With Saturday’s game against Shrewsbury fast approaching we’ve finally reached the conundrum of the past few weeks. Carl Baker’s suspension is over, should he return to the first XI given that in his stead Billy Daniels has scored 3 goals? Despite Billy Daniels being considered a doubt for tomorrow with a virus, I’m going to presume he’ll be available for selection. Here I look at the arguments either way for including each of the two and thus leaving one of them out.
We’ll start with the incumbent occupant of the right-midfield slot in the first team. Daniels started his Coventry career looking slightly out of place, perhaps down to being played in central midfield instead of his preferred position of striker. A casualty perhaps of Thorn’s departure we didn’t see much of Daniels until a few weeks ago where Pressley surprisingly selected him to fill the void left by Carl Baker’s suspension against Bristol City. During the match he looked full of energy, but more notably appeared thoroughly comfortable on the ball, giving the team energy and forward momentum. His two goals in that game showed his capacity for opportunism, a header on the back post against Bristol City’s weak left side of defence and a simple tap-in provided by being in the right place at the right time. A strong showing, and a goal, against Carlisle showed that his Bristol City performance was no fluke. He provides energy and accurate, if unambitious, passing and also provides space for Cyrus Christie to overlap by tucking inside.
On the other hand he was largely anonymous against Preston North End. Constantly asking Pressley whether he should tuck in or play wider it was clear to see that the right-flank was not his natural position. It was no surprise that he was sacrificed to make room for Mathieu Manset as we started to chase the game. His two performances the weeks before came as an unexpected surprise, perhaps against Preston he was aware that he had to play well to live up to his previous standards with Carl Baker now breathing heavily behind his neck.
As the captain of Coventry City Football Club, Baker can perhaps expect preferrential treatment when it comes to his starting berth. Whilst he has shown at time that without pressure on his place he can produce abject, lifeless performances where he appears to be going through the motions. He has during his captaincy shown that he can produce a meaningful output, the second highest scorer and outright highest assist maker last season proved his ability where previously there had been doubts. Despite featuring twice this season and both times ending up on the losing side, the second time arguably responsible for it down to a rash challenge, his performances thus far have been very strong. Against Crawley he led the team with his drive and effort to recover from a 2 goal deficit, albeit to ultimately lose the game. His goal against Leyton Orient was phenomenal and once again he provided the catalyst for our team’s attempts to recover after conceding an early goal. Despite his leadership and playing qualities playing Carl Baker tomorrow also sends the message that he isn’t for sale, which could be important in helping SISU in their PR campaign with the fans.
However playing Baker tomorrow also perhaps hints at a gerontocracy at the club, players being judged by seniority rather than what they’ve proved on the pitch. Billy Daniels has so provided many things in his game that Carl Baker doesn’t do. Daniels’s positioning allowed Christie space to overlap, during the first two games of the season Christie was largely anonymous. Daniels compensates for his lack of crossing ability by tucking inside, Carl Baker compensates for his lack of crossing ability by continuing to put in poor crosses into the box. Even on a good day Carl Baker makes poor choices and struggles to beat his full-back, Baker rarely plays consistently over 90 minutes. Out of our key players being linked away from the club Baker would perhaps be the least missed despite being captain of the team.
Like I mentioned before this could be a decision that may not ultimately be made on sporting merit or even on any of Pressley’s biases. Billy Daniels is suffering with a virus and is down as a doubt for tomorrow’s match. Where he to be match fit tomorrow though I would still reinstate Carl Baker to the first XI. For as frustrating a player that he is, Baker is the captain, Baker has played well so far this season and we also need as many experienced senior pros in that first team as possible. It’s a tough decision but ultimately I think Carl Baker deserves his place back in the first team, just.