Heading into this game against runaway league leaders Bristol City, things are not looking too bright for the Sky Blues. Defeat to bottom of the league Crewe Alexandra last Saturday saw the Sky Blues continue a run of four winless games in the league. The squad has been hit by a spate of injuries to key players with Frank Nouble, Reda Johnson, Seb Hines and John Fleck doubtful for this forthcoming game.
Oh and Bristol City have only ever lost once at the Ricoh Arena.
In what has otherwise been a fairly slow news week by recent standards at Coventry City, the performance of our under-21 side against QPR has captured many Sky Blues fans’ imaginations. A team lining up in a 3-4-3 formation with Adam Barton at centre-back countered effectively against a decent QPR under-21 team to win 2-0.
With the first team currently performing so poorly on the pitch at this moment, it is not ridiculous to suggest that Steven Pressley could learn a few things, and possibly promote a few players, from the under-21s. Could Saturday’s game against Bristol City be a chance for the like of George Thomas, James Maddison and Ivor Lawton to stake a claim for a more regular role in the first-team?
As ever though there has to be the concern of expecting too much, too soon from our young players. What looks like be a hiding to nothing against an imperious Bristol City side could potentially affect the confidence of a number of our young players. However there is also the potential that one or two might view the game as a pressure-free environment to showcase their credentials.
Whether Pressley decides to gamble on a few youngsters or stick with the current first team, he’ll need to add some more tenacity and desire to this team. The manner in which we let the Crewe game pass us by for large portions was unacceptable. We have been at our best this season when playing with drive, desire and direction and have shown the potential to mix it with the top teams in this division. It’s a case now of showing the commitment to put in a 90 minutes performance even when the conditions and the opposition aren’t exactly perfect for us.
The key selection issue is simply bodies in defence, with Jack Finch, Seb Hines and Reda Johnson missing it’s becoming a struggle identify an effective three. This may force Pressley to abandon the back three formation but Jordan Clarke, Andy Webster and Jordan Willis would be an interesting trio. With Webster only fit enough for the bench last Saturday, there may even be the temptation to recall Adam Barton to the squad at centre-back.
After the under-21s success this week it appears that Steven Pressley will assume the 3-4-3 formation that Darren Murray’s youngsters deployed so effectively. It could address the issue of opposing full-backs having too much time on the ball and will make pressing more easy with an extra man in the final third. There is the issue of losing a man in midfield but the current midfield set-up has often appeared to be a hindrance for midfielders in recent week.s
Possible Line-Up: (3-4-3) Allsop; Clarke, Webster, Willis; Phillips, Thomas, Daniels, Haynes; O’Brien, McQuoid, Jackson.
Last Time We Met
As a nice break from what many Coventry City fans are used to against Bristol City, last season we beat the Bristolians twice. The first meeting was unforgettable and pulsating, in the first ever Coventry City ‘home’ game in Northampton a new set of Sky Blues heroes beat Bristol City 5-4 with goals from Leon Clarke, Callum Wilson and Billy Daniels.
The return meeting at Ashton Gate was much less of a heart attack of a game but Coventry City still prevailed. Goals from Franck Moussa and Andy Webster saw off our opponents who remained mired in a relegation battle at the beginning of February. For us it proved to be a false dawn, whilst we moved up to 9th, a defeat at the weekend to Notts County began a run of form which came close to sending us down to the fourth tier.
How Are They Doing?
That defeat at home to the Sky Blues was pretty much as bad as it got for Bristol City. The goals of Sam Baldock helped Steve Cotterill’s side surge away from the relegation zone to finish comfortably in mid-table, and above Coventry City.
Despite arriving as a thoroughly unconvincing appointment at Ashton Gate, Steve Cotterill’s ability to organise teams has proved just the tonic after years of big ideas and under-performance at Bristol City. Cotterill spent last season bedding in a 5-3-2 formation and that has proved the basis of Bristol City’s success this time out.
There were concerns from Bristol City fans this summer that the losses of keeper Simon Moore, defender Nyron Nosworthy and later on that of top-scorer Sam Baldock, would see the club fall short of some lofty pre-season ambitions. However five key summer signings have made Bristol City arguably a much more effective team unit than last season.
In defence, the arrivals of the versatile Luke Ayling and wing-back Mark Little have eased that transition into the final third for the Ashton Gate side. Ayling, formerly of Yeovil, can operate either in midfield or defence which has the obvious benefit of making it easier for Bristol City to play out from the back. Little was the best right-back in the division with Peterborough last year and his unashamedly attacking mind-set makes him a massive threat.
In midfield, former Oldham man Korey Smith has been nothing short of a revelation. Sitting deep and centrally, Smith protects Bristol City’s defence with aggressiveness in the tackle. Also fairly comfortable with the ball at feet, Smith looks set to become at least a top midfielder in the Championship, probably whilst at Ashton Gate.
Whilst Bristol City last season boasted Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Sam Baldock as a lethal strike partnership, this time round its Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard. It’s about as classic a big-man-quick-man, strike partnership that you can get. The only novel thing about Wilbraham and Agard is that Wilbraham is exceptionally tall and Agard is exceptionally quick. The two already have 13 league goals from a combined 20 appearances thus far.
From those who remain from last season, Aden Flint has been a far much assured presence in central defence than what he displayed last time round, particularly at Sixfields. Former Villa youngster Derrick Williams continues to show promise as a left-sided centre-back. Wade Elliott supplies a delicate touch in central midfield despite his advancing years.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has played a much more peripheral role this campaign. The former Arsenal man is the kind of maverick presence that a Steve Cotterill team simply does not have room for. He is often used as a very late substitute to wind the clock down.
Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Fielding; Little, Flint, Ayling, Williams, Bryan; Elliott, Smith, Freeman; Wilbraham, Agard.
It’s hard to look at this game in any rational way and suggest that an out-of-form Coventry City team suffering something approaching an injury crisis can beat a rampant Bristol City. With a bumper away following at the Ricoh Arena, Bristol City will be very keen to put on a show for their travelling faithful. With that homecoming bubble well and truly burst, this could be some very painful viewing for the few hardy Sky Blue souls that show up.
This time last week though we were saying the same things about Crewe only for our opponents to play with an unexpected degree of spirit and panache. Bristol City though are in much better form than we were last week and it would take an exceptional level of motivation to keep them out. I am predicting a 3-0 loss.