What was first a blip became a bad week which last Saturday turned into a genuine run. Coventry City have now lost three games on the bounce and head into this coming game against Crawley Town hoping to reverse this stunning loss of form of the past few weeks.
There are some parallels between the start of this season and the start of the previous one. After an opening day loss, we showed some early promise until a run of defeats in the middle of September. Last season we then recovered from some chastening reversals at the beginning of Autumn to truly find our stride by Bonfire Night. So early in the season defeats can be hard to place in their true context and it is easy to over-react, let’s hope that by the end of May we’ll be reflecting upon these consecutive defeats as an aberration.
For many reasons though it feels hard to compare this season’s team with the one we had 12 months ago. This one seems set up to await opposition errors rather than enforce them. This current line-up has proven wholly incapable of scoring goals in the final minutes of games let alone taking any points whatsoever from losing positions, last season those kind of events were entirely predictable.
A clean sheet is the minimum expectation for this meeting with Crawley Town, a win would be even more welcome. The pressure is starting to build on individuals such as Marcus Tudgay and Danny Swanson, if they cannot produce in this game then they may well struggle to have much more of a Coventry City career. With Swanson out of this game through injury, Tudgay will be the main target for much of the ire if we are unable to beat our humble opponents.
With Reda Johnson now entering the final game of his three-game ban after his Scunthorpe sending off, the main other piece of team news is whether Frank Nouble will be fit enough to be involved in the action. We certainly lack several dimensions in attack without Nouble’s pace and physicality, it’s hard to see us breaking what will be a well-organised Crawley side down with our alternative attacking options to Nouble.
Aside from that it may be time for Pressley to consider switching from the 5-3-2 formation. We have looked desperately lacking in ideas and support for attacking players in recent games and it seems very easy for our opponents to stop our main threat from the wing-back positions. We may not necessarily have the players to play too many alternative systems but only a much-improved performance will be enough for Pressley to justify sticking with the system.
Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Allsop; Clarke, Willis, Webster, Hines, Haynes; Thomas, Fleck, O’Brien; Nouble, Jackson.
Last Time We Met
We have only beaten Crawley Town once in our entire history, admittedly we have only played them four times but they seem to have the potential to become yet another ‘bogey’ side. Our two meetings last season were frustrating for different reasons. On the opening day of last season the Sky Blues recovered from falling two behind away from home to salvage what looked to be a decent point after a disastrous week at the club, however Crawley grabbed a late goal to send the travelling away fans back home worrying about a long season ahead.
Last January we faced Crawley at Sixfields hoping for three points to keep up what looked at that point to be a genuine chance at the play-offs. Despite playing the wrong Clarke (Jordan) in attack after the mysterious absence of Leon from the starting line-up, Coventry City somehow managed to scrape two goals heading into the final ten minutes. However the team lost their concentration and conceded two soft goals to see two points very much dropped. Afterwards it became apparent that Leon Clarke had handed in a transfer request and our season would subsequently fall apart.
How Are They Doing?
In many ways John Gregory has done a brilliant job since taking over at Crawley half-way through last season. After keeping the club up with minimal fuss last term the former Villa manager overhauled the squad and now has Crawley doing exactly the same thing that they did under him last season, that being completely innocuous in mid-table.
In my season preview I tipped Crawley to finish in the bottom four, put simply their squad looked very poor. Aside from one or two okay signings their business had largely been made up of trialists who had little or no Football League experience, especially in the third-tier. Crawley managed to start the season well and scrape some wins based on defending with good organisation and Izale McLeod scoring one of few chances at the other end.
At the start of last month though the wheels fell off and it looked like they were reverting to the mean. However the loan and short-term signings of several experienced players in midfield has restored that steel that Crawley showed in the early weeks. Last Saturday’s win over Yeovil saw John Gregory’s men climb into 13th position, one point ahead of the Sky Blues.
Whilst McLeod is the go-to man in terms of goals for Crawley, they possess a few thorny characters in midfield who’ll relish the task of having to work hard off-the-ball for much of this fixture. Preston loanee Keith Keane has settled in well since signing a few weeks ago and can operate either as a defensive midfielder or as a right-back. Former Bristol City man Marvin Elliott came in last week and scored twice on his debut, both from crosses, his runs from midfield give McLeod some much-needed support as a lone striker.
Gwion Edwards, the former Swansea youngster, is another useful player that Crawley possess. After a couple spells up in Scotland with St Johnstone, Edwards ended last season on loan at Crawley scoring twice in six appearances. After fighting off interest from Rotherham and Bradford, John Gregory convinced Edwards that Crawley was the place to be for him this season. Despite not finding the score-sheet this time round, Edwards is a tricky customer out wide with a decent delivery and could trouble whoever we play at left wing-back.
Possible Line-Up (4-5-1): Ashdown; Oyebanjo, Leacock, Walsh, Sadler; Smith, Keane, Simpson, Elliott, Edwards; McLeod.
Put simply, Crawley will absolutely love to come to the Ricoh Arena and take a point. This is a classic case of us playing a small club at our big stadium who have nothing to lose and needing to take the onus and win the game. So many times we have failed to do so but perhaps we could benefit from playing a side who might be more willing to give us time on the ball and build from the back. Whether we have the capability to then take the ball from defence and create chances in the opposition third is a question that many Sky Blues fans might be unwilling to answer too keenly.
Something has to change, whether it’s formation or just the motivation and purpose of this team, our current level of performance is not good enough and needs to be ended as soon as possible. I’m going to be positive then and predict a 2-0 win for Coventry City.