It’s finally here! After three weeks of anticipation we can finally celebrate the fact that the Sky Blues are back where they belong. It is sure to be a party occasion as many get their first chance to see their club in well over a year. All that is needed now is for the team to put on a show for a buoyant fan-base.
Tuesday night’s JPT victory over Wycombe has set us up nicely after a couple of draws and has allowed Steven Pressley to rest a number of key players. Whilst the performance itself was nothing to write home about, with League Two Wycombe having most of the play, the ability to score a goal on the counter-attack and from a wing-back’s cross shows that the players are starting to learn the 5-3-2 system.
The team news is that Simeon Jackson and Shaun Miller will both be unavailable due to international duty and injury respectively, with Danny Swanson an injury doubt as well. It will be interesting to see whether either Seb Hines or Frank Nouble are thrown straight into the action on such a big night. Whilst either could potentially improve the team, there is the risk, with Nouble especially, that the embryonic balance of the team could be upset. Personally I don’t expect either of the new boys to start.
Aside from that, there is something of a selection dilemma in both wing-back roles. Danny Pugh returned to action with an assist from the left on Tuesday, whilst Ryan Haynes has made massive strides in the opening weeks of the season, I would imagine Pugh’s experience would earn him the nod. Even tougher will be selecting a right wing-back, Jordan Clarke has started to really grow into the position and has increasingly been a threat going forward, Aaron Phillips impressed though last week against Swindon with his energy. However, once again you would imagine that Pressley will be tempted to go with experience over youthful promise on such an important evening for the club.
The major question will be whether the team in its current guise are set up to take full advantage of the emotions of the night. We saw in the JPT game against Crewe that players can get carried away in the desparation to please the fans and leave gaps at the back. On the one hand, our more defensively responsible set-up should avoid that issue. On the other hand, playing reactive football could unnerve an impatient crowd whose anxiety may then feed back into the players. An early goal in this game for the Sky Blues could be all-important.
Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Allsop; Clarke, Willis, Webster, Johnson, Pugh; C Thomas, Fleck, O’Brien; Tudgay, McQuoid
Last Time We Met
Last season we played Gillingham at both the zenith and nadir of our season. Back in September 2013 at Sixfields, a confident Sky Blues side swatted aside a Gillingham side who looked destined for League Two by two goals to one. The meeting last March was more eventful, four penalties, eight yellow cards, a sending-off and a goal from the half-way line secured victory for a spirited Gillingham side against a Coventry City team playing without purpose.
Also relevant will be our last game at the Ricoh Arena, back in April 2013 Steven Pressley led out an experimental Coventry City team against Leyton Orient and were edged out 1-0 in a drab end-of-season affair. Our last win at the Ricoh Arena came a month earlier as Cyrus Christie scored the winner against Doncaster with Adam Barton putting in a man of the match performance. Finally, the last Coventry City player to score at the Ricoh Arena was Carl Baker who gave us the lead against promotion-chasing Brentford, a game notable for Ryan Haynes making a nervous debut.
How Are They Doing?
Following on from last season’s unfussy consolidation in the league, Gillingham have continued to make measured progress under Peter Taylor. The one-time England manager has made the Gills a well-organised outfit, a team who will relish in the idea that they will be expected to defend for large portions of this fixture.
The obvious star-man for Gillingham is Cody McDonald, who after an indifferent spell for the Sky Blues returned to the Priestfield last season managing 17 league goals. Given our penchant for conceding goals to former players, McDonald should be high in the betting for first goal-scorer. He is a player who thrives with a physical strike partner and Danny Kedwell is just that. Whilst he isn’t one of the tallest centre-forwards, the former AFC Wimbledon man might just be one of the widest. He is also prolific from the penalty spot, although this season most of his goals have come from the rebounds of his missed penalties.
A player who has really caught the eye this season is midfielder Bradley Dack. After breaking into the first-team last season, the academy product has truly emerged as an effective play-maker at this level of football. Whilst he may be put on the wing to accommodate the McDonald-Kedwell strike partnership, Dack could wreak havoc on the counter-attack.
Whilst we are talking about counter-attacking threats, Jermaine McGlashan is another to keep an eye on. The winger has plied his trade in the lower divisions mostly before being handed a chance in the third-tier by Gillingham this summer. The former Cheltenham and Aldershot man has been a key player so far this season and adds blistering pace to an otherwise solid and well-organised side. However he may miss tonight’s game through injury.
Elsewhere this Gillingham side is made up of hard workers which give the team a real solidity. Captain Doug Loft, although an injury doubt for tonight, embodies the spirit of this Gillingham team. The defence is made up of unspectacular names such as John Egan and Leon Legge who may enjoy their role in this game as potential party-poopers.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Bywater; Fish, Egan, Hause, Martin; Dack, Hessenthaler, A Morris, McGlashan; Kedwell, McDonald.
It feels like the Sky Blues are either going to take full advantage of this glorious occasion or it is going to be too much to handle. Whatever happens tonight it will be important to remember that it is only one league fixture and not a cup tie. A win would be great but it would be only one step towards healing a lot of the wounds caused by the year at Sixfields. Similarly a defeat would not be the end of the world and may in the long-run give Steven Pressley the opportunity to figure out how to set the team out better to take full advantage of the Ricoh Arena.
It’s hard not to optimistic about today though, that’s why I am predicting a 2-0 Sky Blues victory.