Where We Are
Following last Saturday’s draw against Wolves we find ourselves going into the final game of the season with exactly nothing but pride to play for. Given our performances over the past few months, you worry about that very prospect. Whilst previous trips to Bramall Lane have brought drama and genuinely heated contests, it will be strange to travel to one of the most infamous away venues for Coventry fans and face such a subdued atmosphere.
One of the elements of this fixture that may force individuals to raise their game tomorrow afternoon would be the prospect of earning their place in next season’s squad. However a number of regulars in our team this season have shown that this is not of any particular concern to them with moves to the Championship or richer League One teams seemingly already in the bag for them. Furthermore Steven Pressley has indicated that he has already decided whom out of the current squad he would like to keep for next season and that tomorrow’s contest has no bearing on his decision-making.
The team news is that Franck Moussa will miss the chance to sign off his Coventry City career with one more memorable away display, not that his recent performances have been all that inspiring. The return of Carl Baker means that Pressley will most likely return to a standard 4-4-2 formation and try and attack Sheffield United with nothing to lose in this end of season dead rubber. It will be interesting to see whether Blair Adams is finally returned to the starting line-up, one of the more consistent performers for much of the season, but Adams has found himself out of favour partially down to an issue with his asthma and partially down to Pressley preferring the more defensive option of Jordan Willis.
The Last Time We Met
It was at the beginning of a fantastic month of October for Coventry City when we last played Sheffield United. The Blades had endured a miserable run and had sacked their manager David Weir, now assistant at Brentford, less than 48 hours before kick-off. In Weir’s stead, opposition fans favourite Chris Morgan took charge of a demoralised Sheffield United team. Coventry City raced into what seemed like a comfortable 3 goal lead thanks to goals from both Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson. However Steven Pressley’s former striker at Falkirk scored his first goal for Sheffield United and followed that up with his last goal for Sheffield United to set up a nervy final 10 minutes. It all proved slightly too little too late for Sheffield United who remained in the League One relegation zone following defeat at Sixfields. For Coventry City the result was followed up by wins over Walsall and Leyton Orient alongside a point at Molineux to send the club dizzyingly close to the play-offs.
How Are They Doing?
For a club that is so used to winning promotions or at least finishing in the top 6 in the leagues that they’ve played in, knowing they can finish 7th at best will be regarded as a pretty mediocre season at Bramall Lane. However this season has included an FA Cup semi-final, a Saudi takeover and a remarkable run of form over the past three months which has catapulted them from the bottom 4 into comfortably in the top-half under Nigel Clough. In direct contrast to our season, Sheffield United found form at the key stage of the season which will give their fans optimism going into the 2014/15 campaign.
What Nigel Clough has done at Bramall is very similar to what Mark Robins did with us last season and that has been to get underperforming players to play at the level that should be expected of them. Back in October at Sixfields players like Harry Maguire looked error-prone, Jose Baxter looked anonymous and Ryan Flynn looked devoid of confidence. However over the past few months those three key players have all played at a standard more befitting of their respective reputations. Maguire on form is a ball-playing centre-half who can also assert himself physically. Jose Baxter has been played as a ‘false 9’ by Nigel Clough allowing his intelligence and movement of the ball to confuse opposing defences. Ryan Flynn has re-established himself as a reliable ball carrier on the wings and as a source of assists.
In addition, Clough’s management has also seen players that were once regarded as a bit of a joke at Bramall Lane into consistent performers. Chris Porter was once regarded as something approaching how Roy O’Donovan was thought of with us, however the former Derby and Motherwell striker is now their top scorer and provides a physical threat in attack. Michael Doyle was regarded exactly in the same way he was regarded whilst with us, a hatchet man who sometimes liked to play football once again Doyle has proven that he’s an asset to a team that’s playing well.
Finally Clough has used the transfer market surprisingly sparingly but well during his brief tenure so far. John Brayford, who stood out in the Championship under Clough at Derby, has been as dominant as many people who follow the Football League expected him to be at right-back in League One. Clough’s other major signing is Stefan Scougall from Livingston who is a tiny but incredibly skilful player who can operate anywhere across the midfield.
Whilst the hope is that the players will now be able to play without the pressure they were playing under in recent weeks, we are also up against an in-form Sheffield United side looking to give their fans a memorable send-off after a strong second-half of the season. The performance against Wolves was remarkably positive given the 2 lacklustre displays which preceded it.
I’m not entirely sure what sort of Coventry City team will show up tomorrow afternoon but my head tells me it will be a 2-1 loss to sign off the season.