Another game, another defeat for Coventry City. The winless run from last season now stretches back to nine games. There are parallels between the start of this season and our last two. Last year we began the campaign with two narrow defeats both in the league and League Cup as we entered the first home game of the season. The year before we managed to carry poor form from the prior campaign into the new season.
Last year we won our first home game and since then the collective memory has forgotten those opening two defeats. The year before we stumbled and staggered around as a side without confidence and it took three different managers to notch our first win of the season. Whilst both of those starts later engendered a tentative push for the play-offs, the tone for the start of the season should be set by the result against Sheffield United.
Win and those two opening two results were the narrow defeats suffered by a side still blending together. Lose and the early panic will start to set in with many Coventry City fans who will start to write the season off already. A draw and a positive performance might be enough to delay the early judgement of this Coventry City side.
That being said, the opening two games have offered very few encouraging signs. The team appears confused as to what it is being asked to do, defence, midfield and attack still appear to be separate floating entities on the pitch. Against a strong Sheffield United side who will be hungry to grab their first win of the season, we could be very exposed.
After Wednesday night’s encouraging display from Ryan Haynes, the youngster will be handed his third start for the club due to an injury to Danny Pugh. Reda Johnson is expected to return so Jack Finch will most likely drop to the bench alongside Lee Burge and probably Billy Daniels. After grabbing a goal against Cardiff and missing another great chance, Shaun Miller proved that he could do more in 20 minutes than Josh McQuoid did in the preceding 70, he must surely get the nod against his old club.
Finally, the eternally injured Mohamed Coulibaly is reportedly fit enough to be included in the squad for this game. He could be a real live-wire if he can stay fit, it’s hard to see where he would fit in the 5-3-2 system as he is an out-and-out winger. He should add pace to the side if and when he plays.
Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Allsop; Clarke, Willis, Webster, Johnson, Haynes; Fleck, Swanson, O’Brien; Tudgay, Miller.
Last Time We Met
Not that long ago actually, the final day of last season saw two teams with nothing to play for meet at Bramall Lane. For Sheffield United fans it must have been a shocking contrast between the Sky Blues team they faced at Sixfields six months prior where Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson were in devastating form during a mostly comfortable 3-2 win for Coventry. Back in May Coventry City were lacking confidence, energy and purpose as they surrendered a lead given to them by Nathan Delfouneso as a more confident Sheffield United side blew the Sky Blues away after taking it up a gear.
How Are They Doing?
It’s a win and a loss so far for Sheffield United this season. They started the season as many’s pre-season favourites but some Sheffield United fans are concerned that the team will carry last year’s goal-shyness into this season.
To counter that, the big signing of the summer has been Michael Higdon who lived up to the hype by scoring a classic poacher’s finish on his debut. Higdon both has a deadly eye in front of goal and is a robust physical presence in attack. In a similar way to the effect Leon Clarke had on us, his form could elevate the confidence and quality of the rest of the Sheffield United team. His back-up in Marc McNulty could pose altogether different questions as a less physical but quicker player in attack.
Nigel Clough seems to prefer a 4-2-3-1 system and that three playing just behind Michael Higdon are immensely talented. Jamie Murphy has arisen from a poor start to his Blades career under Clough and is a direct and skilful wide player who can be a goal threat. The diminutive Stefan Scougall should play more centrally but can float out wide to create overload situations. On the right it could be either Ryan Flynn or Jamal Campbell-Ryce who are both classic wingers who will be looking to place crosses on Michael Higdon’s head. To emphasise Sheffield United’s strength in depth, the gifted Jose Baxter is far from guaranteed a starting place in the Blades’ first 11, whoever plays will be desperate to prove their worth to the side.
The youngster Louis Reed and Chris Basham were paired in central midfield on the opening day meaning that it is unlikely that Michael Doyle will be given another chance to start against us at Sixfields. The emergence of Louis Reed over pre-season has once again added real depth in quality to Nigel Clough’s Sheffield United squad, players such as Stephen McGinn and James Wallace may struggle to even get on the bench.
Sheffield United’s defence still looks to be recovering from the loss of both Harry Maguire, sold to Hull, and John Brayford, returned to Cardiff after a loan spell. In their opening game against Bristol City they played midfielder Ben Davies (not the guy who just signed for Spurs) at right-back, the 5 ft 8 right-back Craig Alcock as centre-back alongside the impressive 18 year-old Harrison McGahey and the under-rated Bob Harris at left-back. On Wednesday night they replaced Alcock and McGahey with the experienced Andy Butler and Neill Collins. You would imagine that Butler and Collins would cut off any threat from Tudgay and Miller or McQuoid with ease, it remains to be seen who Nigel Clough’s preferred pairing is.
Finally, Sheffield United have added former Everton keeper Iain Turner and ex-Swindon left-back Jay McEveley to their squad prior to the fixture. It seems unlikely though that either will make the starting line-up.
Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Howard; Davies, Alcock, McGahey, Harris; Reed, Basham; Flynn, Scougall, Murphy; Higdon.
I worry that Sheffield United’s shape and quality is going to be asking too much of a Coventry City side still learning how to play 5-3-2. We will need to see the confidence and bravery that the team showed towards the end of the League Cup tie against Cardiff. If John Fleck and Danny Swanson are on form tomorrow then we should be able to get the ball into attack much better than have been doing. It’s going to be a big test for Ryan Haynes up against whoever Sheffield United play on the right of their midfield, Reda Johnson is going to need to offer guidance and support throughout the game.
This time last year I was expecting Bristol City to maul us in the first league game at Sixfields after we lost our opening two games. The brightness and confidence with which the team played on that day was shocking. However it’s tough to see those last two performances leading to a victory over a very strong Sheffield United team. Prediction: 3-1 loss for Coventry City.