A win on Wednesday night against Plymouth Argyle was a much-needed boost after an explosive week for all the wrong reasons. It continued the trend of not all too convincing wins that we have had this season but fully convincing displays are in the minority in football. It is a step in the right direction, but judging from Pressley’s post-match interview, the team won’t be resting on their laurels just yet.
There weren’t the swingeing changes in team selection on Wednesday night that many had anticipated, speaking of the limited strength in depth that we have in our bloated squad. Simeon Jackson, who turned down international duty to be available, was the most high profile absentee and this week also saw Mohamed Coulibaly return to Bournemouth for ‘personal reasons’. With a quite a few missing regardless of their performance against Worcester for that Johnstone’s Paint Trophy game, we may have to wait a while to learn the full repercussions of that abject display.
In the meantime, some of our fringe players have the chance to really stake a claim for a more regular starting spot. Webster and Willis impressed as a central defensive pairing whilst Aaron Martin and Reda Johnson were unavailable. Martin and Johnson are both available for selection but the latter has a long journey from Morocco to make and Pressley might be tempted to stick with a winning partnership anyway. Ryan Allsop was another who took the opportunity to showcase his credentials well on Wednesday night and his Coventry City career may just have turned a corner.
The two main selection issues are in midfield and attack. Conor Thomas’s ability to close down opponents is vital in giving energy to the midfield area and is surely in line to for a return to the first-team. Frank Nouble provides a dilemma for Pressley, undoubtedly talented but inconsistent and arrogant, his brilliant goal on Wednesday night just adds to the frustration as to why he was unable to perform against Worcester a few days beforehand. However Nouble may be handed the start simply due to a lack of other convincing options after James Maddison did not quite make the expected impact against Plymouth
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Phillips, Webster, Willis, Haynes; O’Brien, Thomas, Barton, Fleck; Madine, Nouble.
Last Time We Met
The two meetings with Notts County were the yin and yangs of our respective seasons. Just over 12 months ago, a Coventry City side oozing confidence and self-assurance destroyed a managerless Notts County 3-0 at Sixfields after the Magpies had gone down to ten men. The Sky Blues dominated the second-half to the extent that Joe Murphy, Andy Webster and Jordan Clarke were included to swell the attendance figures on a blustery afternoon in Northampton.
During Steven Pressley’s winter of discontent though, Coventry City travelled to Meadow Lane in a vain attempt to reignite a play-off push with Leon Clarke now in the gold of Wolves. In one of the most inept performances that Coventry City have produced in recent years, Notts County, galvanised under the leadership of Shaun Derry, swept aside the Sky Blues and cruised to a 3-0 victory.
How Are They Doing?
Despite that emphatic win in early February, Notts County were still in need of a final-day result to ensure survival. They had been inconsistent under Shaun Derry for much of his tenure until after a 3-2 defeat at Tranmere when Notts County lost just two of their remaining nine games to surge to safety in dramatic circumstances.
It seemed like Notts County would be unable to build on that momentum after losing a series of key players over the summer. Regular starters Bartosz Bialkowski, Alan Sheehan, Gary Liddle, Josh Vela, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Jack Grealish all left Meadow Lane in the off-season. Even worse was to come as star striker Jimmy Spencer picked up a season-ending injury during a pre-season loss at Mansfield, it looked to be a long and tough season.
Somehow Shaun Derry has managed to improved the team a very limited budget. The team is now an embodiment of what Derry was as a player, hard-working, the right kind of aggressive and adept at grinding out results. Players like Jordan Cranston, Shaun Harrad and Mike Edwards were unwanted by even League Two clubs but have been made to look like consistent performers at League One level.
A strong defence is the platform from which this Notts County side is built upon. Roy Carroll in goal has been brilliant for Notts County this season but is with the Northern Ireland national team and unavailable for selection, back-up Fabian Spiess is a decent option but inexperienced. The young but rock-solid central defensive partnership of Hayden Hollis, youth-team graduate, and Louis Laing, Nottingham Forest loanee, have thus far looked capable of playing at a higher level. Both are physically colossal and will not be fazed by the striker partnership of Frank Nouble and Gary Madine.
Liam Noble and Gary Jones in central midfield are almost polar opposites but work well together. Noble, formerly of Carlisle and Sunderland, is a young and technically gifted midfielder who can sometimes struggle when exposed to a physical battle. Jones is a vastly experienced box-to-box midfielder who is tireless beyond his years and can annoy opponents with some of the dark arts that he has learned during his two decades as a professional footballer.
The two wide-men for tomorrow, Zeli Ismail and Stephen McLaughlin, have been in excellent form this season. Ismail, on loan from Wolves, is proving that his potential is very much a real thing, his pace and trickery have undone many of the division’s best defences this season. McLaughlin, another Forest loanee, is a stereotypical winger who will put in good crosses but also provide some protection of his full-back. Garry Thompson, who has played most of his football out wide during spells with Morecambe, Scunthorpe and Bradford, will play as a lone striker and is the club’s top-scorer with five goals.
Finally, a chance to mention Blair Adams who was controversially given to Notts County for free this summer. In retrospect, his departure allowed for the blossoming of Ryan Haynes as a key player in the team, still, it would be harsh on Adams to say that he wouldn’t have improved this Coventry City team. This game will test whether Steven Pressley’s gamble to offload Adams to allow for Haynes to break through was a wise one.
Possible Line-Up: (4-3-3) Spiess; C Thompson, Laing, Hollis, Adams; Smith, Noble, Jones; Ismail, G Thompson, McLaughlin.
All too often in the past 12 months we have won one game but failed to build on that momentum. Whilst Wednesday night’s victory was only in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, it was good to get some of the anxieties caused by that cup defeat to Worcester out of our system. Notts County will be hoping to pounce on any lingering doubts in our players’ minds, we will need to play with even greater energy and determination if we want to navigate a tough test of this team’s credentials.
Notts County’s defence is miserly but they will have to adapt to being without Roy Carroll in goal, the timing of this tricky fixture should benefit us more than them. I am going to predict a 1-1 draw which will disappoint both teams.