Where We Are
A disappointing draw against Hartlepool in the FA Cup last Saturday means we’ll the festive fixture congestion has increased with a replay penciled in for next Tuesday. The disappointment is more with the result than the performance or circumstances after an impressive first-half where the attacking trident of Billy Daniels, Franck Moussa and Carl Baker were causing the Pools headaches. A poor second half, largely down to the team being unfamiliar with playing 3 at the back, saw Hartlepool dominate and the League Two side may be feeling miffed that they missed the opportunity to secure their passage to a 3rd round glamour tie away to Barnsley.
The main news this week is team news, Leon Clarke has returned to training meaning that we’ll have a full complement of strikers, the invisible man Mathieu Manset aside. Given the performance against MK Dons a fortnight ago it may be tempting for Pressley to name most of the side that ended the fixture meaning dropping Carl Baker for Chris Maguire and starting Chris Dagnall ahead of Leon Clarke. However it would be harsh for Baker to be dropped after a reasonably impressive performance in the cup and it may be that Maguire is started alongside Wilson up front to act as the pivot between midfield and attack which the side have been lacking during Leon Clarke’s absence. With a fixture pile-up ensuing in the coming weeks I feel it would be unwise to rush Leon Clarke back from injury too soon, as we’ve seen with Cyrus Christie’s form since his recovery it can detrimental to both the player and the team to be too hasty in returning a player to the starting XI.
The final decision to be made will be who to drop out of Jordan Clarke, Danny Seaborne and Andy Webster in central defence. The team selection for the MK Dons game would suggest that Webster is the most likely to lose his place but in a fixture where we’ll be likely to have a lot of the ball, Seaborne’s poor distribution could make him the most droppable of the three. Or Pressley could follow the fans who have only watched Coventry on TV this year’s choice of dropping Jordan Clarke for being short.
The Last Time We Played
When most Coventry fans hear the name ‘Crewe Alexandra’ they shudder inside, in 4 meeting last season we only beat them once, and that was only in a vain attempt to save Coventry’s chance of reaching the JPT final. The first fixture last season was mentally scarring enough, in the dark days of Richard Shaw’s caretaker-ship of the club Coventry spluttered around the pitch and lost 1-0, the match was notable for Kevin Kilbane making a ball boy cry. The second fixture was the worst of the lot, in the Northern Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy the Ricoh Arena sold out for a crowd expecting to see their side seal a place in what would have been the club’s second Wembley final. After dominating the first-half Coventry conceded three increasingly poor goals on the counter attack with Robins setting his side up far too gung-ho for what was only the first leg of the contest. The second leg was overseen by Lee Carsley after Robins had departed the club the week before, despite an overall performance that lacked any incision Coventry scored two goals but much too late to enforce any panic amongst the Crewe supporters with the tie finishing 3-2 in their favour. The most recent fixture between Coventry and Crewe happened the following week with the Alex sauntering to another straightforward victory over a poor Coventry side at the Ricoh Arena.
How Are They Doing?
After a very promising first season back in the third tier of English football and a summer which only saw the departure of one key player in the form of Luke Murphy, hopes were high that the club could possibly push on and eventually repeat the feats of previous Alex sides that have played a few seasons in the Championship. Under manager Steve Davis, the club had finally stepped up from under the shadow of Dario Gradi and had only known good times under the tutelage of the man who turned down Wolves in the summer. Perhaps though the fans should have been wary that their manager had never really had to deal with an extended run of poor form.
This season has seen a combination of off-field issues and poor on-field performances place Crewe in one of the league’s four relegation spots at this current moment in time. The end of the summer saw several of the club’s players caught up in a rape scandal which contributed to a run of one win in their first ten league fixtures. A poor transfer window also played a part in their poor start, Anthony Grant was one of Crewe’s most expensive players in recent seasons but has found himself out of favour due to his low performance levels and lack of professionalism off the pitch. One of last season’s standout performers, Brad Inman has also really struggled to reach the heights that he achieved last season and is becoming a target for some of Crewe’s boo-boys.
The inexperienced manager Steve Davis has struggled to manage his way out of the situation and has recently resorted to blaming individual players, usually a sign that the manager is losing the dressing room. Davis has tried to reshuffle his first-team options by utilising the loan market more recently but that has produced only mixed results, 3 wins in their 9. The manager and the team will take heart from a recent win over Crawley but they remain a side searching for confidence.
Crewe will also be searching for a goalkeeper for tomorrow’s match with injuries to Neil Etheridge and their JPT hero last season Steve Phillips. The choice is between former Leeds youngster Alan Martin who’s struggled when called upon this season or the raw youngster Ben Garrett. Another selection dilemma for Crewe will be up front with injuries to the much talked about Max Clayton, who’s had a bad season anyway, and Vadaine Oliver who has played semi-regularly for them this time out.
Crewe Alexandra will have threats to this Coventry side tomorrow, the main one being pacey wide-man Byron Moore who has been a shining light for the Cheshire club this season. Ajay Leitch-Smith was an intelligent forward player with his movement in the JPT area final and I expect him to be utilised as their attacking fulcrum where Paul Pogba’s older brother Mathias may also line-up. The other standout player for Crewe is full-back Matt Tootle, who not only has a fun name but has been impressive despite playing in a back line that’s conceded 40 goals in the league this season, that’s 6 more than us.
With a whole host of players returning for tomorrow’s match-up against what looks to be an out-of-sorts Crewe team this could be an opportunity to give ourselves a boost before a grueling festive calendar of fixtures. The main worry will be whether there are too many options for Pressley, a rare thing to consider, and whether he may be tempted into making a poor selection for tomorrow’s match. As much as I’d like to see Carl Baker dropped so that he can that he has to do more than just run around and throw his arms in the air, his performance against Hartlepool makes it unlikely. It would be disappointing to see Leon Clarke rushed back but considering that Pressley sees more of him than we do I trust that whatever decision is made on him will be the right one.
On to the scoreline, I predict Coventry will run out 2-0 winners.