move to Middlesbrough who are challenging at the top end of the table.
“Conor is playing a certain role for us and has a certain responsibility. We might not always be playing to his footballing strengths in terms of how we set up the team. He’s been important for us, no question.
“He is having his first real run in the Championship and will have learned so much in his 15/20 matches by the time the season is over. He will go back to West Ham in a much better shape, with an understanding of his own game.
“I feel he is improving. As all young players do, he’s had a few ups and downs in form. He’s constantly getting tested by the Championship and he’s coming through it.”
Ah, the ups and downs ... in losses last month at Birmingham City and then at home to Preston North End three days later, Coventry dipped below the standards he had set himself since his New York switch.
At that time, however, he was suffering from the after-effects of tonsillitis and has since returned to his previous level.
Taylor was glad to be given the chance to extol the player’s virtues when the Advertiser asked about the Republic of Ireland youth international at a recent press conference
“I’m pleased you’ve mentioned him because he never really gets the headlines he deserves,” he said.
“He almost goes unnoticed because you take his quality and his positioning for granted at times. We really appreciate him.
“He’s learning on the job at Championship level: physically, mentally, where he can link play and what he can do in certain moments.
“I think there is more to come from him. I want more from him in terms of his set-piece quality, creation, goals, attempts on goal, a bit more in terms of speed in his game.”
Coventry signed a new deal with the Premier League Hammers before heading to AESSEAL New York Stadium to add to loan experience gained in the past with Peterborough United and MK Dons.
Taylor believes the player has “a great chance” of going on to feature in the top flight.
Meanwhile, back to Carrow Road and the 42nd-minute incident when the midfield prospect quickly surveyed the situation and deliberately brought down Josh Sargent to prevent Norwich launching a dangerous break.
More evidence of a professional approach from a wise head on young shoulders ...
“His mind seems to be his biggest asset,” Taylor said. “There are some players who cause you sleepless nights as a manager in terms of not quite knowing what you’re going to get out of them but Conor is someone I can really depend on.”
Just a yellow card, no red flags.